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August 27, 2020

A 2020 Planning Guide to Drupal Development

Drupal is an open source software content management system (CMS) that powers one in every 30 websites globally. Its scalability and flexibility makes it a popular choice for creating an ambitious online presence. 

Drupal launched its latest version — Drupal 9 (D9) — in June 2020. In addition to this update, Drupal extended the life of its D7 version by a year, as a result of COVID-19 and its impact on businesses.

With shifts in the Drupal timeline, now is a good time to review how these changes will impact your company’s CMS planning. Kanopi has created a 2020 planning guide to Drupal development to help you prepare and ensure the sustainability of your website well into the future.

Graphic timeline showing the release dates of different versions of Drupal, so people can plan for Drupal development. D7 ends in 2022, D8 ends in 2021, and D9 ends 2023.

Table of contents 

  1. Drupal Planning: 7 & 8 End of Life Dates
    1. How Can Drupal Development Services Help?
  2. Preparing your Drupal Roadmap
    1. Is Drupal 7 to 8 Development Worth It?
    2. Drupal Planning: 8 to 9
    3. Drupal Planning: 7 to 9
    4. But What About Drupal 10?
  3. Other Options for Drupal Planning 
    1. Drupal Planning: Sticking with Drupal 7
    2. Kanopi’s Drupal Development Service
  4. Drupal Planning and Development: An FAQ

Kanopians have been building and supporting Drupal websites for over a decade. Learn more about Kanopi’s extensive experience with Drupal development.

Drupal Planning: 7 & 8 End of Life Dates

Given the impact COVID-19 has had on budgets and businesses, Drupal decided to extend the end of life date of D7 by one year from November 22, 2021 to November 22, 2022. If you’re currently operating on D7, you have the option of migrating to D8 or moving straight to D9. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the D7 to D9 migration option could be costly and complex, which is something you should be prepared for if considering this pathway. (But this is arguably true regardless of your target platform, whether it’s D8, D9, or another CMS altogether.) 

On the other hand, Drupal 8’s end of life will happen as scheduled next year, on November 2, 2021. This is because D8’s controller framework, Symfony 3, is coming to its end of life as well. The good news is that moving from D8 to D9 is easier than previous migrations, with Drupal claiming it’s their easiest upgrade in a decade.

However, it is possible to stay with D7 and maintain a website that’s fit for purpose beyond the end of life date if you need to — with the proper maintenance and support, of course.

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How Can Drupal Development Services Help?

If you’re not sure where to begin with your Drupal planning, a good option may be support through a partnership with a Drupal development specialist. We’ve compiled a list of key support tasks you should expect to receive from an agency offering to assist you with your Drupal planning. They should:

  1. work with you to create a Drupal strategy roadmap;
  2. get familiar with your organization and your budget;
  3. define the best way to curate existing content to maximize conversions;
  4. provide module support; and
  5. offer Drupal training.

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Preparing Your Drupal Roadmap

Have you reviewed the needs of your users recently? 

What about the usability and accessibility of your site and its content? 

User needs change over time. That’s why it’s important to have the most up to date and clear picture of what your users’ unique needs are now and how your website content meets those needs. 

Further, if you’re brainstorming your Drupal roadmap,  we suggest you carefully consider the following: 

  • undertaking user experience (UX) research, 
  • looking at your customer decision journey, 
  • and fine-tuning your user personas.

By taking a closer look at the UX of your site, it’s possible to identify any blockages in your customer decision journey that need to be dealt with. It’s also possible to identify any sweet spots where your user’s need and the needs of your business are aligned that could be built upon ahead of your site migration. 

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Is Drupal 7 to 8 Development Worth It?

We know these unprecedented times are having a negative financial impact on many companies. If you’re currently operating on D7 and are struggling to find the budget for a move to D8 or D9, don’t worry. As we explained back in March, staying on Drupal 7 is a good choice for the moment.

Drupal development services can help determine whether migrating to D8 is the right move for your business or if skipping D8 and going straight to Drupal 9 makes more sense for you.

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Drupal Planning: 8 to 9

Great news: if you currently are on Drupal 8 and  looking at migrating to Drupal 9, you are looking at the easiest migration Drupal has had in ten years. Drupal has put a lot of time and energy into ensuring Drupal 9 is backwards compatible with Drupal 8. As Drupal 9 is still only a few months old, most developers are just now excitedly getting their hands on the code and are learning about how the migrations will work. 

