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Upgrading Drupal 7 to Drupal 9: What to expect

As a Drupal 7 user or website owner, it’s important to understand what’s next for your web presence as Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 reach their respective end-of-life. While learning that your Drupal version will no longer be supported can seem scary, you’re certainly not alone in the upgrade process. Drupal users, administrators, and developers all over the world are migrating their websites to the latest version of Drupal. 


At Redfin Solutions, we’ve helped nearly all of our clients complete major Drupal upgrades, from 7 to 8 and 7 to 9—and the rest of our clients have upgrades scheduled. This guide will help you understand what to expect so that you can plan accordingly and get a sense for the resources you’ll need to allocate to upgrade Drupal 7 to 9.


Why upgrade Drupal 7 to Drupal 9

First things first: why is a Drupal 7 to 9 upgrade even necessary? In short, Drupal 7 will soon cease to be supported and upgrading to Drupal 9 will ensure your website uses the most secure Drupal code. It will also give you access to exciting new features such as the Layout Builder module for easily creating visual layouts with a drag-and-drop interface, out-of-the-box multilingual capabilities, and the ability to quickly make small content changes without navigating to the edit page.

Drupal 7 will reach its end-of-life in November 2023. Drupal 8 introduced a paradigm shift in configuration management, coding methodology, and theming (the way a website is styled).  However, the differences between Drupal 8 and Drupal 9 are minimal. For this reason, the Drupal community originally recommended migrating incrementally from 7 to 8 and then 8 to 9. However, an extension of Drupal 7 support due to the Covid-19 pandemic shifted timelines around. Now, Drupal 8 is actually reaching its end-of-life before Drupal 7, on November 2nd, 2021. With this in mind, it makes sense for many Drupal 7 websites to upgrade directly to Drupal 9.


What is unique about this upgrade

Unlike past Drupal upgrades, a lot is changing when you go from 7 to 9. While these changes are widely seen as improvements for developers, content creators and end users alike, it means an upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 could require more time and resources than other upgrades. To upgrade from Drupal 7 to any newer version of Drupal, a website needs to be almost entirely rebuilt — there is no upgrade “button,” unfortunately. Rather than porting over themes and custom modules, developers may have to write a lot of new code to get a site up and running on Drupal 9. But don’t worry—this doesn’t mean you’ll have to rewrite every blog post and staff bio! Most content can be migrated relatively seamlessly by an experienced Drupal developer.


Drupal upgrade considerations

To determine how large of a project your Drupal 7 to 9 upgrade will be, take some time to think about the following factors that are likely to affect project scope.


The size and complexity of your website

This one might seem like common sense: The larger and more complex your website is, the more resources will be needed to recreate it on Drupal 9. Determining the size of your website should be relatively simple. You can get a count of the number of nodes or pages your site contains by exporting pages from Drupal, consulting your XML sitemap, or using Google Search Console to see the number of pages crawled for tracking by Google. If you’re unfamiliar with administering your site, a developer can help you determine this by running reports that group the amount of content per type.


Determining the complexity of your site can be a bit more challenging, but it’s also likely to carry more weight in determining the scope of your upgrade. Generally speaking, the number of content types, taxonomies, views, modules, and custom fields your site uses will greatly affect the developer time needed for the upgrade. For instance, if your website has 15 content types, each with their own unique data fields and designs, a developer will need to recreate and then restyle each of those page templates. Some other complexities may include faceted search indices that allow users to apply filters to specific types of content, multilingual features, and custom modules or other custom code.


The Drupal modules you currently use

As mentioned in the last section, custom modules will require significantly more resources to upgrade than contributed or core Drupal modules. This is worth repeating because custom modules will need to be entirely rebuilt in the new Symfony framework (the back-end PHP framework that’s used in Drupal 8 and beyond) and because migrating the content in custom modules is itself a time consuming task that’s necessary to ensure no content is lost.


However, even “standard” Drupal 7 modules may not migrate seamlessly to Drupal 9. Modules that you currently use may not yet be supported on Drupal 9, or they may have been discontinued altogether in favor of newer modules that better conform to today’s best practices. If this is the case, time will be spent to determine what Drupal 9 modules can take their place.


Your required website integrations

Does your website have a reservation system that is connected to third party software? Perhaps you use a calendar integration or have data that maps directly to a CRM like Salesforce? Knowing what integrations your site needs to support, how flexible you’re willing to be with third-party software, and how customized your integrations are (i.e. is there an API module used “out of the box” or was custom code written to sync data from one platform to another?) will help you determine whether integrations will significantly affect the scope of your upgrade.


Your ideas for a refresh or redesign

With an upgrade from Drupal 7 to 9, a website rebuild is guaranteed. However, how many changes you make to your website at the time of the upgrade is up to you. Consider whether a website redesign or a refresh is appropriate for your brand and your budget.


Many companies and organizations use the upgrade as an opportunity to audit, refresh, or even entirely redesign their website. While incorporating a redesign likely means allocating more resources, it also means getting the most value for your time and money while you’re already “under the hood,” so to speak. Even if you don’t opt for a full redesign at the time of your upgrade, it’s a good idea to audit your site and determine if there are any outdated features, functionalities, or content that simply don’t need to be migrated or could be implemented more efficiently.


How to get started with your upgrade

The first step in any upgrade is to take stock of your current website. This should involve an audit of your modules, content, and important features. Next, you’ll want to start thinking about your roadmap for the future. For instance, is now the right time to consider a redesign? What organizational goals or plans may affect your upgrade timeline?

If you need help getting started with an audit or strategizing for the future of your site, get in touch with the Redfin Solutions team today to start planning your Drupal upgrade!