Drupal 7 and Drupal 8: Choosing the Platform That’s Best for Users

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A question we’ve started to hear frequently from clients is which version of Drupal they should select for a project – or if they should be concerned about the future of their current Drupal 7 site.

With the Drupal 8.6.0 release announced this month, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the differences (and the similarities) between Drupal 7 and its successor.

Our experience with both versions of the platform demonstrates to us time and again the flexibility and capacity for customization that make Drupal the CMS of choice for so many projects. We’ve found that the simple answer to our clients’ question is that each version has its advantages for users.

The most obvious benefit of using Drupal 8 is that it alleviates any worry that you might have about the inevitable migration of a Drupal 7 site to an updated version of the platform. This is a fair concern, since Drupal 7 support will eventually be discontinued (more on that later!). However, with the migration plan for Drupal 8, the capability is being developed to facilitate smooth transitions from Drupal 7 to 8 for existing websites. This means fears of a messy migration will likely prove to be unfounded— and the same will eventually be true for upgrades from Drupal 7 to 9, which are set to follow a similar process a few years down the road.

Drupal 8 also features a number of improvements, including fully responsive delivery and a more streamlined authoring experience. We’ve found, though, that the resulting site’s UI and content management are very similar to those of a site built in Drupal 7. The same overall quality, scalability, and module integrations are possible without an upgrade, so there is no need to rush into one if your current site is performing well.

Building a project in Drupal 7 has a number of benefits, and chief among those is quite simply its popularity. Working with an established system – one that developers have been using for years – can improve efficiency and cut down on development time. Modules that extend Drupal's capabilities are still more widely available and at a more mature stage for Drupal 7. If issues arise in this version, solutions are well documented and there is a wealth of support and knowledge available to help resolve challenges quickly. Security patches for Drupal 7 are also less frequent, meaning less maintenance time spent performing security updates.

Perhaps most importantly to many clients, support for Drupal 7 is ongoing and currently has no official end date, so site owners have no need to worry about an imminent retraction of bug fixes and security releases.

If you are starting a new project, it makes sense to weigh the benefits of using Drupal 7 or Drupal 8 for your website. If you have an existing website on the Drupal 7 platform, there is still lots of time before you need to worry about upgrading. Ironically, the initial rollout of Drupal 9 – expected between 2020 and 2021 – may be the time to consider an upgrade to Drupal 8. This is likely when Drupal will announce plans for discontinuing Drupal 7 support in future.

An effective way to meet two goals with one project is to wait to tie a Drupal 8 upgrade into a website redesign—  rather than rushing into an upgrade that may not be advisable just yet.

If you have questions about either version of Drupal or about your current website, let us know. We’re happy to help!

You can also check out our most recent Drupal 8 project, which combined a website redesign and platform upgrade for the Greater Victoria School District.

September 17th, 2018
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