When it’s time for a website upgrade, many business stakeholders think about the front-end of the design and the features users interact with. Often overlooked are critical upgrades to the back end: the databases, applications, and servers powering all the behind-the-scenes activity. The upgrades to support this infrastructure are often performed separately from improvements to design or user experience, but these backend upgrades should be part of a holistic approach in order to save time and resources in the long run.
Keeping the Back End Up to Date is Necessary for 3 Main Reasons:
- Increased security
- Reduced development and maintenance costs
- Support for future growth
It’s imperative to think about both the front end and the back end simultaneously in order to keep your website running smoothly. It’s your first resource for the public eye and your tool for success internally for growth. Here’s why.
1. Prioritize Security through Upgrades
Our specialty is building Django-based websites and web apps, so we know the Django framework is constantly being improved and updated. When a new version of Django is released, it’s only supported for a defined length of time. “Support” in this case means that bugs are fixed and security holes are patched. Most releases are supported for 18 months. So if your website uses an unsupported version of Django (or another framework), any newly uncovered bugs in the platform will not be fixed by the Django and open source communities. There are no new security fixes for retired versions of Django, a situation that carries a number of risks. These risks come in the form of vulnerabilities or weaknesses that leave your site open to attacks which could cause:
- Servers to go down
- Data to be leaked or stolen
- Website failure
If a vulnerability on your site is taken advantage of by hackers, it could lead to a loss of reputation, a loss of revenue or even legal ramifications. With high consumer expectations and increasing requirements and liability from international data protection laws, this could prove disastrous for organizations without stringent upgrade plans in place.
If your site is using an older version of Django, a security patch may not be available to address the vulnerability. This means that a fix would have to be authored and implemented by your development team, which is less cost-effective than upgrading to a supported version.
Certain releases are designated as “Long Term Support” (LTS) versions. LTS versions receive security updates and bug fixes for a three-year period, as opposed to the usual 18 months. Upgrading to an LTS release offers significant benefits, including security updates as needed. Fixes for security issues and vulnerabilities are implemented quickly. There is no need to implement fixes yourself (or hire out expensive custom work). Taking proactive steps to upgrade reduces risk and can save you the trouble of expensive, reactive steps in the event of a cyberattack.
2. Reduce Ongoing Maintenance Costs with Proactive Development
Businesses regularly take into account the costs required to maintain assets such as their physical equipment, but sometimes they don’t budget for maintaining technical assets like their website and applications. The idea that a website is a “one and done” project is archaic and can lead to trouble. Your website should also be considered an asset that requires capital expense to continually maintain. Budgeting for these maintenance costs in advance can save you funds (and headaches) in the long run.
Many extra lines of code may be required in order to continue to backport fixes for your out-of-date website or applications. These fixes could be necessary when new security issues are discovered or when another part of the tech ecosystem drops compatibility. Adding all this code and continuing to use old versions of Django will build up technical debt and create extra work over time to patch and maintain.
Custom fixes and patches also introduce a large learning curve for new developers or contractors. The issue here is two-fold: onboarding new developers becomes more time consuming than it needs to be, and if key personnel leave, you may lose knowledge which is integral to maintaining or updating the project.
Upgrading your version of Django naturally reduces technical debt by eliminating old, unnecessary code. It also allows your development team to reduce the time and money spent on addressing security issues, freeing up time for them to work on website improvements or revenue-generating work.
3. Ensure Support for Future Growth with Preventive Measures
Extensibility is the practice of keeping future growth in mind when working on a development project. We often hear from prospective clients who built a website or web app in the early days of their business, when releasing features quickly took precedence over planning for future growth. Whether that growth is in the form of more data, more users, or more functionality, planning for it impacts current design and development decisions. When stakeholders don’t consider growth, scaling up the project and adding new features requires a disproportionate amount of work. If the original development was not intended to support the necessary changes, custom workarounds must be introduced for scalability.
Where does this leave your project? Technologically out-of-date, unnecessarily clunky, and less able to deliver a quality experience to users.
Upgrading Django from an out-of-date version to a more long-term solution provides access to software that is constantly receiving bug and security fixes. If your project is two, three, even four releases behind, upgrading all at once could be cost-prohibitive and more time-consuming. So by regularly upgrading your software, you save on costs and time, and you gain near-immediate access to new features.
What to Do Next
The wider open source development community that supports Django produces great tools and enhancements every day. Your project may get left behind if it’s on an old version of Django — or it could continue to grow and improve with regular upgrades.
So where to get started? One of your in-house developers should be able to tell you what version your site is currently on, and you can compare that to the Django support roadmap. Currently, support for version 1.11 LTS will end in April 2020, and 2.2 LTS will be supported until April 2022.
If your site is using version 1.11 LTS or less, you should consider an upgrade as soon as possible.
We generally advise moving up to the most recent LTS release. While the latest version of Django offers the newest features, the LTS represents a version that is more cost efficient to maintain given the community’s three-year commitment to releasing updates for it.
As Django specialists, Caktus developers have experience upgrading and maintaining Django-based websites. We have successfully completed upgrades for numerous clients and offer an upgrade protection plan that ensures your site will be maintained year-to-year as well as updated to the most recent LTS version of Django. Sound good? Get in touch to start the process of upgrading and securing your website or web app, or take a look at some of our other services if you have a larger project in mind.