July 13, 2021

Drupal 9 Is Here and Ready For Use

by Mark Llobrera, Head of Technology

A laptop with html code displayed on the screen.

Drupal is one of the most popular content management systems on the web. It forms the backbone of hundreds of thousands of websites, including many that we’ve built at Bluecadet. Like any software, Drupal gets regular updates for bug fixes and new features. Some updates are incremental, and others are more significant. If your Drupal website is more than a year old, it’s important to know: Drupal 9 is here (and 10 is around the corner).

What should I know about Drupal 9?

At Bluecadet we typically take a measured approach to new Drupal releases, because they have historically been pretty complicated. When a client is on the verge of updating to the next major version, it’s usually time to rethink and improve their content strategy and design too. Instead of doing an in-place upgrade, we build a new site in the latest version and migrate content appropriately.

Why is Drupal 9 different? For starters, it’s not a dramatic overhaul of Drupal. If there’s one single repeated theme from our recent conversations with clients, it’s this: Drupal 9 is like tidying up Drupal 8, with a few interesting feature additions.

Under-the-hood cleanup

Drupal 9 has been described as the “last big migration”. The goal is for the upgrade path between major versions to become as straightforward as possible. It’s a shift from big, breaking changes to steady, incremental ones. In fact, Drupal 10 is already on the roadmap for Summer 2022, with the expectation of an even smoother update.

Most of the updates in Drupal 9 are focused on removing old and deprecated dependencies. For non-developers, these backend changes are not going to be noticeable day to day. However, they will make future upgrades easier.

Themes and Media

Drupal 9 also has a few new bells and whistles that the typical user will appreciate.

Claro, a new admin theme, is clean, has good contrast, and is mobile-friendly. Overall, it’s a user-friendly upgrade to the admin themes Drupal users are accustomed to.

Claro node edit form

Claro node edit form. (Image copyright drupal.org)

Whatever the admin theme, the state of the Media Library in Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 has been…lacking. It’s one of the key factors we weigh with clients when deciding whether to recommend Drupal or WordPress. For years, images and videos have been far easier to manage in WordPress. The new Media Library in Drupal 9 is a step forward, bringing it much more in line with WordPress.

Drupal Media library, in grid view

Drupal Media library, in grid view. (Image copyright drupal.org)

While these upgrades are not the most important pieces of Drupal 9, they do improve the user experience.

Upgrade Paths

For websites running an older version of Drupal, the time to upgrade is now. We have already been handling migrations for clients, and the clock is ticking. Not upgrading risks leaving websites vulnerable to bugs and security threats, not to mention just missing out on new features.

Drupal 7

Drupal 7’s End-of-Life date is now November 2022. Beyond that date, updates will no longer be supported (which is particularly important on the security front). If you’re on Drupal 7, we recommend that you take the opportunity to thoughtfully revisit your information architecture, content strategy, and media approach rather than just trying to duplicate your site directly in Drupal 9. Your site may have become inflated with content, your business needs have changed, or your site may not be serving users the way that it once did. The transition from Drupal 7 can be a reason to take a fresh look at the experience your users want and build a fresh new Drupal 9 site.

Drupal 8

Drupal 8’s End-of-Life date is actually earlier than Drupal 7: November 2021. It’s an earlier date since the upgrade path from 8 to 9 is much, much simpler. If you’re on Drupal 8, we suggest running an audit to check your contributed/custom modules, using tools like Upgrade Status and drupal-check. The upgrade may be smoother than you think.

Next Steps

All Drupal websites will have to make this “last big migration” to Drupal 9/10. The sooner it’s done, the easier the process will be. The safest thing to do is to put those November dates on your calendar and start developing a migration plan today.

With our years of Drupal experience, including migrations to Drupal 9, Bluecadet is prepared to help any website make the switch. To start that conversation, contact info@bluecadet.com.

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