When Do You Make the Move to Drupal 8?

Aaron Manire // February 2015

Lately, whenever we start a project at Isovera, we are typically asked, “would you build this with Drupal 8”? It’s a good question. There are many good reasons to get a leg up with the (currently) beta release, but there are also good reasons to keep your head down and stick with Drupal 7. The official release of Drupal 8 is rapidly approaching. What might this mean to you?

There are lots of reasons to get excited about Drupal 8. It’s built for responsive web design to the core with mobile-friendly administration and state-of-the-art image handling. The authoring experience has been revamped with an improved content editing page, built-in WYSIWYG, and in-place editing. With RESTful web services and an object-oriented architecture, Drupal 8 is a first-class, open source content management system. You can really treat your content as a system of interacting components rather than a jumble of web pages. That’s just the the tip of the iceberg. There is a whole lot more. Needless to say, these are very compelling features, but they don’t necessarily justify a Drupal 8 migration just yet.

Wait, “migration”? Don’t you mean upgrade? Nope, Drupal 8 is so radically different from Drupal 7 that a standard upgrade is no longer possible. Content will have to be migrated to the new version as though it was a completely different CMS. Of course, it comes with a migration framework that is streamlined for precisely this purpose.  That said, the notion might give you pause, and reasonably so. Some things, like your theme (the site’s look and feel), won’t migrate at all, and will have to be reengineered to leverage the benefits of Drupal 8.

Shelf-life

If you have a Drupal 6 site, you’ll want to begin earnestly investigating a Drupal 7 upgrade now. Drupal 6 will have extended security support for three months after the official release of Drupal 8. When is that, exactly? Nobody really knows for sure. It depends on when there zero critical bugs left. As I’m writing this now, there are currently 54 critical issues. I’ll wager that the last one will be completed in late spring, but, again, that’s just a guess.

Update: as of April 16th, drupalreleasedate.com currently pegs the release date at September 30th, so I guess I was a little too optimistic!

Thinking even further down the road, figure that Drupal 7 will have three months of of support after the release of Drupal 9. So, extrapolating from the past, Drupal 7 should be supported by the security team until 2018. That’s not imminent by any means, but it will be here sooner than you think.

So, when it comes to building a new site right now, you have one of three options:

  1. Leap forward with Drupal 8
  2. Play it conservative and stick with Drupal 7
  3. Build on Backdrop CMS, a fork of Drupal 7

Drupal 8

The case for building on Drupal 8 now might seem obvious. After all, it is more powerful out-of-the-box than ever. It now comes, pre-rolled with key modules such as Views and a WYSIWYG editor, which previously took several additional months for a viable production release. Now, they are tightly integrated into Drupal core. This has the additional benefit of streamlining maintenance. That said, it is still early and there are other reasons to consider alternatives.

Drupal 7

There are currently 10,152 Drupal 7-compatible modules available on drupal.org and merely 673 for Drupal 8. That’s a vast difference. Drupal 7 has a mature ecosystem while Drupal 8 is in its infancy. For many sites, none of those missing modules are necessary. But for others, some are critical to its success.

Moreover, many of the core features in Drupal 8 are already available in Drupal 7: the Picture and Breakpoints modules provide support for responsive and retina image handling, the Mobile-friendly Navigation Toolbar, fieldable blocks (Bean), Admin Views for configurable administration screens, HTML5, … and more!

Of course, there are other improvements that are built into the foundation of Drupal 8, such as Symfony, that give it much more power to scale and decouple its components. If you are looking to serve content to mobile applications or an Angular front-end then there is probably little doubt that Drupal 8 is your platform of choice.

Yet, Drupal 7’s lifespan is limited and there’s no sense in building your site on yesterday’s technology when you are struggling to tread water. Enter Backdrop.

Backdrop

Recently, a group of developers in the Drupal community “forked” Drupal (7) onto a different development path. This new path is called Backdrop and will be a tempting option for many developers and site owners. The Backdrop community is small but very active and have incorporated some of the innovations of Drupal 8, such as an intuitive directory structure, while promising an indefinite upgrade path for Drupal 6 and 7 sites. If you are not interested in web services, decoupled architectures or complicated deployment workflows than Backdrop is worth a look.

Decisions

Which option makes the most sense for you? That all depends on your requirements and your time frame. It is an exciting time to be exploring Drupal.

The Isovera team is always available to help guide you through these issues based on your organizations technical and business needs. Reach out anytime if you have a project or initiative that you need guidance with.

Aaron Manire Headshot

Aaron Manire

Director of Web Development

I coordinate Drupal development teams and plan technological growth, and like to get my hands dirty with code when I can. I enjoy that at Isovera I’m constantly learning new things, sharing that knowledge with others, and working with the terrific people who make our work possible.

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