Preparing your D8 site for migration is a straightforward process. Your Drupal development partners should create a roadmap for these kinds of items:

  • Look for any deprecated code in your D8 code base that may need to be updated for Drupal 9.
  • Make sure that the modules you use in Drupal 8 are compatible with Drupal 9, or have a target date for compatibility.
  • Ensure that the site’s configuration files are tidy, so that it’s easy to export/import configuration during the upgrade.

The fact that the D8 to D9 experience is low-effort is why many organizations on Drupal 7 are choosing to do a Drupal 8 migration now, rather than wait to go straight to 9. The hard work that you do moving from D7 to D8 won’t have to be repeated for Drupal 9. And your development partner should be building Drupal 8 code in a way that won’t require any rework when you’re ready to make the jump to Drupal 9.

If you have a complex site and need to take your time with a migration, or if you have deep UX needs that need to be addressed sooner rather than later, migrating to Drupal 8 now may be a better choice.

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Drupal Planning: 7 to 9

Your Drupal roadmap should include a deep look at the way your content is structured and built on your site, along with a review of any functionality that you’re using. Once you understand what your users need, you need to understand what on the site is or isn’t serving those needs, and what migration looks like going from Drupal 7 to 9.

Drupal development services that are helping with your D7 to D9 migration should create a roadmap for items such as:

  • Make a plan for content that can be retired from the site before moving to Drupal 9.
  • Map out how redirects will be handled for any content that you are removing from the current site, to ensure your SEO isn’t negatively affected.
  • Review the modules you use in Drupal 7, and what the upgrade path is for those modules to be compatible with Drupal 9.
  • For modules that aren’t available for Drupal 9, identify and recommend alternative modules, tools, or third party services.
  • Look at content types on the site and determine if things need to change or be combined to meet your users’ needs and/or to make the site easier to maintain. 

Some organizations are choosing to skip Drupal 8 entirely and go straight to Drupal 9. With the extension of the end of life of Drupal 7, you can avoid doing two rebuilds this way. 

If your organization has limited custom functionality, there’s no reason to move to Drupal 8 first. Drupal 9 is a great choice.

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But What About Drupal 10?

It was announced in July that Drupal 10 would be released in June 2022, fewer than 2 years away. 

A timeline graphic around Drupal 10 and where it fits into larger drupal development
Image from Drupal.org

Why is Drupal 10 being released in June 2022? It’s about security. Security bugs won’t get fixed in Symfony 4 from November 2023, and Drupal 9 depends on Symfony 4. Drupal is giving site owners operating on Drupal 9 a year to move to Drupal 10, adopting Symfony 5 to ensure continued site security. 

Drupal has reassured site owners that the move from D9 to D10 will be as easy as the move from D8 to D9 was. This is because the same backwards compatibility that exists in D9 with D8 will exist in D10 for D9. 

Dries Buytaert, Project Lead at Drupal explains how it will work

‘New functionality for Drupal 10 is actually added to Drupal 9 releases. This means module developers can start adopting any new APIs right away. 

Along the way, we deprecate old functionality but keep backwards compatibility. Once we are ready to release Drupal 10, we remove all deprecated code. 

Removing deprecated code breaks backwards compatibility, but because module developers had a chance to stay up to date with API changes, the upgrade to Drupal 10 should be easy.’

It’s important to include these dates in your Drupal roadmap. You’ll want to note when Drupal 9’s end of life is — November 2023 — as this is when you’ll need to migrate to Drupal 10 for security reasons.

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Other Options for Drupal Planning

As countries around the world enter recessions and we continue to feel the economic effects of COVID-19, we know some organizations are not in the best position for a site rebuild. Migrating to Drupal 8 or 9 may not be feasible right now. There are other options available for your Drupal roadmap that don’t include a full site rebuild.

Drupal Planning: Sticking with Drupal 7

Can you keep your Drupal 7 site without support from Drupal itself? The answer is yes! There are a number of incremental fixes that can be made to your site to keep it sustainable, even past the Drupal 7 end of life date. A huge community of Drupal experts are available and can support you until you are in a position to move to D8, D9 or D10.

