What Does Joomla! 4 Mean for Your Joomla! 3-based Web Site?

Jim Dee
Jim Dee
Mar 2 · 5 min read

Will it be an update or a full-on migration? And, what kind of planning should you be doing now?

At some point in the fairly near-ish future, as of this writing (March 2021), the next major release of Joomla! (Joomla! 4) will come out. If you’ve already got a current Joomla! site, it’s hopefully a Joomla! 3.9.x site, as Joomla! version 3 has been out since September 2012.

It wasn’t long before that when I got into specializing in Joomla-based web development, a choice that’s kept me gainfully employed the whole time. (I’ve told many others: Joomla!’s a great gig because it’s got millions of installs, but not enough people specializing in it to handle all of the work out there.)

At the time (circa 2012), I was just getting to know Joomla!, and still building out Joomla! 2.5.x sites for clients. It was a good era for Joomla!, but also a tough time, as I think the comparison with WordPress wasn’t as strong back then. So, Joomla! had a reputation to repair, which it essentially did with the Joomla! 3.x release.

The bad rep, though, had come from the older days via the Joomla! 1.5 (and earlier) platforms, which weren’t awful, but which had some klunkiness compared with the WordPress versions of that time. And not only that, but the major-version Joomla! 1.5.x → Joomla! 2.5.x move wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, any kind of normal, smooth upgrade. Rather, it was a complete migration — which might be fine for web developers like me, but is/was a costly nightmare for users/clients.

Fortunately, the Joomla! 2.5.x → Joomla! 3.x release solved a lot of that. But, as with any major-version release, it had its challenges, as the update meant getting rid of any old extensions / components married to the 2.5 architecture and replacing them with ones that would work with the 3.x architecture.

And that’s where these major-version upgrades get interesting. Nowadays, they’re not all migrations per se — at least, not insofar as the Joomla! software is concerned. But, for sites with a ton of add-ons (something I see far too often when onboarding new clients), it means a lot of planning.

So, here’s a list of things to think about when moving from a Joomla! 3.x site to a Joomla! 4 site:

  • Your content should be fine, provided that it’s Joomla!-core content (meaning normal articles and/or content in custom HTML modules). The update will make whatever changes to the data it needs and will almost certainly make any changes to your database structure to ensure that your content (and I would expect your URLs) to remain intact. But, if you’re using a third-party extension for creating your content (e.g., K2 or something), we’ll have to look at that developer’s documentation to see how they plan to deal with the update. Most reputable extension developers will have a plan (likely in place already).
  • Your theme may need some attention. Fully 100% of my company’s clients do NOT use a core theme from Joomla! That’s understandable because Joomla! is a CMS and not meant to cater to everyone’s design needs. They provide just a few basic templates for testing and default use. If you’re with a reputable / leading provider of themes, then we can consult the theme’s maker to determine what the recommended upgrade path will be concerning Joomla! 4. Most of the “big guys” (e.g., RocketTheme, YooTheme, etc.) will have plans in place. But some will likely become vaporware when this happens. And even some of the “big guys” will be abandoning earlier versions of their templates. (For example, YooTheme is sunsetting their Warp 7 themes.) So, if you’ll be without a Joomla! 4-compatible theme, then that means you’ll have to plan out this important aspect of your Joomla! 4 web site. My gut is that, at a minimum, most companies are likely looking at some level of updating here, whether it’s CSS tweaks to accommodate a new theme all the way up to a full redesign. (So, it’s tough to estimate the number of hours or the potential cost of this, as there’s a lot we don’t yet know. Either way, if you’re thinking of a redesign or a refresh to your site design, this major-version update really does provide a perfect opportunity to look closer at this possibility.)
  • Don’t forget, by the way, that your current theme may well have been customized considerably by your developer via template overrides. This is quite common (and indeed the “right” way to make such customizations). But, when updating, all of those may well need to be ported to a new theme. So, there’s a potential for more work on this front.
  • Your non-core functionality (software you’ve installed on top of Joomla!) will need to be reviewed one by one. This goes for modules, plugins, extensions, and add-ons that worked atop the Joomla! 3.x framework to accomplish whatever you needed beyond the core program. Slideshows, events extensions, ecommerce, custom extensions/plugins, forms, user management extensions, SEO extensions, sitemaps, comments, galleries, email programs, backup software, software-based firewalls, and all manner of widgets, modules, and plugins that may’ve worked for the past 8 years — all need to be reviewed one at a time.
  • It’ll be a good time to look at hosting, as well. Ask your developer whether he or she approves of your hosting situation, as the new release will have higher minimum levels for PHP (which is a good thing) to run all of the new stuff.

There’ll be no rush, of course. You’ll have plenty of time to get the above done (plus whatever else I’ve left off, off the top of my head). But, if you’re a Joomla! user and want / need a viable web site for many years to come, it’s time to start thinking about this with your developer. So, give him or her a call or an email and get the ball rolling. It’s always better to stay ahead of the game with this stuff.

That’s all I’ll say for now, as I’ve not yet had personal experience with a Joomla! 3.x → Joomla! 4 update / migration. I’ll post another article on that when the time comes. If you’re ready to chat about the above, feel free to contact me anytime.

✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time.

Jim Dee

Written by

Jim Dee

Web guy at ArrayWebDevelopment.com; author of books & blogs. See: JPDbooks.com.

Web Designer / Web Developer Magazine

WDWD Magazine features articles on web site design / development, internet marketing, social media, SEO, and topics like marketing, communications, business development, etc. Editor: Jim Dee of Array Web Development — jim@arraywebdevelopment.com.

Jim Dee

Written by

Jim Dee

Web guy at ArrayWebDevelopment.com; author of books & blogs. See: JPDbooks.com.

Web Designer / Web Developer Magazine

WDWD Magazine features articles on web site design / development, internet marketing, social media, SEO, and topics like marketing, communications, business development, etc. Editor: Jim Dee of Array Web Development — jim@arraywebdevelopment.com.

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