Development

The Last Great Migration: Why Drupal 8 is in a Class of Its Own

Tobby Hagler, Director of Engineering
#Content Management | Posted

Historically, migrating your content management system (CMS) or content platform from one major version of Drupal to the next was nothing short of a Herculean task.

Every new version of Drupal meant rebuilding existing functionality, converting (or migrating) your content, and accepting significant changes along the way. Because of this, it’s become commonplace to see stakeholders want to leapfrog Drupal versions (e.g., 5 to 7, or 6 to 8), to extend the life of both their old and new platforms for as long as possible for the least amount of transitional pain.

But this is no longer the case.

If you’ve been swimming in Lake Drupal for the last year, you’ve already heard the clarion call to prepare for Drupal 9, due to release in June of 2020. Most of the messaging has been tailored towards planning ahead for your migration, regardless of what version your CMS sits on today.

All too often, many of those plans call for waiting until Drupal 9 is ready before migrating away from your older platform… you know, to leapfrog ahead and save yourself the pain of CMS migration more frequently than you need.

And that’s only half the story.

If you’re not already on Drupal 8, the time to migrate is now. Drupal 9’s release within a year marks the end of life for Drupal 7. You could be incurring unnecessary security risks, all manner of technical debt, and a deluge of growing time-to-cost barriers — all while missing out on the most useful Drupal 8 features for marketers and developers like Layout Builder, an extensible media management system, and editorial workflow. Most importantly, Drupal 8 is essentially Drupal 9, so you’ll be ready for that upgrade when the time comes without another major effort.

Read: When the time comes, your Drupal 8 site can become Drupal 9 without migrating again.

TL;DR: Migrate Out of 6 or 7 Before 9 Drops

If you already know you need to migrate from Drupal 6 or Drupal 7, but you’re not sure where to begin, read this primer to help you scope, identify, and take steps to start the process.

If you’re still not convinced why you should already be migrating, here’s why it’s critical to begin migration ASAP.

If you’re on 6

  • Drupal 6 support has already ended (as of February 2016). If you’re still on this version, you’ve got unmitigated security risks that, if left unchecked, could cost your organization unforeseen resources or damages.

  • Migration from Drupal 6 will not be part of Drupal 9 core. It will be deprecated in Drupal 8.8 and removed in Drupal 9 to become a contrib module.

  • Core migration maintainers will manage the contrib module and support it for a while, but it will eventually become community owned. That leaves the future direction of that module unclear.

If you’re on 7

  • Support ends in 2021 (and that’s not too far off!). If you haven’t planned or budgeted for this, it’s time to start now, especially if your budget planning is a traditional calendar year

  • You might have painful memories of past Drupal migration. While previous versions were, in fact, incompatible across migrations, this is not the case from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8

  • This is the “last great migration.” Migrating from Drupal 8 to future versions (Drupal 9 and beyond) won’t require a similar migration effort. Upgrading from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 will be more or less a drop-in-replacement as a version bump. Relatively speaking, there will be significantly less effort in upgrading from Drupal 8.9 to Drupal 9.0 than in previous core versions.

  • You don’t want to spend the next 12-16 months on an old system that you’re already wanting to upgrade. Just rip the band-aid off now. Drupal 9 is essentially a version of Drupal 8 — so the wait is needless, and will only be more complex and costly when making a two-version jump.

  • When Drupal 7 support is officially dropped, security updates will only be managed by third-party vendors.

[Note for developers: here’s how to navigate some of the more complex aspects of 8 on D7.]

[Note for marketers: even two years ago, we hosted a webinar on the benefits of Drupal 8 for marketers.]

But Drupal 8 Isn’t Drupal 9, Yet

On the day of release, Drupal 9.0 will be the same as Drupal 8.9, but with these significant differences:

  • External dependencies (such as Symfony) will be upgraded to the latest major version.

  • Deprecated code in Drupal 8 will be removed, potentially breaking custom or contrib modules still using that code.

Otherwise, there will be no significant core API breaking changes (as in previous major version upgrades), maintaining all the same core features and functionality. This means that you can effectively upgrade from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 without overhauling your CMS or migrating content, simply by updating a point release.

Migrating to Drupal 8 now will prepare you for Drupal 9, but you will still need a Drupal 9 readiness plan. Knowing what is being deprecated and how that affects your CMS is essential to your roadmap. However, with a readiness plan in hand, your Drupal 8/9 platform’s lifespan will be significantly increased.

Bottom-line: The thing that you’re waiting for is already here. Don’t cling to an old system that doesn’t meet your needs anymore — and is potentially costing you more time, money, and increasing your security risk. Read Issue #1 of Contributed Magazine, written with marketers and developers (code included) in mind, so they can get the most out of Drupal 8 and it’s soon-to-be baby brother, Drupal 9.

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Tobby Hagler

Tobby Hagler

Director of Engineering