Still running Drupal 6? Start planning your upgrade now!

Drupal 8 is coming. The countdown is underway. It could be here by October. If past experiences with recent major Drupal releases is any indication, October may be on the early side; major Drupal versions are released only when ready, with 0 known critical bugs, and that could take longer than 7 months. But when it happens, one thing is for sure:

Community support for Drupal 6 will disappear!

As a Drupal user, it’s very likely that you already know that the strength of Drupal comes from its community. So losing that community support is a big deal.

The policy is this: The Drupal community supports the current release and the previous release. Today, Drupal 7 is the current release and Drupal 6 is the previous release. Both versions get community support for and bug fixes and those critical security updates. (The current release always gets the most attention; the previous release usually gets bug fixes only if they’re really major or critical.)

Diagram of community support for releases

Drupal receives community support for the current release and the previous release. The next release is bleeding edge, while older releases languish, unsupported.

Once Drupal 8.0 comes out, community support for Drupal 6 disappears. That is not the time to start thinking about upgrading. The time to start thinking about it, budgeting for it, planning it is now!

What are your options?

If you’re currently on Drupal 6, you have three paths to choose from to ensure that your site’s codebase receives community support past the Drupal 8.0 release date:

  1. Examine Drupal 8, start mapping out your upgrade strategy – identify what you can upgrade, what will require crossgrades, what new things you may want to embrace, what old things you can safely let go of – and begin your upgrade process as soon as Drupal 8 reaches Release Candidate stages, so that you can go live right around when Drupal 8 comes out.
    • Caveats: This is the bleeding edge approach. Many contributed modules will lag behind the core Drupal release, so some functionality may require delay or custom implementation.
    • Benefits: The upside is that you get to enjoy that Drupal 8 goodness all the sooner. And you will be on a codebase with community support all the way until Drupal 10.0 is released, which likely won't happen until many years from now.
  2. Upgrade to Drupal 7 now, or certainly before Drupal 8.0 is released. Drupal 7 has reached maturity. The code is stable. There are literally thousands of contributed modules that you can leverage to make your site much richer than it would be otherwise.
    • Caveats: While you will be extending your site code’s community-supported life, it will be only until Drupal 9.0 is released, so your upgrade investment’s shelf life is shorter.
    • Benefits: You get to enjoy Drupal 7 now, which is mature, with thousands of contributed modules, and already represents a big improvement over Drupal 6. Also your upgrade to Drupal 8 (or 9) down the road will be easier than it would be if you’re upgrading from Drupal 6.
  3. Take your chances and wait until Drupal 8.0 is out and contributed modules you need are available.
    • Caveats: You will be running unsupported code once Drupal 8.0 is out, so you’ll have to move very quickly at that point. Remember that any web development project may takes weeks or even months to complete, depending upon complexity and availability of resources, and throughout that period your current site will be running without any community support. For some people and organizations, that’s okay, but for mission-critical sites, it could be a risky way to go. Unsupported code is the other bleeding edge.
    • Benefits: You can put off your investment for now and keep things status quo. And you an always embrace option 1 or 2 next month or next quarter.

Our recommendation is to seriously consider option 2, for two reasons:

  • Bleeding edge can bleed profusely, and it’s all the more hemorrhagic before the stable release comes out. On the other hand, waiting while riding unsupported code can leave your website or webapp vulnerable. Remember, older versions of Drupal have older requirements for PHP, MySQL, and so on; infrastructure resources available can diminish over time as your site’s technical requirements rely on increasingly outmoded technologies.
  • The release cycle for Drupal of late is on the order of 3 years, and that’s an eternity on the interwebs. It might be a good idea to plan an online refresh cycle that coincides with each stable Drupal release, if for nothing else than to occasion a review of your online strategy and assessment of your key performance indicators. Right now, 2008-era sites are downright stone-age; imagine what a 2010 (Drupal 6) site will look like in 2017!

Drupal 8 > Drupal 7+1

Every major release of Drupal brings new features, improved architecture, freedom from some outmoded code, and new power in flexibility. In all the years I've been working with Drupal (since 2004), I've never seen a new Drupal release as profound as Drupal 8. This is going to going to be the biggest, most significant upgrade in the history of Drupal, with improvements such as new configuration tools to manage layouts and views, more native mobile and HTML5 support, RESTful web services, various usability improvements, a delightful new Twig templating engine, and a new underlying foundation of Symfony making all these things and more performant and more powerful.

And if you’re like many of us and feel that Drupal 8 can’t come soon enough, there are many ways to pitch in. All are welcome!

And if you’re still on Drupal 5...

...Your upgrade is already years overdue. Get on it!

We want to work with you!