Drupal 8 is nearly here. With a launch date of November 19, the champagne has been ordered and we are ready to celebrate a new era in CMS customization.
Does this mean your Drupal 6 site will spontaneously catch fire when D8 comes out? No!
Then what does it mean?
One of Drupal's great strengths is that it leverages a massive, open-source community of contributed modules, themes, libraries, hotfixes, and other resources to constantly grow and optimize Drupal. BUT, it also does this for the two most recent versions. When it comes to Drupal 6 sites we have our hands tied because of the limited updates, security upgrades, and support that ends 3 months after the launch of Drupal 8.
Why should you care?
Drupal 6 can’t provide essential security patches to keep your site secure. This is particularly critical if you're storing any customer data like credit card information. Security vulnerabilities include securing e-commerce, updating privacy, protecting authentication credentials, and regulatory and legal compliance.
If any of your current functionality stops working, it will not be easy to fix, and no time can be invested in developing new functionality. Hosting providers are dropping support for older versions of the PHP programming language from their shared hosting packages. The majority of small and medium businesses run their site on some type of shared hosting package. If the hosting provider housing your site drops support for the version of PHP used by your Drupal installation, the site will not work until the issue is addressed.
What does that even mean?
Drupal is based on a server-side language called PHP. PHP has been a fixture of development on the Web for years. Drupal 6 supports PHP versions 4.4.0 through 5.3. However, because PHP v5.2 and 5.3 were written quite a while ago (2006 and 2009, respectively), recently, several major hosting providers have begun to transition their shared hosting accounts to newer versions.
Strategy One: Facelift aka moving directly to Drupal 8
Unlike before, Drupal, 8.0 has a direct upgrade path from Drupal 6. This allows Drupal 6 sites to bypass D7 entirely and avoid costs associated with upgrading to an intermediate version. Drupal 8 also supports responsive theming, meaning your site will have a mobile-compatible front end, ensuring your site looks great no matter what kind of device it is viewed on.
• Leading, nay, bleeding-edge approach
• D8 will be supported for years (until D10 is released)
• Drupal 8 will release with features in Core that will more than cover most sites’ requirements
• Better multilingual capabilities, configuration management, accessibility, built-in web services, better markup with HTML5, and fast theming
• Contributed modules/themes will take a while to catch up to the Core community
• Sites with complex functionality may find upgrading/cross-grading features to be difficult until D8's codebase settles. Be sure to ask your Friendly Neighbourhood Drupal Developer (that’s us!) if this will affect your ability to upgrade directly to D8 before deciding on your upgrade path
Strategy Two: Botox aka upgrading to Drupal 7
While Drupal 7 may not be the new kid on the block anymore, it remains an incredibly robust platform with a well-established community supporting it.
• D7 is a “known quantity”; you get a robust and responsive-compatible CMS that has years of development and proven bug-fixing behind it
• If your site has complex functionality it can’t be upgraded to Drupal 8 because the modules haven’t been written yet
• Drupal 7 will be supported and developed for until sometime in 2017
• A shorter window of time before Drupal 9 is released. However, newer versions of Drupal support multi-version upgrading, meaning that, by the time D9 is released, it may be possible to go directly from D7 to 9
So what should you do?
For most of our clients currently using Drupal 6, we’re currently recommending an upgrade to Drupal 7. While this doesn’t offer the shiny new platform or as much of the attractive cost savings associated with going straight to Drupal 8, you do get a stable and responsive-friendly CMS that will scale effectively to serve your business for the next several years. For sites with e-commerce functionality or other complex features, an upgrade audit may be helpful to guide you through any decisions that need to be made throughout the upgrading or cross-grading process.
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