Arts WCMS 3 migrations

If your work involves website updates, chances are you've heard about the WCMS 3 (Waterloo Content Management System version 3) migration. We know changes in project timelines and scope - not to mention the disruption of the last two years - have made it a bit tricky to keep tabs on this project. Here's a quick look at how it affects Arts.

If you have any questions, please email Elizabeth Rogers at

Last updated November 22, 2022 with minor edits about timing from IST.

Why are we migrating to WCMS 3?

The WCMS is based on a web content management platform called Drupal 7, much in the same way some companies build their websites using WordPress as a foundation. Late next year, Drupal (the company) will stop supporting Drupal 7. That means no more updates to secure our websites, fix bugs or offer new functionality. WCMS 3 is built on Drupal 8 and 9 - getting us ready for the future.

Right now, you're likely using WCMS 2 if you have a WCMS website. For example, our faculty and department websites currently use WCMS 2. You might already be in WCMS 3 if your site is new because all new requests go straight into the new WCMS.

You might have heard that this is a technical migration rather than a redesign, but the new system will also create more flexibility for how to build and arrange our pages. The fonts, colours and styles will not be changing, and the University is not starting any information architecture or web strategy projects at this time.

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Who oversees website migrations in Arts?

Each faculty and administrative support unit has a site lead who works with stakeholders and IST to make migrations happen. In Arts, we're so large that we have a few site leads:

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What are the differences between WCMS 2 and WCMS 3?

The new system will look a little different on the front end — and very different when you're logged in and working on content. The migration includes improvements without being a complete redesign. The biggest difference site visitors will see is the modern horizontal menu at the top of the window, which frees up more space to lay out content.

You can read the full list of changes coming with the next WCMS, but here are a few notable differences:
Feature WCMS 2 WCMS 3
How you create content Body text is in one What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) block.

Content is built in sections and blocks. For instance, a block could be text, image, video, etc. Not only will there be more layout options, it will be easier to move content around (i.e. you can click and drag blocks to rearrange them on the page).

Files and images

Upload file/image on the page and then insert it on the WYSIWYG. You then have to add a separate caption and work it into your layout.

You can add images to text (in copy blocks) or create separate blocks you can move, and it's easier to find images you want to reuse.

When you add an image, you add a caption that will appear wherever the image is used. (No need to fiddle with caption placement anymore.)

Login "LOG IN" link on the bottom right In the site browser, at the end of the URL add '/user'. (We recommend bookmarking this).  It's more secure, and less confusing for website visitors.
Max body width Currently, the menu takes up about 250px and there's 750 px using widescreen mode. There's a choice of page widths. The one you'll be using most often is called "wide" at 1200 px, but it's possible to add edge-to-edge images ("extra-wide") and website banners.
Menu Vertical menu on the left Horizontal menu at the top. This "mega menu" makes it easier to see menu items at a glance by hovering, which shows a couple of menu levels down.
Functionality Different "themes" have different functionality. For instance, a single page website offers different content types from tthe faculty/department/school/unit (FDSU) theme.

One theme to "rule them all".

Right now, the focus is on WCMS 3 matching WCMS 2, but eventually more funcitonality will be built into the website, introducing more theme options.

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How will content look in WCMS 3?

You might have noticed that WCMS 3 sites have a lot more space to play with now that the menu has moved to the top, so there are opportunities to design your website. University Relations continues to build a WCMS Demo Site to show examples of content layouts in the new system, including suggestions for best image sizes and column layouts. You can also view of a list of sites in the WCMS for more inspiration.

More information about design will be shared as available.

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When are migrations happening?

The short answer: between now and November 2023, when Drupal 7 is officially no longer supported.

The longer answer: Currently, we've started to migrate smaller, simpler websites as IST finishes up the system and updates he migration tools. Some websites with special functionality - such as French language websites, single page websites, publications theme and the conference theme - will be eligible for migration later on.

We will work with you and IST to plan the timing. IST will not be automatically migrating websites - we'll figure that out together. The site lead will put in a request ticket to start the process.

If you're interested in being an early adopter, it's currently possible to migrate smaller sites where the functionality is already available.

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What is the migration process?

We know that no matter how good the migration tools are, there will stilll be a need to check the content ourselves and make fixes.