Sticking with Drupal 7 also comes with some benefits, you’ll get:

  • access to a large number of Drupal modules thanks to the open source code,
  • support from an entire community of Drupal professionals and developers,
  • community developers who are familiar with the code as they’ve been working with D7 for a long time (9 years to be exact.)

As we explained earlier this year, there’s still life in your Drupal 7 site.

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Kanopi’s Drupal Development Services

Kanopi can support Drupal site users until they’re ready for an upgrade, even if that means going beyond the end of life date of your current operating version. Instead of large structural changes, Kanopi recommends focussing on small incremental changes that can be delivered with a potentially fluctuating budget, including:

  • improved navigation
  • revised content strategy
  • new content curation
  • accessibility support, and 
  • search engine optimization (SEO)

Kanopi is also able to provide a website growth plan for you. Our website growth plans typically include: 

  • how to increase conversions for your organization using your website;
  • customization based on your unique situation;
  • a three to five-year breathing window (if your site is operating on D7)

Along with our Drupal 7 maintenance package, we also have options for Drupal 8 to 9 users with a game plan and transition. 

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Drupal Planning and Development: An FAQ

What is Drupal?

Drupal is a content management system and open source software used to create websites and online experiences.

Who uses Drupal?

Over 1 million websites around the world run on Drupal, from high tech companies, to government, global nonprofits, and higher education institutions. 

What is the difference between WordPress and Drupal? 

Both Drupal and WordPress are solid platforms on which to build websites. Generally speaking, Drupal is chosen for more complex sites, sites that integrate with other services, and for organizations that have ongoing support from an agency or  in-house developers. Learn more from Kanopi on Drupal vs WordPress.

I see Drupal 9 is the latest version. Should I upgrade to Drupal 9? 

Upgrading your website to Drupal 9 all depends on your current code base, and what problems your site needs to solve. An audit of your existing Drupal site can help you decide if D9 is the right choice for you, and Kanopi can help you work out the best solution.

How often should I do security and module updates in Drupal?

Security updates for Drupal core and contributed modules should be reviewed as they are released, and applied with expedience based on their Security Risk level.  The higher the level, the more risk the vulnerability is to the site.

Non-security module updates are best done monthly or quarterly depending on time available or budget. Keeping code up to date with the latest releases help make future site upgrades easier, takes advantage of bug fixes, and can add additional functionality.

Where can I find Drupal talent? 

Drupal.org is a great place to start if you’re looking for Drupal talent. Kanopi also has a friendly team of Drupal experts.

What is a content type?

A content type is a collection of data types (fields) that relate to each other. Two content types are available when you install Drupal with the default profile: Article and Basic page. Additional content types can be custom-made or found through enabling other modules. Each node belongs to a single content type.

What is a node? 

Each individual piece of content found on a Drupal site is referred to as a node: a page, a poll, a blog entry or an article are all examples of nodes. 

For example, a single apple pie recipe on a recipe website is a node.

What is a view?

In Drupal, a view is a list of specific content on your site. Views are used to build queries of nodes to assemble nodes for blogs, event calendars, slideshows, and more.  A great example of this is the Resource Center on the Corum Group website where we created lists of Resource topics, then in each topic we listed live events, webinars, articles, and multimedia resources.

So basically, a view is a page that has all the nodes collected in a way that the user can access them all at once. To continue the above example, a view of all pie recipes would list every pie recipe (node) on a page so you can “view” them all.

What is a module?

A module is an organized collection of code that adds to or extends the existing functionality of a Drupal site. Contributed modules, often called “contrib”, are open source projects that are maintained and freely distributed on Drupal.org. Custom modules are often created by developers to add site-specific functionality and features and are kept with the site’s codebase or in private repositories.  

What is a theme?

A theme is an organized collection of code, templates, scripts, and styles, that define the look and feel of your website. Basic themes are available when you install Drupal or you can choose from a vast array of free and paid-for themes created by others. Most Drupal sites use custom themes created specifically for sites based on a design.

Where can I go for more Drupal resources?

Kanopi has a library of resources if you want to learn more about Drupal. There is also a dedicated Slack channel for Drupal users and other resources including:

How much does a Drupal website cost?

Drupal is completely free to download, install, and use for your website. What costs money is the professional research, planning, architecting, building, deploying, and maintaining a website.  The size and required functionality of the website, audience, design effort all will affect the overall cost.

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