What is the Future of Drupal 7?

What is the Future of Drupal 7?
Category
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Drupal Version

Updated April 2023

Synopsis

If you currently have a Drupal 7 site that you do not plan to shut down by November 2023, you should already be in the process of migrating it to Drupal 9 or another content management system, with an ideal goal of completing migration by the end of summer 2023 (if not sooner).

Background

Drupal 7 was originally released on January 11, 2011 and has become a standard in website management over the last decade.  As with all good things, Drupal 7's time has passed, and most support for Drupal 7 and its third-party modules and themes has ended.  The Drupal organization had planned to end all support back in 2021, but due to the COVID pandemic they extended security support until the end of 2022.  Upon further evaluation, they have extended security support once more until January of 2025, but this was the final extension.

This does not mean that it is okay to continue on and ignore your Drupal 7 sites — with each passing month, there is a greater chance of problems developing that may not easily be fixed.  The only support being offered now is for security issues, so if anything breaks due to server upgrades, you will pretty much be out-of-luck.

Why is this important?  All websites on OIT Web Hosting are now forced to run on a minimum of PHP 8.1, but Drupal 7 was never designed to run on PHP 8.  There is every likelihood that Drupal 7 sites will now fail to function as expected, and fixes/patches are unlikely to be available.

Also bear in mind that once security support for Drupal 7 does end, any critical security vulnerability later identified in Drupal 7 code could lead to OIT Cyber Security having to completely block access to all remaining Drupal 7 sites.  Thus, it is imperative that you give yourself ample time to migrate to a new content management system before Drupal 7 support ends.

Options

Drupal 10

The current release of Drupal is version 10 (versions 8 and 9 have already come and gone, and no one should be running Drupal 8  or 9 at this time).  Please be aware that there is no direct upgrade path from Drupa 7 to Drupal 10!  To move your Drupal 7 site to Drupal 10, you will have to set up a brand new site and migrate your content.  This will definitely take longer than a traditional upgrade where you can just drop the new program code in, run an update script, and be done.  The upside is that this migration provides the perfect opportunity to revamp your website, but you have to start soon to give yourself the time to coordinate those changes with your stakeholders, communicators, etc.

The Georgia Tech Drupal Users Group can try to answer questions about Drupal 10 and recommend best practices for implementation, but we cannot migrate your site for you.  You must either find the resources to do this in-house, or the funds to pay an outside development company.  If this is proving to be problematic, then Sites @ Georgia Tech may be a better option for your unit.

Sites @ Georgia Tech

For those who may not need all of the features of Drupal and do not want to deal with day-to-day technical maintenance of a website, Sites @ Georgia Tech, which is a large multi-site WordPress instance, may be a better fit than Drupal.  Sites @ Georgia Tech does not let you do as much customization as with Drupal, but the trade-off is that you also do not need a developer skilled in programming to build your site — just about anyone can set up a site on Sites @ Georgia Tech in a matter of minutes and all software upgrades are handled transparently by the software vendor.  (It will take more than a few minutes to copy-and-paste your existing content into a new WordPress site, but that does not require any high-level technical skill and could be assigned to student assistants.)

If you are concerned that Sites @ Georgia Tech does not have the most recent Georgia Tech theme, please note that OIT and Institute Communications are aware of this and working on an update, and until then it is perfectly acceptable to build and host your site on Sites @ Georgia Tech using the older "Georgia Tech - Tech Gold Theme" theme.  When a theme update is complete, your site will either be automatically updated, or you will be sent easy to follow instructions for how to switch to the updated theme on your own.

Other Options

You are not limited to just Drupal or Sites @ Georgia Tech, but bear in mind that for sites that are expected to use the Georgia Tech web theme, those are the only two platforms for which implementations of the Georgia Tech theme are actively maintained.  For other sites, you could explore options, but be sure to factor in the time necessary to maintain and support any non-standard option, and keep in mind that all sites connected with Georgia Tech entities should be hosted on-campus, either via an OIT supported web hosting service, or on a departmental web server.

Summary

If you are currently running Drupal 7 and have not begun the process of migrating to something else, now is the time to start planning.  It is strongly recommend that everyone with a Drupal 7 site try to complete their migration to another content management system by the end of summer 2022 to provide a reasonable time cushion before sites have to move to PHP 8 on November 28, 2022.  Even if you have made it past the PHP 8 upgrade, you still need to fully prioritize migrating or replacing all Drupal 7 sites by the end of summer 2023.