Before the migration

  1. We put in a request to IST to migrate the website.
  2. Make sure that any draft, needs review or archived content you want to keep is set to "published" so it will be migrated. Only live content will be migrated.
  3. When the migration start date arrives, we disable site access, close web forms, and start content freeze for the WCMS 2 site. Updates to your WCMS 2 site cannot be made while the content is being migrated.
  4. Content maintainers take WCMS 3 training

During the migration

  1. IST creates WCMS 3 site and migrates content using their automated tool.
  2. IST remediates the content - that is, fixes known issues and addresses gaps.
  3. We (the site leaders and site maintainers) check the website for any issues and make improvements to the layout. (For instance, key landing pages may need a refresh.)
  4. Show the WCMS 3 site to stakeholders for feedback and get approval to launch
  5. Launch WCMS 3 site

During the migration, your live sight will continue on as normal except that web form results and any updates you make aren't carried over to the new website.

After the migration

  • Once the site is live, we can continue to make improvements to the design and user experience, and, of course, the content itself.
  • The site lead will add user permissions after people have completed their training.
  • IST will also create a copy of the WCMS 2 site for safekeeping that we can access for reference only. (Sites will be available for four months.)

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What content will be migrated and what will not?

Only the 'latest published version' of pages will be migrated. The migration will not include:

  • Content that are in drafts, needs review and archived.
  • Previous revisions of a page. For instance, you won't be able to see or revert to previous versions of the content.
  • Any files or images that are not on a published page. For instance, if you archived an old list of student profiles, those images will not be migrated. (Which means a cleaner file list in WCMS 3).
  • Web form results will not be migrated. We recommend you download any needed forms results before the migration. For data security purposes, we should be clearing our web form results when they are no longer needed regardless of the migration.

Remember, IST will keep a copy of your old site on a private server for a year after migration, so there will be an opportunity reference old content if needed.

A few things to watch out for:

  • Images and files attached to webpages that are in the archives are coming through the migration. We recommend deleting the content in your archives.
  • Now that web forms are an embeddable content type, they are coming through the migration regardless of whether they are published or not. Be sure to delete any forms you no longer need.
  • Sidebar content now behaves like promotional content in WCMS 2 - even if it isn't showing, it might be migrated. We recommend deleting outdated sidebar content. (This clean up can be done in WCMS 2 or 3.)

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How long will it take to migrate?

It depends on the size of the site and how much demand there is for IST to migrate and remediate other websites. It might take a couple of weeks to get the site migrated, and a week for IST to do their remediation work.

We also need to allow some time to optimize the high level pages, such as the homepage and the section landing pages.

Ideally, we want to keep this process as right as possible because updates will have to be made in two places - the live site and the staging site.

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When should you take WCMS 3 training?

WCMS 3 is different enough from WCMS 2 that training will be required before using the system.

Our recommendation is to wait until closer to when you have a website in WCMS 3. The less time beween your training and working on your site, the better.

WCMS 3 Fundamentals covers the equivalent of WCMS 2 content maintainers and site managers. You can expect about 4 to 6 hours of work, depending on your pace and how familiar you are with Learn. There is also a web forms course which covers some new functionality and how to embed a web form into a page (for instance, adding an event registration form to an event.)

How-to documents and videos are available on the Web Resources website to help too. See the full list of WCMS 3 trainging and support.

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How to prepare for migration

  • The most important thing you can do is clean up your current site content. For instance, now is the time to delete outdated pages and old files. If you haven't already done so, you can pull a content inventory from the dashboard of the website, and there's a clean-up checklist in the files are of the Faculty of Arts web and social media team.
  • Think about when would be a good time to migrate and any black-out dates you might have (for instance, not migrating websites during 'pick your major' time.)

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What if you aren't in the WCMS?

If your website currently isn't in the WCMS, we encourage you to consider rebuilding the site in WCMS 3 to make sure your site is meeting web accessibility, security and data governance requirements.

  • If you have a research group, lab or research project, talk to your site lead about how to get started. We can help you determine if the WCMS can meet your needs.
  • If you're a researcher with an individual website (as opposed to a research group, for instance), IST's current offering is UWaterloo Scholar.
  • If you are a UWaterloo Scholar user, there is currently a project underway to look at the future of this platform. (For instance, more modern design and better functionality). Please contact Elizabeth Rogers at for more information.

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Stay connected

Arts has a Microsoft Teams channel for people who manage websites and social media where we share updates, questions and tips. If you're interested in joining, please contact Elizabeth Rogers or Wendy Philpott (

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