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Prepare for Drupal 9 in 2020

Drupal 9 will make its debut in four months, with its first stable release planned for June 3, 2020. Find out why you’ll want to upgrade and how to prepare for Drupal 9 now.

For long-time Drupal developers, releases of new major versions of the open-source content management system caused some amount of fear and trepidation. Generally, organizations were forced to completely rebuild their sites to move from one major version to another. That meant slower adoption of the newer software, and organizations had to wait to take advantage of the latest features and functionality.

Drupal 9 promises to be different. In his keynote at Drupalcon Amsterdam in October 2019, founder and project lead Dries Buyaert gave a demonstration of how to upgrade a Drupal 8 site to Drupal 9. It boiled down to a four-step process that can likely be completed in a few hours or days for many organizations, rather than the months or years previous major version upgrades required. 

The process Buyaert outlined in his keynote included these steps:

  1. Install the Upgrade Status contributed module.
  2. Use the module to scan contributed modules for deprecated code or other compatibility issues that would prevent a Drupal 9 upgrade, and fix the code.
  3. Perform a similar scan and fix it on custom modules.
  4. Update Drupal core to 9. 

Why are Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 updates going to be so much easier? Buyaert has described Drupal 9 as a “cleaned up version of Drupal 8.”  What that means is that Drupal 9 will essentially be the most current version of Drupal 8 (Drupal 8.9 when Drupal 9 is released) with any code marked for deprecation removed. On release day, Drupal 9.0 will have the same features and functionality as the 8.9 release. Going forward, new features will be added to Drupal 9 on a six-month release cycle, and Drupal 7 and 8 will eventually stop receiving support from the Drupal community in November 2021. 

Why Upgrade?

After June, new feature development will focus on Drupal 9, and sites will need to be on that version in order to take advantage of it. Buytaert’s keynote noted four strategic areas guiding the Drupal 9, including:

  • Reducing cost and effort for development and maintenance.
  • Prioritizing the beginner experience. Some research indicates that new users have a poor impression of Drupal from a UX perspective, so Drupal 9 will make an effort to overcome that.
  • Drive the open web through a focus on accessibility, inclusiveness, security, privacy, and interoperability. 
  • Be the best-structured data engine so that Drupal can be the best content repository on the market. 

We expect the minor version updates of Drupal 9 to offer features in line with these strategic areas. 

Another reason to upgrade is that in less than two years, Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 will stop receiving support, including security updates. At that point, organizations running Drupal 7 and 8 sites will be responsible for keeping their sites secure, either on their own or through a vendor for a fee. 

What to Do if Your Current Site is in Drupal 8

If your organization is operating (or currently building) a site in Drupal 8, you can prepare for Drupal 9 by upgrading your site to the latest version of Drupal 8 (which is version 8.8 as of this writing). Your web team should also work toward bringing contributed and custom modules the site uses to compatibility with Drupal 9. The Upgrade Status module can assist with that process. 

If the site relies on contributed modules currently to provide functionality that has recently made its way into the core, this is also a great time to think about removing those modules and using the core modules instead. Once functionality makes it into the core application, support and maintenance for contributed modules providing similar features generally fall by the wayside. A current example is Drupal 8.8’s Media Library

Drupal 8 will reach “end-of-life” status in November 2021, which means that it will no longer receive security or maintenance releases. Organizations should plan to have their sites on Drupal 8 before that date. 

What to Do if Your Current Site is in Drupal 7

For organizations maintaining sites in Drupal 7, the focus should be on upgrading those sites to the most recent version of Drupal 8. This process, unfortunately, won’t be easy. Drupal 8 was a major rewrite of the application, and for many sites, rebuilding the site will likely be faster than trying to perform a migration in place. Not all contributed modules in Drupal 7 will have a Drupal 8 release, which means that functionality will have to be replaced with a custom module or a different contributed module that offers similar functionality. The Upgrade Status module can help your web team determine which contributed modules have Drupal 8 releases, while the Drupal Module Upgrader can flag and attempt to fix code in contributed or custom modules where API changes were made to make the process of converting them for Drupal 8 easier.

Once the site is in the latest version of Drupal 8, the upgrade process to Drupal 9 should be seamless. However, Drupal 7 sites that want to update after June 2020 should plan to go directly to Drupal 9. There is no reason to upgrade to Drupal 8 first in that case. 

One last reminder! Drupal 7 will stop receiving support from the Drupal community in November 2021. Extended support will be available for a fee through selected vendors until 2024. 

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