Drupal Updates vs Upgrades vs Migrations: What's the Difference and When Do You Need Them?

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If you're new to Drupal, you may come across the terms "update," "upgrade," and "migration" and wonder what the difference is between them1 2 . These terms can often cause confusion 3 . This article will delve into the differences between Drupal updates vs upgrades vs migrations and provide examples of when each is necessary.

Semantic Versioning in the Context of Drupal

Modern versions of Drupal use semantic versioning, a system for assigning version numbers to software releases. Semantic versioning consists of three numbers, separated by dots, e.g. 10.0.1. The first number is the major version number, the second is the minor version number, and the third is the patch version number.

A major version change from Drupal 7.94 to Drupal 10.0.4 implies a substantial modification in the software, including introducing new features, advanced functionality, and better performance. Deprecated functions and significant data structure changes are also part of the modifications with major version upgrades. Upgrading to a new major version is a complex process that may require significant modifications to your website's code, theme, and modules.

After the release of Drupal 8, major version upgrades become much easier and not a big challenge any more. 

A minor version change in Drupal, from Drupal 10.0.4 to Drupal 10.1.0, generally means that new features, improvements, and bug fixes have been added to the software. Unlike major version changes, minor version updates are not as complex and do not require significant changes to your website's code, theme, and modules.

A patch-level version change from Drupal 10.0.0 to Drupal 10.0.4, indicates that bug fixes and security patches are available. Updating to a new patch version is more straightforward than upgrading to a new major version, and it can be done easily.

Usually, minor version and patch-level changes are backwards compatible and will not break the system. For any updates, release notes for the corresponding version should be referred to and follow the instructions.



Drupal Updates

A Drupal update refers to moving your site from one patch level or minor version to another, such as Drupal 9.5.0 to 9.5.4 or Drupal 10.0.4 to 10.1.0. A patch level or minor version update is usually released to address bugs, improve performance, fix security issues and new features that are 100% backwards compatible. Updating Drupal is important for keeping your site secure and up-to-date with the latest features.

The Update Manager module in Drupal core checks for updates and provides a list of available updates. It's a good idea to update your site regularly to ensure it is secure and running smoothly. Our Drupal services offer regular maintenance of your Drupal website, and we will make sure that the website is updated and secured across its lifetime.

With the Automatic Update module, automating Drupal core updates is now possible. The availability of automatic update functionality will help business owners save the cost of engaging a developer to apply security updates to make the website secure regularly.

Drupal Upgrades

A Drupal upgrade refers to moving your site from one major version to another, for example, from Drupal 7 to Drupal 10. Upgrading Drupal is a major undertaking and requires careful planning and execution. Upgrading to a new major version involves significant changes to the Drupal core code, database schema, and configuration.

Before upgrading, it's essential to research and understand the new version's changes, evaluate your site's modules and themes for compatibility, and prepare a migration plan. Drupal provides a migration API to help developers migrate data and configuration from one major version to another. Our 7-step process for upgrading from a previous version of Drupal to the latest major version ensures you a hassle-free experience to make your website updated and secure.

Upgrading the latest versions of Drupal

If you are using any version of Drupal released after Drupal 8, i.e. Drupal 8, 9 or 10, upgrading to the major version is not a big challenge. Now the system is changed so the site owners can keep track of the deprecated features and adjust the custom modules. For core features, there will always be an upgrade path. Actively maintained modules also ensure it is ready for the next major version. With tools like upgrade status, rector, and upgrade rector developers can easily upgrade the code and prepare it for the next major release.

As per the current release process of Drupal, when a new major version is made, the last minor release of the current version will have most of the features available with the next major version; the main difference is that the next major release will remove all the deprecated code and use the latest libraries.



Drupal Migrations

Drupal migrations are often referred to in three contexts, which include:

Migrating from a legacy Drupal website

If you have a Drupal website that is a major version 7 or below and you want to upgrade to Drupal 10, a complete rebuild from scratch is necessary due to architectural differences. This process involves setting up the latest version of Drupal and migrating content, configurations, and other entities using Drupal's Migration API.

Drupal 7 is considered a legacy Drupal version, which will reach the end of its life soon. A Drupal 7 owner must plan for risk mitigation strategies before November 2023. The best option is to migrate to Drupal 10. Drupal 7 may get LTS support from the community or vendors as it was there for Drupal 6, if you want to maintain your Drupal 7 website as it is.

Migrating from another CMS

If you want to migrate from your existing web CMS to Drupal for a better digital experience or performance, the Migration API can be used to transfer content. This can be done by transferring data from CSVs, XMLs, JSON, or directly from the database. Creating separate migrate source plugins and ETL processes may be required as needed.

Changing hosting platform

Sometimes, changing the hosting platform is also referred to as migration. This process involves moving your site from one web host to another, which can be complex depending on the hosting and the related ecosystem you use. The migration can be from VPS or self-hosted systems to PaaS providers like Pantheon, Acquia or Platform.sh for better performance and easy maintenance, or from one PaaS provider to another due to various reasons.


Understanding the difference between Drupal updates, upgrades, and migrations are essential for any Drupal site owner. While updates and minor upgrades are relatively straightforward, major upgrades and migrations can be complex and require careful planning and execution. By keeping up with the latest versions of Drupal and using best practices for updates and upgrades, you can ensure that your website remains stable, secure, and up-to-date.

If you are using Drupal 7 or 8 and want to upgrade to the latest version or migrate from any other legacy systems, we can help you with our Drupal migration services