Anyone familiar with the Drupal core development lifecycle will know that presently the Drupal community supports two major versions at any one time: the current major release and its immediate predecessor. This means that at ComputerMinds we are currently helping our clients support and develop both Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 sites. So the obvious question that we get asked is ‘when is it time to upgrade’?
We can’t properly answer this question without bringing the next major release, Drupal 9, into the mix. So let’s look at the development timeline for these three versions. According to a blog post by Dries both Drupal 7 and 8 will have an end of life of no later than November 2021 with Drupal 9 being released roughly a year earlier in June 2020 to give site owners enough time to move over to Drupal 9. It is worth noting that from November 2021 only Drupal 9 will be supported. Dries outlines these dates with a whole bunch of details in this blog post.
Historically, migrating between major versions has been a considerable chunk of work as major versions aren’t backwards compatible; however, the good news is that migrating from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 should be a very straightforward process – so long as you’ve kept your Drupal 8 site up-to-date! This is good news for anyone that’s already taken the plunge into the world of Drupal 8 as the migration process shouldn’t really be any more involved than a minor upgrade. This is because the only real changes will be to remove deprecated code and update dependencies, such as Symfony (Symfony 3 has an end of life of November 2021, hence this date being cut off for support for Drupal 8).
For site owners still using Drupal 7 the question of when to upgrade is slightly more complicated. Do you wait for Drupal 9 and skip Drupal 8, or should you upgrade now? As previously mentioned we can be reasonably confident that upgrading from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 will be a straightforward process, so we don’t need to worry about having to redo lots of work a couple of years down the line if we do migrate to Drupal 8 now. So the question of when to migrate really varies depending on your current circumstance and preference.
Some site owners will want to benefit from new functionality added in Drupal 8 so will want to upgrade their Drupal 7 sites as soon as possible, whilst obviously factoring in how difficult and expensive the migration will be. Others will be perfectly happy sticking with Drupal 7 until support has ended, at which point they will have to port over in order to keep their site secure. Another piece of good news for anyone weighing up their options with Drupal 7 is that support for Drupal 7 will also be extended to November 2021 (previously support would have ended for Drupal 7 as soon as Drupal 9 was released) so this gives you another year to implement your migration to Drupal 9.
So the short answer of when to migrate your Drupal 7 site is really whenever is good for you. There’s no immediate rush and if you do opt to migrate to Drupal 8, as long as you keep your site up-to-date, upgrading to Drupal 9 when the time comes should be a cinch!