SilverStripe 4: Should you make the upgrade?

Make sure your site is running smoothly

We all know that most things in life need routine maintenance if we want them to continue to work properly.

  • Our computers need software updates,
  • Cars need oil changes,
  • Furnaces need to be serviced,
  • Grandma needs a new hip,
  • And content management systems eventually need upgrades.

It’s a natural part of a healthy website’s lifecycle, so when SilverStripe 4.0 was released at the end of 2017 it set in motion the next major round of CMS upgrades. As a SilverStripe partner agency, most of our clients operate their websites through the platform and many of them have had the same question: should I upgrade to SilverStripe 4?

Why Upgrade to SilverStripe 4?

The quick and simple answer: it’s just time to upgrade. This decision will mostly be made for users as the SilverStripe development team is currently only offering limited support for versions 3.7 and lower and fully discontinuing support after September 31, 2020. This means there will be no more platform security patches, bug fixes, or testing updates.

SilverStripe Upgrade Roadmap

SilverStripe 4 is considered a Long-Term Stability (LTS) commitment, which means users can expect multiple years of stability from the release. SilverStripe 5 will begin shipping toward the end of 2021, and SilverStripe 4 will be supported well beyond then.

Technical reasons aside, why should you consider a SilverStripe CMS upgrade?

Initial Release Features

As with any upgrade, you get new toys to play with. SilverStripe released content blocks to assist developers in creating designs that are more flexible for the varying screen sizes of modern audiences. Using these blocks will help reduce the upfront cost of initial page development by giving developers more flexibility to reuse the content blocks across templates. This saves time and money when creating new templates. 

Silverstripe content blocks

The SilverStripe team also overhauled file and asset management in their fourth version. The updates provide content managers with a great boost to their everyday ease-of-use while dealing with website assets. Locating files is now a visual experience with file thumbnails and drag-and-drop functionality. They’ve also included bulk actions for moving, publishing, and deleting content types. 

Silverstripe file manager

Campaigns is a new user feature that has been added to the side menu within the SilverStripe admin panel. It allows marketing teams to create related content groups and monitor their campaign progress after publishing to their site. They can group content together and allow multiple team members to work in unison on the same projects. They can also set a publication date for all the content at once. 

silverstripe campaigns

SilverStripe 4.3 and 4.4 Features

As SilverStripe 4 is still in active development the team has continued to add more highly requested features to the platform. These are considered minor releases that help incorporate new features without major changes to the platform. Here are the newest additions:

Page history viewer: was redesigned to more clearly determine when, where, and who made changes to any page within the CMS.

silverstripe page historyArchive redesign: additional options that make retrieving old content more accessible.

Silverstripe Archiving ModuleCMS help menu: quicker access to support when needed.

Silverstripe help menuShare Draft Module: updates to make team collaboration seamless.

Silverstripe share draftPublic files: now are assigned permanent URLs which allows external websites to link to your assets.

Migration of legacy thumbnails: outdated thumbnail formats can now be purged to decrease storage limits.

Faster file migration: now requiring less memory and additional robust capabilities make site migrations easier for development teams.

Security Enhancements

With a growing focus on cybersecurity risks, SilverStripe has set out to improve security measures. This is one of the reasons why many of New Zealand's government sites use SilverStripe as their CMS of choice.

With SilverStripe 4 they aimed to update their procedures to utilize the latest technologies (PHP7+, GraphQL, and caching controls). These changes help reduce the weaknesses many attackers use to try and cause harm through your website. All these changes are paired with a new security release every 3-months that receives an external audit to determine alignment with privacy standards.

Technology Changes

As new technologies enter the development world smart CMS providers will begin to add them to their repertoire or risk becoming outdated and inefficient. These are the latest technologies that SilverStripe has started to utilize in order to better meet user requirements:

ReactJS

The platform is starting to include a JavaScript library called ReactJS which will allow more interactive UI development, better mobile-friendliness, and easier creation of complex builds. While this is mainly a feature that affects developers, it does have a positive impact on overall site performance and maintenance.

PHP 7+

PHP is an open-source coding language used by SilverStripe developers to build your website. As scripting languages evolve there is performance improvement to be gained by upgrading. SilverStripe 3 sites are still using PHP3 or 5, while SilverStripe 4 now supports PHP 7. This has the potential to make page load speed twice as fast.

This implementation can boost technical website SEO performance, viewer engagement, user CMS handling, and overall site security. The importance of a strong code base to SEO performance is a critical factor that is often forgotten.

How much does it cost to upgrade to SilverStripe 4?

This is a reasonable question, however a very difficult one to answer. It falls into the “it depends” category, which most people don’t want to hear.

The difficulty of the project hinges on a couple of variables:

Has the CMS been kept recent on all minor releases?
While SilverStripe 4 is the most recent major platform release, they also release minor updates through the version life cycle. A site on SilverStripe 3.0 will be very different than 3.7.

What types of third-party modules are in use? Are they compatible with SilverStripe 4?
Many websites use custom-built modules to add functionalities they wouldn’t otherwise have. Not all of these modules are continued into new major releases and could need to be updated themselves.

What version of PHP is the site developed in?
With SilverStripe 4 moving to PHP7+, anything below PHP 5.6 is not supported. Depending on the age of the site, this could mean it’s time for a code upgrade as well.

These are a couple of scenarios that could create additional cost when thinking about an upgrade. The great thing about SilverStripe is they have created a high-quality platform that doesn’t break easily. Many sites will choose to maintain their same version until major updates are released. The downside is there isn’t a constant reminder to upgrade systems like WordPress often flashes at admin users.

Time to upgrade

There are plenty of reasons to make the jump to SilverStripe 4, but what it really comes down to is you’re running out of time. Yes, your website is still functioning, and yes there probably won’t be any drastically noticeable changes all at once. As small things start to break additional support will be hard to find and more costly than it otherwise would’ve been. In the long run, it will become more cost-effective to upgrade now instead of putting it off to the not so distant future.

If you’re thinking about an upgrade to SilverStripe 4 reach out to us. We can help evaluate your website and guide you through the process.