Is it time to upgrade your Umbraco CMS?
With new versions of Umbraco being released regularly and the upcoming retirement of Umbraco version 7, it can be hard to keep up.
In this article, our Senior Front-End Developer and Umbraco Certified Master Nick Collins shares some guidance on using Umbraco as a Content Management System (CMS) and explores the impact and implications of Umbraco version upgrades.
What is Umbraco?
For those who are unfamiliar with it, Umbraco is a powerful tool for building and managing websites efficiently.
Known as the 'Friendly CMS', Umbraco provides a user-friendly interface for fast editing and publishing of content, allowing organisations to simply maintain their online presence.
By offering flexible and customisable features, Umbraco enables developers to design and structure websites according to their own specific needs and requirements. Since its launch in 2000, it has been widely adopted by developers and content editors due to its security and robust functionality and there are more than 730,000 active installs of Umbraco CMS worldwide.
Why did PDMS choose Umbraco for its CMS?
We decided to use Umbraco as our CMS more than twelve years ago and we did so for several reasons.
Its flexibility, user-friendliness, and scalability were the primary reason. Umbraco provides a highly customisable open-source platform which allows us to tailor our website and our clients’ websites to exact requirements, enabling relatively non-technical staff to efficiently manage and update content, while maintaining consistent branding and styling.
It also aligns with our long-standing .NET technology stack choice, which the majority of our enterprise software systems are built in.
Finally, Umbraco is relatively robust compared to other CMS software and it is capable of handling websites of all sizes. Its security measures and active community support gives us reassurance in terms of data protection and continuous improvement, and it has become quite popular for public sector projects for this reason.
In summary, choosing Umbraco as our CMS solution ensures that our specific needs are met while simultaneously offering a solid foundation for our online presence. The same applies to our clients who utilise Umbraco for their websites.
Umbraco 7 approaching end-of-life (EOL)
Over the last twenty years, Umbraco has evolved with numerous versions launching to keep pace with the changing digital landscape. After more than a decade, Umbraco version 7 is the latest to be retired and is fast approaching EOL status.
In July 2021, Umbraco 7 entered the security-only phase and the last feature update for version 7 was in October 2022. From October 2023, security updates, patches and new features will cease. This doesn't mean a website built in Umbraco 7 will immediately fall over, just that it won't be supported going forwards. As a result, there is an increasing security risk the longer a website is live and unsupported.
Due to its widespread popularity, there are still many organisations who use Umbraco version 7 and so there are questions about what to do with these sites. We would encourage website owners who are still on version 7 to update to a newer, supported version to ensure they are maintained and not left at risk.
Current and future versions of Umbraco
Looking forwards, the Umbraco release roadmap has recently gone through a fairly major overhaul. It has aligned its long-term release cadence with that of the .NET platform, which makes a lot of sense from a tech point of view.
So basically Umbraco will be releasing a major version every six months, with incremental minor releases every six weeks. Hopefully it'll mean fewer breaking changes between versions - and therefore less development work to carry out future upgrades. They've also sensibly aligned the development path of two of the most used Umbraco tools - Umbraco Forms and Umbraco Deploy - with the updated release schedule.
PDMS is currently building new sites using Umbraco version 10, but we're also pretty excited about version 12 which was released at the end of June 2023 and offers the long-awaited ability to create 'headless' CMS websites due to its Content Delivery API functionality. A headless CMS will enable website owners to explore options for exposing data or content to other devices and channels while managing the content in one place.
A powerful web development platform with multiple strengths, but should everyone upgrade?
One of Umbraco’s biggest advantages is undoubtedly its ability to be customised beyond basic website content editing. From a web development perspective, it offers a base that developers can fairly quickly set up a working website with almost unlimited potential for building web applications that connect with or sit on top of the CMS solution.
Umbraco simplifies the process of learning and implementing contemporary coding patterns and principles, including concepts such as separating different aspects of a project, seamless component integration, reusing code, and managing how web pages are displayed.
Regardless of allure of newest CMS features, upgrading to version 12 isn’t always the right answer, and it's not always straightforward or as quick as some people might think.
The time it takes to complete an upgrade can vary wildly depending on the size and features of the website being migrated and the versions being upgraded from and to.
Specifically, if a website has a large number of page templates, this can be quite time-consuming due to differences in the templating language between versions and much of the work can end up being manual, despite what people will tell you about AI!
Key considerations for transitioning from older versions
Deciding on whether to upgrade Umbraco or rebuild on a newer version depends on several factors specific to a company’s circumstances and requirements. Each company should consider what is right for them and their website needs.
With our extensive experience in Umbraco website development, PDMS can advise you on the best approach. For customers with websites on version 7, we encourage upgrading as soon as possible. This is fundamentally because we don't want you to be exposed to unnecessary risk.
For those with websites on versions newer than 7, there's no immediate need to upgrade. However, by opting for a newer version, you can benefit from some newer features, enhancements and technologies which will improve your website’s performance and back-office user interface. It could also provide the opportunity to select a platform that potentially works out better with future plans as upgrades may be simpler, more frequent and more beneficial beyond Umbraco 10.
It is important to note that any Umbraco CMS upgrade will involves costs. These can include licences, development time, data and content migration and training. All of these factors may temporarily impact productivity, as it requires careful planning and execution to ensure a smooth transition.
From our experience of upgrades over the last few years, we have found that upgrading your Umbraco CMS can be a good opportunity to carry out a design refresh or makeover at the same time, as the upgrade process involves work to change the templates for the website and it can be more cost-efficient to combine these two goals.
Whether you decide to upgrade or replace your existing version of Umbraco will depend on your specific requirements. You should consider factors such as cost and time constraints, longer term goals, desire for a visual refresh, and whether it’s actually feasible to accommodate your future needs within your existing version.
Above all else, proper planning is essential to ensure a smooth and efficient transition. Allocating ample time and planning the process well in advance will ensure you can mitigate the risk of running out of time, ensure the upgrade is implemented and tested properly, and prevent the possibility of being stuck on version 7 beyond its 'end-of-life' phase.
Find out more about our Umbraco expertise on our Web Development page. If you require support on upgrading your Umbraco CMS, get in touch with our team today.