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Why you should be planning your Drupal 9 upgrade now

Drupal 9 marks the start of a new chapter for Drupal, with upgrades being done in an entirely new and less dramatic way than before. Version 9 will be the same as the last minor version of Drupal 8 (currently due to be 8.9) with some housekeeping done to tidy things up. From then on, all major upgrades will be done in a similar way.

Whether the release of Drupal 9 actually happens in June 2020 doesn’t actually matter too much. If you aren’t using the latest version of Drupal 8, you can upgrade to that now and gain pretty much all the benefits you’ll see in Drupal 9.0, as well as ensuring your move to Drupal 9 will be relatively quick and easy.

Among those benefits are better security and bug fixes, which always go hand-in-hand with the latest versions of any software. But along the way they’ve also added a whole raft of features for both internal and external users. Your audience will enjoy faster page loading and improved accessibility. Your teams will appreciate easier content authoring, WYSIWYG editing, workflows, an ‘API first’ approach and better multilingual support. And both groups will benefit from Drupal 8 being designed for a ‘mobile first’ approach, which Drupal 7 definitely isn’t.

You can read more about the benefits of upgrading to Drupal 9 in our essential guide.

Why modules and themes matter

Drupal has a great set of standard features covering authoring, performance and security. But a key reason it’s so popular and used so widely is that its functionality can be extended with one or more of the thousands of modules that have been written and shared by the Drupal community.

Also on offer are myriad themes that let you customise how your content is presented, along with sub-themes, which are variations on a theme. You’ll either have written these yourself (or had them written for you), or you may be using one again contributed by the Drupal community.

When you decide to upgrade, the compatibility of any themes and modules you use will be a key issue in determining how easy the upgrade will be.

Themes are not part of any official release. If you’re using Drupal 7, your theme may or may not have code optimised to work with Drupal 8. The latter has many differences from version 7 that affect themes, including responsiveness, accessibility and performance improvements, as mentioned above. It’s safe to assume you’ll need to plan for a replacement approach here.

Things are slightly different for modules, which may have been incorporated into a later release of Drupal as part of its core. Alternatively, if the modules you’re using weren’t written specifically for you, there may be a version already optimised for Drupal 8, which could also work in Drupal 9.

What you can do to get ready

When it comes to modules and themes, the first thing to do is carry out an inventory of both the core and contributed modules that are in use on your source site. You can find this information in a couple of places on the admin side.

You then need to decide what you will still need when you upgrade. Upgrades are a good time for some housekeeping, and this is one of the areas where you can do some tidying up and address known bugs and required fixes.

If you do need a specific module, check whether the functionality has moved to the Drupal core. If not, is there a Drupal 8 version? If the answer is ‘no’ to both, it may be possible to use another module to achieve the same or similar functionality. Otherwise, it will require custom coding.