Site Migration from Drupal 7 to Backdrop CMS Stanford University Bio-X

Screenshot of Bio-X homepage
Stanford University, Bio-X, Drupal, and Backdrop logos

The project was initially scoped out solely as a “lift and shift” which would take the existing site, metaphorically lift it up, swap out Drupal 7, and swap in Backdrop underneath before setting the site back on top. In theory this means that end users might not easily be able to tell the difference. 

The process ended up being so smooth that it took 2 months less than scheduled and used up only half of the allotted budget (which was already a fraction of the cost of a move to Drupal 9)! This left extra time to make further enhancements, optimizations, and improvements to the site that went beyond the initial scope.

Illustration of the Backdrop logo dragon on a castle
Screenshot of People page of Bio-X site
Screenshot of the PhD fellow page of the site

Technical details of the upgrade process

Since they weren’t doing a redesign, we created a new Backdrop theme with the same name as the theme that was in use in Drupal 7, as well as a new Backdrop layout with regions that matched those in the Drupal 7 theme. The Context module was providing some basic contextual placement of blocks which was fairly easy to translate to the new Layouts system in Backdrop. Much of the CSS from the original theme was able to be reused with minor modifications, and some new CSS was required to match the theme.

Because Backdrop stores configuration in files (and because of the direct upgrade path from Drupal 7), it became very easy to run a test upgrade, sync the configuration files that had been worked on previously, and continue working right where we left off, but with a current version of the database. This also meant that when it was time to go live, they needed a very minimal amount of time for content freeze – just 24 hours before launch (the actual “upgrade the database and sync” process only took about half an hour).

Stanford Bio-X existing brand colors

More accessible with room for innovation

The initial scope of the project gives the impression that it was a one-to-one transfer, just to an identical platform that would have stable support going forward. The good news is that it isn’t one-to-one, but rather one-to-better. Backdrop provides so many improvements over Drupal 7 that even doing a “lift and shift” provides a much-improved system with performance gains and other benefits. The menu is more accessible out of the box with keyboard functionality using tabs and arrows.

Of course, as hinted at earlier, the efficiency of this upgrade also leaves room for further improvements as they move forward, such as automatic image optimization to a next generation format (webp), adding the Paragraphs module for a richer page-building authoring experience, and more.

Abstract illustration of accessible checkers and assistive technology

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