End of the line for Drupal 7
In case you missed the news from September, Dries Buytaert announced the end of life dates for both Drupal 7 & 8. The date for both Drupal 7 & 8 is slated for November of 2021, and that may seem strange, but it really makes sense given the differences in 7 & 8 and the widespread usage of 7. Drupal 8 is ending alongside Symfony 3 which powers a lot of the underlying framework of Drupal 8, so that makes perfect sense.
But why is Drupal 7 sticking around? Drupal 7 is the point in Drupal history where many large organizations bought into the CMS. It found a large user base with complicated government, education, and non-profit sites. Drupal was a web revelation for many of these large organizations, and they invested in the concept with time, money, and staff. In turn, the Drupal community benefited from having these organizations invest in the Drupal eco-system. More developers learned Drupal and more agencies took on Drupal in order to services these organizations. This enriched the Drupal community with tons of contributed modules and core contributions.
An unfortunate side of large organizations is that they move at a glacial pace. Making a move from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 is not something they can just plan and complete in a matter of months. Sometimes funding needs to be procured in a specific way, and other times non-web savvy board members need to be educated on why their perfectly good website needs to go through a costly overhaul. Not to mention the gargantuan planning task that comes with a migration of a complicated site. These things take time, often many months of time. This is why I believe the Drupal 7 end of life has been extended out so far, it's Drupal giving some slack to these large entities that helped grow it into the community and platform it is today.
Start planning now
Starting with Drupal 8, the full rebuild major version upgrades are supposed to be a thing of the past. More on that here. Once the move to 8 is completed major version updates are supposed become a little more smooth as long as regular minor version updates are kept up on. The important takeaway from this is that there is now a target date for when everybody needs to be moved over, it’s three-ish years, and that is really not a ton of time if you are one of these organizations moving at turtle speed. Now is the time to start securing funds, interviewing vendors, and making a plan to get over to Drupal 8.
It’s true that Drupal 8 is also going to hit its end of life on the same day as Drupal 7, but don’t let that stop you from making the move to 8. As I mentioned already, major version updates after 8 are going to be streamlined and not require complete re-architecting so a move to 8 now will be an easy pipeline to Drupal 9. If you wait for Drupal 9 to upgrade your Drupal 7 site, you may find yourself racing against the clock, and we all know that can be costly for a large web launch. There is no way around it, large sites take a lot of time to plan and migrate, and it’s not unheard of for a rebuild to be estimated out to 13 or 14 months of development. During this time you are also going to want new features and upgrades. Make sure you give your organization the needed time to plan and build the next version of your site.
Do things better
A move from Drupal 7 to 8 shouldn’t just be thought of as a migration of the same old site over to a new CMS. This is the time to update and make your site better, stronger, and faster. Take all of the things you learned from the last version of your site and make it into a better system for both end users and administrators. Starting the move now will give you the time to analyze data and usage, you can send surveys and interview users to make intentional updates that users will be excited about.
Making a plan early will allow you the time to figure out a new infrastructure that is faster and more secure. Maybe integrating a new CDN is the right move for faster page loads, perhaps using something like Solr will speed up getting your customers to the information or products they are seeking faster. This might be the time to explore moving your front end to React for greater performance. Take the time to research the latest and greatest in security options for your site. Stating the plan now gives you the time to review the options. This will not only make the next version of your site so much better, but it will also save on costs in both time and money.
The Drupal updates keep coming
One key reason to get over to Drupal 8 as soon as possible is to take advantage of all of the latest development of Drupal core. Drupal 7 is only getting patch fixes at this point, and all new feature development is happening on Drupal 8. The same thing goes for contributed modules, the majority of new module development is for Drupal 8 only and many popular modules are only doing new development for 8. The past six minor updates for Drupal core have been delivered on time and have pushed the platform to new heights with each release. The next minor release for Drupal 8 (8.7) comes out on May 1st, 2019 and the next (8.8) will be released on December 4th, 2019 so now is a good time to get on board to take advantage of these upcoming updates. Check out the development roadmap for more details.
The end (future) is near
Now that there is a planned end date for Drupal 7, there is no reason not to start preparing the move to Drupal 8 now. If you are waiting for Drupal 9, you are just shortchanging your site the proper time to plan a thoughtful rebuild and migration. All sites still running on Drupal 7 are missing out on the current development efforts of Drupal. You have a date, you know when you’re site is going to fall out of support, now is the time to give it a new extension on life.