Drupal has been around since nearly the stone age of the Internet. In fact, it may be older than some of the people reading this post. Seriously, check for yourself! With such a long history, it’s understandable that dramatic changes need to be made to stay relevant in the competitive content management system (CMS) space. The wonderful part of these improvements is that you can take advantage of them on your website by performing regular upgrades.
Drupal provides support for older versions of its platform, but only within a reasonable period. Once a specific version of Drupal reaches the end of its life, changes from Drupal and its community cease. This includes any newly discovered security issues with the platform. If your website is on an unsupported version, it will be vulnerable to these issues and a patch may never be available.
As of the writing of this post, Drupal 6 is already end of life and Drupal 7 is slated to be unsupported after November of 2021.
Over time Drupal has been released as numerous versions. The version numbers help communicate information about the releases. Let’s take the version number 7.54. The major version in this example is 7 and the minor version is 54. Some versions have a third number to indicate a patch within a minor version.
All of the versions within the same major version are designed around a core set of functionality. The idea is that only small changes are made and the impact on your website will be minimal. Moving from one minor version to another within the same major version is called an “update.”
A Major Leap
When a new major version of Drupal stands before you, it may be a lamb or a lion. The process has varied over time and depends on which version you’re coming from and which you’re going to. Moving from one major version to another is called an “upgrade.”
With each new major version comes an accompanying upgrade guide. The process has varied over time. For example, upgrading from version 6 to 7 can be done in place with an upgrade script. Going from 7 to 8, however, involves creating a new website entirely and migrating your content over. The specific steps you take also depend on if the command line utility, drush, is in the mix. The upgrade guide will include all the gory details.
A New Era
With the upcoming Drupal 9 release things are going to change concerning upgrades. Instead of Drupal 9 being a breaking point, the developers are working the changes for Drupal 9 into Drupal 8’s minor updates. This will allow the changes between the major versions to be accommodated over time instead of all-at-once. Old features that won’t be included in Drupal 9 will be marked as such so it’s clear where changes need to be made. If you keep up with your minor updates, the final version of Drupal 8 will be compatible with an accompanying version of Drupal 9. A very intriguing change of pace.
The official Drupal website has several helpful pages about preparing for and executing an upgrade from Drupal 6 or 7 to Drupal 8. They also have information available about how the upgrade process will work from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9.