Should you upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9, or move to WordPress?

Written by Tom Greenwood - October 26, 2020

Drupal is one of the best known open source content management systems (CMS) and it powers roughly 1.5% of the internet. That might not sound like a lot, but it amounts to several hundred thousand websites. Out of those, roughly two-thirds are running on Drupal 7 and about a quarter are using Drupal 8, with only 0.3% using the latest version, Drupal 9.

The Drupal Association planned to phase out version 7 next year, but due to COVID-19 it has given everyone some extra time and extended the deadline out to November 2022, the same date when Drupal 8 will also be phased out. What this means in practice, is that roughly 95% of Drupal sites are running versions due to be phased out in two years time.

If you have a website currently running on Drupal 7 (or even Drupal 8 for that matter), do you need to start planning a project to migrate to Drupal 9, or do you have other options?

What are your options?

It’s easy to assume that all Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 websites will all be upgraded to Drupal 9. This is certainly an option but it’s not the only choice.

Firstly, you could simply decide not to upgrade. This will mean that you are running an unsupported version of Drupal, and it could lead to maintenance and security issues down the line, but in some ways this is the true default option, since all other options are going to require investment of time and money.

You could engage what is called an ‘Extended Support Vendor’, who will be approved by the Drupal Association to provide paid support to Drupal 7, particularly regarding security issues, for a few years beyond the official deadline. This might be a good option if you want to keep a website live but don’t have plans to make significant changes to it for a few years, as it will be cheaper and less hassle than any form of migration or upgrade.

If you need your content to remain live but no longer have a need to edit the content, then you could do away with the CMS altogether and have the front end of the website converted to a static HTML website. This would take some work (and money) up front but would eliminate the need for maintenance and eradicate most security risks long term. The big downside is that if you ever did need to edit the content, you’d need to ask a developer and it could become very hard to manage.

The final option is to migrate from Drupal to a different CMS altogether. Many options are available, but as the world’s most popular CMS, powering a staggering 38% of the entire internet, WordPress is the obvious choice to consider.

What is involved in upgrading from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9?

Let’s say that you do decide to upgrade to Drupal 9, what would that actually involve? There are essentially two ways of doing it. You could upgrade directly from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9, or you could do it in two steps, migrating first to Drupal 8 and then a smaller migration to Drupal 9. I am not sure what the point of that second option is, but it is an option so I’m just putting it out there.

In terms of actually doing the upgrade from Drupal 7, this is where it gets tricky. In some ways, what Drupal refers to as an ‘upgrade’ is really a migration to a new system. This has historically been a huge job that for many results in effectively building a new website, at significant time and expense. Things have got a lot better, and the jump from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 is much smaller, but it is still what you would call a ‘project’. This is a big part of the reason why 69% of Drupal websites are still using Drupal 7, despite Drupal 8 having been released in 2015, and why 25% of websites are still using Drupal 8 several months after the release of Drupal 9 earlier this year.

Compare that to WordPress, where 83% of websites are running the latest version (Version 5) less than two years after its release in December 2018.

So the upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 is not as simple as clicking a button to upgrade. It is going to require thorough planning, to ensure that functionality is mapped out and correctly carried across to the latest version, and to ensure that content is migrated properly. It requires not just a robust technical approach but also project management to ensure that it goes smoothly. It’s a significant digital project and even if it isn’t as big as a full website redesign, it should be treated with the same level of vigour and a solid amount of time and budget needs to be set aside.

Why WordPress is worth considering?

If migrating from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 is going to be a big project, it’s natural that you might wonder whether it is worth combining the upgrade with a website redesign project. If you have been thinking about making major changes to the design or functionality of your website, then this upgrade is the perfect time to do it, because it will be far more cost effective to do it all in one go.

But if you do decide to go down the route of designing and building a new website then there is little tying you to your old website, or to the Drupal CMS.

This is why it is the perfect time to look around and explore the CMS options available. Of course, as the co-founder of a WordPress agency, I am going to suggest WordPress, but there are some genuinely good reasons to at least consider it.

First of all, there’s the migration issue itself. The very fact that Drupal’s upgrade path is forcing you to consider investing in such a big project is a good reason to question whether it is right for your organisation. Sure, Drupal 9 has been designed to make future upgrades much easier, but WordPress has had forward compatibility as a key pillar of its design since the very early days. The change for WordPress 4 to WordPress 5 was by far the biggest change in over a decade, and yet for most websites it was a trivial job, hence millions of websites made the switch shortly after the new version was released.

That isn’t the only reason to consider it though. As the world’s most popular CMS, WordPress has an enormous ecosystem of people and tools, meaning that it’s really easy to find solutions to meet your needs and like-minded suppliers to help you get things done. Much like Liverpool fans, once you’ve moved to WordPress, you’ll never walk alone.

The big question is whether WordPress can do what you need, and whether it is solid enough for your organisation? The short answer to that is “most probably yes”. WordPress has matured massively in its 17 year history and is now used for a huge range of use cases and is trusted by some of the world’s biggest organisations, including Network Rail, Rolling Stone, Vogue, Time Magazine, UNICEF and even the official website of Sweden.

That ecosystem that I mentioned includes not just a huge pool of design and development talent, but also robust enterprise grade tools and specialist hosting platforms that enable the highest levels of performance and security.

Of course, every case is different and there are some websites that are not well suited to WordPress, but these are the exception rather than the rule.

How hard is it to migrate from Drupal to WordPress?

If you did want to migrate from Drupal to WordPress, the good news is that it isn’t too difficult, so long as you are already in the position of planning a new website or an upgrade to a new version of Drupal.

The WordPress community has a long history of helping people migrate from Drupal to WordPress and, as both are open source platforms, there are solid tools to help manage a smooth migration of content across to WordPress. In practice, if you are designing a new website anyway, it is no harder to migrate across to WordPress than it is to migrate from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9.

Do what’s right for you

There’s no CMS that is perfect for everyone, but there certainly is imperfection in the cost and stress involved when your CMS support is coming to an end without a simple upgrade process.

In this article I’ve tried to highlight that there are many options available to you beyond upgrading to Drupal 9, and WordPress is just one of them. What is most important is that you make an informed decision based on your unique requirements and do what’s right for you in the long term.

As a WordPress agency, we of course love WordPress, but we have also helped numerous clients make a move from Drupal to WordPress over the years and seen how they have benefited. If you’d like to have an informal chat about whether WordPress might be a good fit for you, do get in touch.