Although there could be a few reasons you’re reading this blog post, my first guess is that you own or manage a website that’s running on a legacy version of ExpressionEngine—and you’re wondering if, when, or why to upgrade to ExpressionEngine 4. If my guess is right—you came to the right place. More than sharing reasons why you should upgrade, though, I also hope to shed light on the process of upgrading in this post, so you’re more informed and prepared about what to expect and, consequently, what to look for in a development partner when it’s time to upgrade. Before I get into all that, let’s take a brief look at the history of ExpressionEngine and how we got here.
Although ExpressionEngine 4 was released almost a year ago (in December of 2017), here at Foster Made we continue to see a steady stream of leads from people who are looking for ExpressionEngine 2 website support (and many of these EE 2 customers aren’t even on the latest release of version 2, which would be 2.11.9 to be exact). There are a number of reasons so many EE customers are one to two versions behind the latest release—here are a few.
All of this brings up the question: why are ExpressionEngine versions coming out more frequently? As an ExpressionEngine customer, this might seem like an inconvenience, or worse, gouging. I’m not going to fully explore all the reasons why ExpressionEngine sped up its version release cycle (because I think there’s a lot that goes into answering that question thoughtfully), but in short, I will say that more frequent version releases of a product is generally a good thing.
Ok, without further ado, here are 4 reasons why you should upgrade to ExpressionEngine 4.
One response to the reality of ExpressionEngine versions being released more frequently is to simply wait it out. You might look at that timeline graph above and think, “if you hold out a year or so, you can jump from EE 2 to EE 4 and skip EE 3 altogether.” It sounds like a good idea in theory, but in practice… it’s not possible. From a process and code perspective, we still need to upgrade you from EE 2 to EE 3 before we’re able to upgrade you to EE 4. So unfortunately, waiting it out doesn’t equal cost savings.
At best, it really means you’ll just wind up paying for two upgrades at once, or something like that. Worst case scenario, you incur additional unforeseen costs because your site breaks due to a forced environmental change (for example, your hosting provider runs a PHP upgrade) that’s incompatible with your older system. Either way, the longer you wait to upgrade, the more likely there are bugs or legacy add-ons that can put your site at risk and complicate the process of upgrading once you do get around to it.
The process of upgrading is by no means glamorous—we try to be upfront and transparent about that. The outcome of an upgrade, however, should be well worth the effort, resulting in things looking shiny and neat under the metaphorical hood of your website. Getting to that point can get messy though—certain add-ons aren’t supported by newer versions, there’s an error in the documentation, an upgrade attempt fails, etc.
Over time your website will also likely accumulate cruft—unused templates, add-ons, and data that is no longer of value to your organization—which is quietly increasing the cost of upkeep for your site and impacting performance. It is also likely that your site is failing to take advantage of current best practices and standards. Because of all that, it’s important to hire developers who not only know how to upgrade your site, but who will also evaluate your website, scrutinize what needs to be improved or removed, and know how to balance the risk and return on investment for each recommended change.
At this point, we’ve completed enough ExpressionEngine upgrades to strategically recommend what best practices we should follow and what changes we should make, while confidently handling any of the unforeseen issues that might arise along the way. We begin every upgrade project with an extensive planning process where we review your site in total, assessing each aspect of the site to determine what can stay, what needs to be improved, or what needs to be replaced in full. This part of the process is crucial to pinpoint potential risks and find as many solutions ahead of time as possible, which yields a better overall product in the end.
The more accelerated ExpressionEngine version release cycle of recent years may be as much of a reflection on the ever changing digital landscape as it is of anything else. Regular performance and security updates are a necessary part of this modern digital environment. Continuing on an older legacy version of a system poses general performance issues and puts a website at a greater risk of security exploitation. That risk further increases once your version is retired. In terms of ExpressionEngine, legacy products will only receive support related to “major security concerns and defects that result in data loss,” whereas retired versions are no longer eligible for any kind of support (see explanations and updated version support dates here).
As security threats become more sophisticated, our systems need to be more sophisticated to stay safe from cyber attacks (of direct or indirect nature). And to be competitive, your website needs to continue to meet the increasing demands of users who are accustomed to high-performing websites. Upgrading to ExpressionEngine 4 includes updates to both the server technology and the website, resulting in a more stable, secure, and performant website—and by performant I mean the performance improvements and load times are generally significantly better on EE 4.
Moving forward, EE 4's one-click updater makes it easier to stay on the latest version of ExpressionEngine, ensuring that your software is supported, actively developed, and outfitted with the most up-to-date security measures. It also continues to ensure that you have a modern and optimized codebase to be able to implement additional updates and improvements to your site over time.
Whether you’re currently on ExpressionEngine 2 or ExpressionEngine 3, upgrading to ExpressionEngine 4 offers a superior experience in terms of content management and usability. EE 3 introduced a responsive control panel, making mobile content edits on-the-go possible (if that’s your speed), and EE 4’s control panel is even better with a more streamlined user interface. Additionally, EE4 brings a host of features that were once only available as third-party add-ons into the core system as native components, including fluid fields and a split-screen preview mode. Across the board, ExpressionEngine 4’s control panel updates offer increased capabilities and an enhanced publishing experience for content editors.
There are more reasons, nuances, and anecdotes we could share about EE upgrades, but at the end of the day, staying current on ExpressionEngine version releases is just a smart thing to do. If you’re thinking about upgrading or have any questions about the process, shoot us an email or give us a call! We’d love to chat.