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Digital Services

  • 02 May 2022
  • 10 min read
  • by Robert Anderson

Drupal 7 - The Long Goodbye

Senior Project Director Rob discusses the final chapter of Drupal 7 and the impact for businesses using this CMS platform

Drupal 7 celebrated its 11th birthday this year, it was released on January 5, 2011, to great reviews as it was arguably one of the first Content Management System (CMS) platforms that truly thought about the user experience. It provided an easy to use interface where an administrator could log in and create pages on their website, add formatted text, and images, and publish them online without needing to have any coding experience. It gave the user more power to maintain their website and also encouraged digital agencies to move away from building their own proprietary content management systems, a task most found to be a costly mistake.

Sadly, like Netscape Navigator (ask your parent's, kids), The West Wing TV series, and McDonald’s Szechuan sauce, all good things must come to an end, and on 1st November 2023, Drupal 7 will no longer be supported. Why is this an issue? At the time of writing, over 400,000 sites are still using Drupal 7. If your website is one of them, you need to understand what this means for your business and start to make a plan.

What is Drupal?

For those who are reading this and wondering what a ‘Drupal’ is, let me give you some background. Drupal is a widely used, open-source website content management system (CMS), which has been around since 2001. Open-source means that the framework is free (yes, free) to use by anyone and can be downloaded, hooked up to a website and administrators can manage website content and some settings, without needing to involve a developer.

The framework code of Drupal is maintained by a community of developers from around the world and provides websites with an incredibly powerful CMS, which is flexible, secure, and easy to use. Drupal also has an extensive marketplace of free and paid-for plug-ins and apps that can be added to any Drupal website with minimal fuss. These can be really useful as it avoids web developers having to create a feature such as a blog from scratch, saving a lot of time and money.

In 2022, Drupal has circa 4.7% market share of all CMS and is used for personal blogs to corporate, government, and organisational sites. It is a platform we at the Leith Agency have been strong advocates for, due to its reliability, ease of use, community support, and how it natively works with Google Analytics and Tag Manager.

What is happening with Drupal 7 and why?

When Drupal 7 was released in 2011 it was a game-changer. Simply, it was an incredibly strong CMS with features including an intuitive user interface, flexible template development, better accessibility support, multi-lingual support, and a library of bespoke plug-ins and features ready to use. It was also free of ongoing license fees and for many businesses and organisations, it was a no-brainer to adopt it for their website.

At its peak in 2015, over 1.2m sites were using Drupal .7 By April 2022, 495,025 sites were still using Drupal 7 while 168,667 were using Drupal 8 (which came out in 2015) and 255,264 were using Drupal 9 (which came out in 2020). Why is this? There are potentially many reasons for people to stay with Drupal 7, but the one that stands out is that from Drupal 8 onwards, a different framework (Symfony) was used, which meant upgrading between 7 to 8 led to a lot of rebuilding large parts of your website which took time and in some cases significant cost. Understandably this put a lot of businesses off upgrading, so they left their sites as-is.

Drupal 7 has been supported by the Drupal community, however shortly after Drupal 9 was released, it was announced that Drupal 7 would be coming to the end of life (EOL) in November 2021. However due to the COVID 19 pandemic, it was decided to move the date to 28 November 2022 to give businesses some more time to prepare; and more recently the date has been extended again to November 1, 2023.

What does this mean if our business uses Drupal 7?

If you are still using Drupal 7 on 2 November 2023, you will still be able to use your CMS, however, it will no longer have any software support. There will be no security patches to combat the latest malware or DDOS threats, there will not be any bug fixes and it is unlikely that anyone will create or maintain any plug-ins. By not replacing Drupal 7, your website may be more vulnerable, risking your website, your business, and your reputation - something no business or organisation can do.

There are some vendors out there who are offering extended support to Drupal 7 until 2025, but before you consider that, ask yourself this question; should our website really be using a technology that is over 11 years old and no longer supported? If you’re still not sure, it’s always good to check with your compliance officer or CTO and get their view.

My business is using Drupal 7 and we want to upgrade, what should we do next?

As a business, you need to decide what is best for you. Choosing a hosting vendor to maintain your Drupal 7 site after the 1st of November 2023 can certainly buy you some time, but it is inevitable that your website will need to be upgraded to a new platform in the near future.

The good news is, you now have 18 months (at the time of writing this, please check the post date!) to have a new website in place. However, if you have been through a website redesign/ migration before, you’ll know only too well it’s not a quick process. You will need to engage various stakeholders, agree on your website’s purpose (what your business sees as success), establish a business case, secure a budget and find a digital partner to help you pull everything together and deliver your amazing new website.

All this might seem overwhelming and it can be hard to know where to start, but this is where we can help. Our team of digital experts at the Leith Agency has helped many businesses and organisations with their website re-designs and Drupal 7 migrations. We can help with writing your business case, work with you and your business to establish your digital proposition, define your intent and your vision and link this up with a new CMS platform to support this. The first stage is to contact us and we will be happy to talk through your options.

We want to upgrade from Drupal 7, should we aim to upgrade to the latest version of Drupal?

Drupal 9 is the latest CMS from Drupal and as you would expect it’s another great application. It is a faster CMS with much better performance, powerful workflows and it introduces Headless CMS capabilities (a way where the CMS is separated from the website, so it can easily control your website or app content, while being technology agnostic). Drupal 9 is certainly worthy of consideration but there are many other content management system choices available that are worth a look. At Leith, we work with a few and after we understand your digital and business goals, we would be happy to make a recommendation that we feel will fit you best.

Could we not be in a similar situation, where our next CMS is not easy to upgrade to the next version without substantial development costs?

It is a valid concern and nobody knows the future of every platform. However, the way that content management systems are evolving means there is less risk of having this situation in the future. Headless CMS, which I mentioned earlier, will likely be the norm of content management going forward as it’s technology agnostic.

For example, Drupal 7 contained both the CMS and the front-end code, and they worked together as one framework. When it came to upgrading Drupal 7 to 8, there was an incompatibility between the two as they were using different frameworks which would lead to extensive rebuilds and costs.

In the scenario of using a headless CMS like Drupal 9, the CMS and front end are totally separate from each other. When an administrator wants to update website content, they would log in to the headless CMS. When they publish to live, the content is sent to the website via an API (application programming interface) and injected into the specific front end template. Should a new version of the CMS be released, as the front end is separate from the CMS and the communication is API driven, there should be no compatibility issues - all that would be needed are some small code changes on the front end, directing where content should appear.

There is a lot to be confident in the future of CMS platforms, but should you have any questions we would be happy to talk them through with you.

The opportunity

Your digital presence, whether that be your website, social channels, YouTube channel, email marketing, etc is paramount to your business/ organisation. It is where your customers will interact with you first and where they will find out more about you and what you can do for them.

If you are using Drupal 7 now or even if you’re not, this would be a great time to re-evaluate your website, your CMS, and your wider digital presence to make sure it is working for you and your audience. At Leith we believe in ongoing enhancement, working in partnership with you to make sure all your channels are communicating effectively and engaging with your audience, by regularly assessing your data, content, user feedback, competitors and trends within your industry.

No matter where you are in the world, please get in touch and see how Leith can help evolve your digital presence.

Robert Anderson

Robert Anderson

Senior Project Director