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Considering your next CMS: Is the upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 worth it?

When it comes to choosing your Content Management System there’s no shortage of viable options.  From enterprise to open source, CMS vendors are getting smarter, faster and more turnkey for all your digital touchpoints.  So how do you pick the right one? The answer gets a lot easier if you look to Drupal 9, especially if you’re coming from Drupal 7.


Wait a minute, I thought there wasn’t a direct upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9?

There’s not, however that doesn’t mean you can’t gain efficiency with a move from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9.  Since Drupal is now based on a Symfony framework and Twig templating engine, the code base is entirely different from Drupal 7.  While this is great for the longevity and future upgrade path to Drupal, it still makes an upgrade right now feel kind of like going to a whole new CMS anyways.   

However from a data and content migration perspective, there’s efficiency to gain.  Drupal 7 is still generally going to organize data in the same way as Drupal 9 which can help ease content population.  Specifically, if you’re looking to map and import the data from your old CMS to the new experience, it’s going to be easier to automate when you’re already on Drupal.  And thanks to tools like the Migrate API, data is going to be easier to map, normalize and clean up during the import which can save content authors a lot of time.


Ok so porting content can be easier than choosing a new platform but can I find some developer efficiency too?

Sure there is.  Just because there’s no direct upgrade path as a whole doesn’t mean your entire foundation needs to be wiped out. For example many of the Drupal modules that require less custom data dependencies are now part of Drupal core or have an automated upgrade path.  

Therefore when you do your base install, a lot of your core modules will be ready for Drupal 9 and will free up time for custom development.  Unlike moving to another CMS entirely, even though there isn’t a direct upgrade path at scale, there’s a lot of standard configuration and setup that can be ported over.  

It’s also recommended that you scan any custom modules you've written with tools like Drupal-Check or install a module such as Upgrade Status onto your site to ensure all of the modules you're using will work in Drupal 9.


What about the Drupal 9 tools for authors?

The Drupal authoring environment is night-and-day beyond Drupal 7.  If your authors were able to work in Drupal 7 they’re going to be blown away by Drupal 9.  And if they have a bad taste in their mouth from Drupal 7, they’re about to forget all about it.

The Layout Manager visually lets authors drag modules onto the page and customize the page layouts on the fly.  The flexibility for adding page specific and global content modules is far superior.  And overall, the admin organization and experience is much more intuitive and easy to use.  Complex features like webforms and directories can be spun up in the admin without developer support too if needed.

In short, Drupal 9 is much more flexible and much easier for authors of all technical ability levels.


What’s the next upgrade going to be like?

Now that Drupal has standardized its frameworks and replaced deprecated, custom legacy PHP code, the future of upgrading is going to be much more turnkey.  Even going from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 far less effort given they are using the same framework and module standards. 

A lot of our clients are saying lately “we never want to redesign or re-platform again.” The good news is by moving to Drupal 9, continuous evolution of your tools and site features will be possible and major version jumps will be trivial in comparison.  By moving to Drupal 9 now and modernizing your experiences, major site overhauls every 5 years or so will now be a thing of the past.