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The future Drupal roadmap - and what it means for Drupal site owners

Last week, Drupal founder Dries Buytaert confirmed the roadmap for the Drupal platform and its future versions. Here we look at what that means for Drupal site owners and what the future holds for existing Drupal 7 and 8 websites.

In a post on his blog, Dries confirmed that both Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 will continue to receive official support and security updates from the Drupal community until November 2021. Meanwhile, Drupal 9 is expected to launch during 2020, although, to all intents and purposes, it will initially largely mirror the latest Drupal 8 version at launch. This promises to make it straight forward to upgrade up-to-date Drupal 8 sites to the new Drupal 9 platform.

Drupal future roadmap - 2018 to 2021

What this means for existing Drupal 7 sites

Drupal 7 logoFor anyone currently with Drupal 7 websites, it's easy to assume that this means your website will need replacing within the next three years. While, in a perfect world, that would ideally be the case, we know that not every organisation has the budget, resources or, in some cases, simply the inclination, to start building a brand new version of a website - particularly if your current site is working perfectly well for you.

The good news is that, even when Drupal 7 reaches End Of Life (EOL) and goes out of official support in November 2021, remaining Drupal 7 sites won't stop working at that point or suddenly become security risks. Plans are already in motion to create a dedicated "Long Term Support" service for Drupal 7 which will continue to ensure that vital security updates are made available ongoing for any major security issues that are identified, such as the 'Drupalgeddon' security updates issues earlier this year.

Here at Adaptive, we will also continue to support Drupal 7 websites well beyond their official End of Life. We still successfully provide support and development services for a number of clients with Drupal 6 sites, even though D6 officially went out of support over two and a half years ago. The same will continue to apply for Drupal 7 sites beyond its official EOL in November 2021. Our advice for customers with current Drupal 7 sites is therefore that, if you can plan to rebuild it in the next 3 years, then great - but don't worry too much if not.

What this means for existing Drupal 8 sites

Perhaps one of the less expected points in Dries' announcement this week is that Drupal 8 will also reach End of Life in November 2021. "But we've only just had our Drupal 8 site built!" is likely to be the initial thought from many corners.

However, the leap from Drupal 8 to 9 will be far smaller than previous jumps between major Drupal versions and therefore much more straight forward to update from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9. Anyone with a Drupal 8 site can therefore be confident that it can and will be upgradable to Drupal 9 when the time comes, rather than needing to be completely rebuilt on the new version - as has typically been the case in moving to newer major Drupal releases in the past.

The key to achieving this smooth transition between Drupal 8 and 9 is in keeping your Drupal 8 site fully up-to-date as Drupal updates are released, so yet another good reason to ensure your updates are kept on top of.

I'm planning to have a brand new Drupal site built - which version should I use?

For some time now, Adaptive have been delivering all our new build projects in Drupal 8 and we will continue to do so for the next 2-3 years, safe in the knowledge that the sites will be upgradable to Drupal 9 once that is released.

In terms of when to start building from scratch in Drupal 9, we will take the same approach as we have done with the previous releases of Drupal 7 and 8. We will evaluate Drupal 9 as early as possible once decent release candidate versions of the platform are available and will take a considered view on when the platform is in a suitable place for us to start utilising for client websites.

Historically, the key factor in deciding when to use new Drupal versions has been less about the core platform itself and more about the availability and stability (or lack of) of the many contributed modules which make Drupal the powerful platform that it is. With both Drupal 7 and 8, there were quite significant time gaps between the core platform being ready and many key contrib modules being ready and compatible with the new version of Drupal.

In Dries' blog post, he has pledged that the community are working to ensure backwards compatibility between the core Drupal 9 platform and Drupal 8 versions of contributed modules, again with the aim of making the transition from D8 to D9 a much easier and smoother process than previous major upgrades.

Only time will tell if this ideology becomes reality but the Adaptive team will be keeping a close watch on the roadmap over the coming months and years and will remain in a position to offer best advice to all our clients on their individual circumstances.

If you have any questions about anything in this post or want to discuss how the roadmap impacts on your Drupal site, please do get in touch.