How Drupal 9 Enables Smoother, More Efficient Drupal Migrations

By Elizabeth Clor

Historically, migrating to a new version of Drupal has been a complicated process. In fact,  complex migrations were the norm for Drupal users until the release of Drupal 8, which moved Drupal core to a continuous innovation model. Under this new model, users now receive minor updates in their system’s functionality more frequently than major ones every six months. This has made the migration process far less difficult since the updates are smaller, occur more regularly and tend to include modules or features that will proactively prepare a Drupal system for the next major version release. 

While progressive, Drupal 8 still lacked all of the functionalities necessary to make migrations and updates easier for Drupal users, though. For example, minor updates still led to the creation of deprecated code—code from a former version that users would have to locate and replace to start using a new Drupal version. Drupal 8’s software also lacked backward compatibility, meaning modules or data from these versions were rendered unusable once a system migrated to a new version. 

With the most recent update, Drupal 9, users now have access to a variety of features and capabilities that aim to solve these common Drupal migration pain points. From backward compatibility to automated methods for handling deprecated code, Drupal 9 overhauls the process for updating a Drupal system, making it easier and more streamlined than ever before. 

Backward Compatibility

Drupal 9 is the first backward compatible Drupal update, meaning that it is capable of running the same software on the previous version of the system. This wasn’t the case for Drupal 7 or 8—but now, when a Drupal user updates their system to Drupal 9, all of the modules, configurations and data that was created with an older version will remain the same. 

The Drupal 9 software contains a backward compatibility layer that works to ensure important or useful data isn’t broken when a Drupal system adopts the new version. Drupal users can enjoy Drupal 8 features, like its software library, as well as those included in Drupal 9, like its updates to third-party dependencies such as Symfony and Twig. Drupal’s core developers may have to make changes between minor versions when necessary (for example, from Drupal 9.1.0 to 9.2.0), but they will work to ensure that these changes are as minimal as possible. 

Handling Deprecated Code 

When Drupal 8 was launched and moved Drupal core to a continuous innovation model, it effectively transformed the way Drupal updates are released. Rather than having to wait for years for new versions—and then embarking extensive migration processes to adopt them— Drupal users now receive minor system updates every six months. 

This change notably reduced the complexity of the migration process, but still left deprecated code with users’ systems. Every time a Drupal update was released, like Drupal 8.2 or 8.3, it created more outdated code for its users. To replace the outdated code with the updated version, users would have to perform an extensive review of their Drupal application—another complex and time-consuming (yet crucial) process. Failure to remove and replace deprecated code could create security risks and functionality issues. 

When users update their systems to Drupal 9, all of the deprecated code from former Drupal versions will be automatically removed. Therefore, Drupal 9.0 should be almost identical to the last Drupal 8 release, minus the deprecated code. 

However, before migrating to Drupal 9, users need to ensure that their modules, configurations and APIs do not contain deprecated code. Otherwise, these custom features may be unintentionally dismantled by Drupal 9, too. Drupal offers resources that can help users audit their systems for deprecated code, or they can check out Drupal’s API documentation for instructions on how to update specific deprecations. Drupal users can also use the Upgrade Reactor module, a new feature that offers automated code fix suggestions for making modules compatible before migrating to Drupal 9. 

Users can also partner with a Drupal hosting provider like  BlackMesh by Contegix. The BlackMesh team of Drupal experts can help users locate and update any outdated code in their Drupal applications before they migrate to Drupal 9, saving them time, costs and bandwidth that this process may have otherwise required.  

A Brighter Future for Drupal Updates 

With its ninth version, Drupal set out to streamline the updating process for its users, now and in the future. The initial launch was ultimately successful: When Drupal 9 was released in June 2020, Drupal 8-compatible modules were ported faster than any major version upgrade in Drupal's history, with more than 90% of the top 1,000 modules already ported (and many of the remaining now obsolete).

Since then, Drupal has continued pushing for faster, more effective migration processes. When Drupal 9.1.0 was released in December 2020, for example, the version’s installer performance improved by 20%, meaning users could perform the new version set-up faster than ever before. And with Drupal 10 planned for mid 2022, users will welcome a more seamless and effective migration.

Contact us to learn more about how our BlackMesh WebOps Services can help Drupal users make the move to the latest version of Drupal.