On the 25th of February, 2019 it was announced that Drupal 7 would reach end-of-life in November 2021. What does this mean, and how will it affect people running Drupal 7 websites? Here's our take...
Drupal is free and open-source software that lets you build and run a website. New major versions of the software are released every few years and generally include new features which are often not entirely compatible with previous versions. Changing your website software from one major version of Drupal to another is called 'upgrading', and is generally recommended to keep your website up-to-date and secure. When a major version of Drupal reaches end-of-life (EOL), that means that it is no longer maintained or supported. While this doesn't mean that you have to stop using it to run your website, it's generally a good idea to upgrade as the EOL version won't receive any more bug fixes or security patches (so your website and content could be at risk). Drupal's policy is to support the last two major versions of their software, with versions prior to those reaching EOL.
Drupal 7 (D7) was first released in 2011 and runs 750,000+ websites. Drupal 8 was released in 2015 and is currently the main supported version of Drupal. Drupal 7 is also currently supported as per the policy. When Drupal 9 is released (sometime in 2020), D7 should reach EOL, but because of the sheer amount of websites still running on it, it's been decided that it won't reach EOL until November 2021 (allowing people more time to upgrade their websites).
When D8 was in development, it was made public that Drupal was going to start focusing more on enterprise-level customers, building Drupal with them and their needs primarily in mind. Drupal would still support small-medium businesses and organisations, but not with as much priority as before. This was reflected in Drupal 8; it started using more technologies and systems that were already being used out there in the rest of the world, and this broke compatibility with D7. That's why so many people still use D7, because upgrading their sites to D8 is such a huge and expensive task.
At the same time as this was happening, certain members of the Drupal community decided that Drupal 8 (and beyond) was heading in a direction that wasn't in line with where they wanted their and their client's websites to go. So they forked, or made a copy of, Drupal 7 and called it Backdrop CMS. This is one of the benefits of open-source software - you're free to (basically) do with it whatever you want. This includes taking a copy of the software, and re-branding it for your own use, adding your own features, etc. So Backdrop was born out of a need to continue supporting Drupal 7 sites and customers; the small-medium businesses and organisations who don't need/want to pay for enterprise-level software or developers. Backdrop started as a copy of Drupal 7, but has quickly become a high-quality CMS in its own right. It has new features, fixes long-standing problems, has on-going support and a growing community behind it, and yet it still retains backwards-compatibility with D7 (meaning that migrating from D7 to Backdrop is much easier and cheaper than upgrading from D7 to D8).
Here at PackWeb, we fully support and recommend Backdrop CMS. All of our clients are small businesses/organisations, and so we've been very involved in the Backdrop community; writing code, contributing ideas, building Backdrop sites (like this one!) and looking forward to moving our client's sites over to it when the time is right.
That time is fast approaching. With Drupal 7's EOL looming (believe us, two years away is not very long at all) we're making sure our clients know what their options are for the future of their website(s). People still running Drupal 7 have the following options:
Stay with PackWeb:
- Migrate your website from Drupal 7 to Backdrop CMS
This will result in the least changes to your website from your visitor's point of view. Your site will look and function much the same as it does now, though you'll likely notice a few welcome improvements in the backend.
- Build a new Backdrop site
If your website's looking a little dated, use this as an opportunity to start afresh and build a new site in Backdrop. You can add new features you've been wanting, clean up old content or features you haven't used, get a new look/design, etc.
Move away from PackWeb:
- Upgrade your website to Drupal 8 (or 9)
If you'd like to stick with Drupal and upgrade your site to D8 or D9 (since D8 will also reach EOL in Nov 2021), you'll need to find another developer who can perform the migration for you, and provide ongoing hosting and support.
- Keep using Drupal 7
There is actually an option to keep using D7 past its EOL. The D7 Vendor Extended Support initiative aims to provide on-going support and security patches for D7. Keep an eye on that page in the coming months to see which companies you can contact regarding this option.
- Use other website software
If you don't want to migrate to Backdrop, and don't want to stay with Drupal, there are plenty of other options out there. We're not providing recommendations though, and will leave it up to you to do the research.
Hopefully that gives you an idea of your options regarding the future of your Drupal 7 website. Get in touch if you'd like to discuss your options in more detail. We'd love to provide advice and a customised quote to migrate your website to Backdrop CMS.