Nine for 9: A Year on from the launch of Drupal 9

Jun 03 2021

It’s been a year since we celebrated a very special Drupal release. Drupal 9 came out on June 3, 2020, building on the new era of easy website upgrades and making cumbersome migrations a thing of the past. Many websites have already taken the opportunity to upgrade to Drupal 9 in just a few easy, clean, and smooth steps.

Despite the challenging pandemic year, Drupal is moving forward, with a lot of work on innovative features going on. As our way of saying “Happy Birthday!” to Drupal 9, we’ve taken a look at the great things that have happened to it during its first year in the big digital world.

Nine great news stories on Drupal 9’s birthday

1) Drupal 9 breaks the fast adoption record

Users are embracing D9 faster than any other release. The founder of Drupal, Dries Buytaert, presented the statistic, at his keynote at DrupalCon North America 2021, that Drupal 9 had been rolled out to 60,000 production websites just one month after its official release. For comparison, 3 months were needed for Drupal 8, and 7 months for Drupal 7 to reach the same number of websites.

Drupal 9 reaches 60000 websites in record time
Drupal 9 has seen record breaking adoption numbers.

Well-known brands that have embraced D9 include NATO, World Wildlife Fund, Budweiser, Red Hat, IBM, and many more. This popularity is largely explained by easy upgrades as one of the most compelling Drupal 9 benefits. At the keynote, Dries says this is due to the key changes made in the ways Drupal is developed and released:

“We no longer break the worlds between major versions — we make sure there is an upgrade path and backwards compatibility. As a result, upgrades are no longer hard, and you also constantly get new improvements and new innovations every six months, and people really like it.”

2) Most of the top modules are ready for Drupal 9 

Contributed module maintainers also deserve compliments for their hard work during this year — they have made most of their projects Drupal 9 compatible. 90% of the top 50 contributed modules have a stable release for D9.

Dries Buytaert provided this data at his keynote as well, comparing it to the situation we saw with Drupal 8 when only 33% of modules were ready within a year and a half of the release, with a full 67% incompatible or incomplete. 

Most top modules ready for Drupal 9
The speed of the updates to the module ecosystem is faster than ever.

Of course, developers are encouraged by easy workflows for getting modules ready for Drupal 9. The main thing needed is to find and replace the deprecated code. There are useful tools to help developers with that such as the Drupal Check, the Upgrade Status module, the Drupal Rector, and the Upgrade Rector module. With these tools, developers can both discover the deprecations and automate their initial clean-up — not just for contributed modules but for custom ones as well.

3) The most beautiful front-end theme joins the core

An updated modern look, WCAG AA accessibility, support for Drupal’s newest functionality, responsive grids, high contrasts, saturated colors, simple forms — all this and much more in the new core Olivero theme. Ever since its first demos were shown to the world, it was called one of the best new features in Drupal 9 — and certainly, the most beautiful one, if community comments are anything to go by.

Drupal front end theme olivero
Olivero could be the most beautiful CMS out there.

The Olivero theme was named after the accessibility expert and contributor Rachel Olivero. It was officially included with the core as a beta experimental front-end theme in Drupal 9.1.0 that was released in December 2020. It is currently not possible to create a subtheme with Olivero, but the support for subtheming is underway, so themers should get ready to create their own variations of Olivero.

Olivero is planned to replace the core Bartik theme that has been with us for a decade and is now getting outdated. Bartik is no longer able to show off the best capabilities of Drupal and create the right impression about it as a modern, clean, and sleek platform. That is now Olivero’s mission!

4) Drupal 9 embraces new versions of PHP, Composer, and more

We have a whole package of great news about the third-party packages in D9! During this year, much has been done on making Drupal 9 compatible with the latest and greatest releases of useful tools it relies on. 

  • Composer. First off, D9 has started supporting Composer 2 — the latest version of the dependency management tool. It makes developer workflows significantly more efficient in installing, validating, and updating all the packages needed for their projects.
  • Symfony. Next, Drupal 9 already includes adjustments for future compatibility with Symfony 5 and even Symfony 6 (the latter is yet to be released). Symfony’s robust PHP components included in the Drupal core help developers build modern websites faster without reinventing the wheel. 
  • CKEditor. Also, a lot of work has been done for the future support of CKEditor 5 — the newest version of the out-of-the-box text editing tool in Drupal. CKEditor 5 offers a more intuitive UX, more options in image management, simpler linking, autoformatting, etc.
  • PHP. And, of course, we have great news about the most important thing Drupal is based on — the programming language. D9 has begun to support the newly released PHP 8. JIT compiler, named arguments, union types, attributes, and other new features of PHP 8 make website development better in every way. 

5) Drupal 9 is getting faster

Another thing to mention as to what’s new in Drupal 9 is the performance improvement. Installing a new website now takes you 20% less time than before. This installer performance increase has been listed as one of the new features of Drupal 9.1, and it’s just the beginning. 

In addition, the perceived performance of websites is improving thanks to the lazy-loading technique. Lazy loading means only loading the visual assets when they are in the user’s viewport. Beginning with D9.1, images with known dimensions lazy load automatically.

Another interesting feature that should increase website loading time is the out-of-the-box support for the WebP image format. WebP images have smaller sizes and good quality at the same time. It will be possible to automatically convert images of the JPG, PNG, and GIF formats to WebP using the “Convert” option in core image style functionality. The feature is prepared for the upcoming D9.2.

out-of-the-box support for the WebP image format

6) Automatic updates are improving

Many customers’ dream of finally having automated updates is closer to becoming a reality, with this feature being one of the main strategic Drupal initiatives. A bunch of things have been done in this area, says Dries in his keynote.  

You might have heard that it's already possible — although with some restrictions — to update D7 and D8 sites using the Automatic updates contributed module. The Drupal creators have learned a lot from this experience and are now applying all these learnings to D9. 

They are working on adding the automated updates support to the Drupal 9 core. Among other things, they plan to make this functionality available to Composer-based sites and also increase the safety of automated updates by improving the features like signature verification and the update readiness API.

Drupal 9: Everything you need to know

7) Decoupled menus are coming

The popularity of JavaScript is skyrocketing, and the Drupal core will soon offer more opportunities for using it. Proposed by Dries in 2020, the Decoupled Menus strategic initiative is now in full swing. It’s about providing the best ways for JavaScript front ends to consume configurable Drupal-managed menus. This serves two key goals:  

  • Giving Drupal the best JS developer experience
  • Making it the best decoupled CMS for everyone

A lot of great progress has been made with this initiative (JavaScript projects on drupal.org, workflows for the NPM package manager, a couple of important components created, and more). The work continues on improving the Drupal API, writing documentation for it, and so on. 

8)  Drupal 9 keeps getting easier out-of-the-box

Making our favorite CMS easier to use for everyone from the first moment they start working with their website is another super important strategic initiative. This is largely about making the core Media, Layout Builder, and the new experimental admin theme Claro available out-of-the-box. The work continues on implementing all this with a lot of great plans still ahead.

Easy out of the box Drupal initiative

9) The future Drupal 10 release is planned

What’s next? One of the most important Drupal 9 news is that the development cycles go on and on! Drupal 10 is already targeted for release in the summer of 2022. Upgrades will be as easy as they are with D9 — and so it will be with all subsequent new major releases. Lots of exciting innovations await us in the future, so if you haven’t yet upgraded to D9, it’s time to do it, and our development experts are ready to help you.

If you're unsure of what steps to take, check out our eBook on Drupal 9: Everything you need to know.