Drupal 8, the next version of our favorite content management system, is going to be released sometime at the end of this summer.
We're pretty excited about this at North Studio since the new Drupal will offer plenty of features to make our lives (and our clients', of course) easier:
- Mobile-first design (fully responsive with proper mobile administration features)
- Multilingual capabilities
- New configuration management
- More user-friendly content editor
- HTML5 compatibility
This obviously isn't everything (you can check more out here), but this gives you an idea of the improvements that will be made to Drupal once the update is released.
Despite all these amazing improvements, there's a dark cloud for those still using Drupal 6: this version of Drupal will not be supported by the community anymore. This has been the way with Drupal since version 4: only the most recent 2 versions are supported.
In practical terms, this means that any coding that needs to be done on a Drupal 6 website will require longer (and more expensive) work. There are also possible concerns from the hosting side: PHP support (the coding language that Drupal is built on) will also move to a more recent version, which may make Drupal 6 websites inaccessible, at least temporarily.
To help Drupal 6 users prepare for the upcoming changes, we've developed these three upgrade scenarios. We've figured out the process, the pros and the cons for each of them.
Scenario 1: Prepare your move to Drupal 8
There was a time when upgrading from 2 versions of Drupal (for example from 5 to 7) was impossible. A website needed to upgrade from 5 to 6, and from 6 to 7. Not anymore with Drupal 8: even if you're still using Drupal 6, you'll be able to get Drupal 8 when it's released. Moving to Drupal 8 will also ensure a fully responsive website for mobile browsers.
- You'll use leading, nay, bleeding-edge technology
- Your site will be well-prepared for a full release when D8 launches
- D8 will be supported for years (until D10 is released)
- It will take some time for the community to catch up on module and theme development for Drupal 8
- Sites with complex functionality may find upgrading/cross-grading features to be difficult until D8's codebase settles
This scenario is, in our opinion, the best choice for websites that require (or want) the best technology, since Drupal 8 will be supported for at least the next 5 to 7 years.
Scenario 2: Upgrade to Drupal 7
Even though Drupal 7 has been around for a while, it's still a pretty solid platform with lots of great functionality, mobile responsiveness and a strong community behind it.
- Drupal 7 is a well-known, well-supported system
- You let other websites experiment and debug Drupal 8
- Drupal 7 is going to be supported until about 2017
- There is less time between now and Drupal 9, which means that you'll need to upgrade in the next 2-3 years. However, since you can now upgrade 2 versions at a time (instead of 1), it's less of an issue than in the past.
We consider this strategy suitable if you're not too worried about getting the Drupal 8 features and want a solid, functional website with lots of support. This is our recommendation for websites currently using Drupal 6.
Scenario 3: Wait and see
Even though it's possible to keep your website in Drupal 6 at least for a little while, we definitely don't recommend it.
Unsupported code is the other bleeding edge.
As soon as Drupal 8 comes out, your website will subsist on an unsupported code base.
- You can defer the upgrade costs to when the resources become available
- Not upgrading now doesn't stop you from upgrading later
- We definitely don't recommend running a website on unsupported code
- Your host's PHP upgrade will happen on its own timetable, which may force you to address this issue earlier than you planned
Again, this is not the recommended scenario, since unsupported code can mean more problems and higher costs in the long term.
For Drupal 6 users, this is an important decision. Do you adapt your website to the next level of technology and become a web trailblazer, or do you opt for the well-known and well-supported but just a bit less leading-edge system? What if you have a complex e-commerce website with custom-made functions and modules?
If you have any questions or concerns about the release of Drupal 8 and its effect on your website, don't hesitate to contact us. We're one of the few Drupal specialists in British Columbia, and our expert developers have all the know-how required to help you through this transition.