by David Snopek on April 12, 2016 - 2:00pm
Ever since Drupal 6's End-of-Life on February 24th, there have been countless blogs and articles about why you should upgrade to Drupal 7 or 8 as quickly as possible.
But this may be the only article arguing that you SHOULDN'T upgrade from Drupal 6! ;-)
If you have a complex Drupal 6 site, and you haven't started the upgrade process yet - contrary to conventional wisdom - the best answer may be: keep waiting.
No, this isn't an April Fools joke, and we're not being sarcastic. :-)
Want to know why? Keep reading!
The merits of upgrading to Drupal 7 or 8
Having a Drupal 7 or 8 site, is definitely better than having a Drupal 6 site. Both 7 and 8 are better supported, and provide more of the features needed by a modern website (like responsive design).
Also, upgrading is a great time to rethink your site. If it's not responsive (probably not if it's built on Drupal 6), this is a great time to fix that! Have some features that are no longer necessary or never quite did what you wanted - you can drop or fix them when building the new site.
Also, the Drupal Security Team is providing security releases for Drupal 7 and 8 (for free), whereas Drupal 6 users have to turn to the Drupal 6 Long-Term Support vendors for paid security support.
All that sounds great! But, "now" might not be the time to do the upgrade.
Don't get stuck in the upgrade cycle
Because it took so long for Drupal 8 to be released (almost 5 years!), Drupal 6 site owners have had more time to upgrade to Drupal 7 than any other major upgrade in Drupal's history.
But if you have a complex Drupal 6 site, and haven't started the upgrade process yet, then you've been thrown into a tough spot.
We don't know when Drupal 7 will reach End-of-Life (ie. when Drupal 9 is released) but it could be as soon as 2 years from now. Doing a Drupal major version upgrade isn't a trivial project. If you have a complex enough site, it could take months, or even a year to do the upgrade!
The investment to upgrade from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 may not be worth it, because you could find yourself back in the same situation in no time!
Really, the best time to upgrade to Drupal 7 was probably 2 years ago.
So, if you hadn't already started upgrading to Drupal 7, it's probably best to go straight to Drupal 8, but...
Drupal 8 isn't quite ready for complex sites
If you have a relatively simple site, you can upgrade to straight to Drupal 8, which is exactly what you should do. :-)
Drupal 8 will be supported for longer than Drupal 7, and with the new semantic versioning and plans for less drastic API changes in the future (ie. Drupal 8 could support the new APIs in Drupal 9, and Drupal 9 simply deprecates the old APIs), the transition from Drupal 8 to 9 will likely be far smoother than Drupal 7 to 8.
That said, the real power Drupal comes not from Drupal core, but from the thousands of awesome contrib modules. And, unfortunately, many of the modules we've relied on in Drupal 6 and 7 aren't yet ported, or don't have all the features you may need.
It could take another 3-12 months for all the modules you need for a complex site to be ready for Drupal 8!
And while you might be able to come up with alternative ways to implement the features you need in the short-term, those "workarounds" could become maintenance burdens in the long-term.
To build a site that's easy and cost-effective to maintain you should use the best-in-class modules, and follow best practices, however, much of that hasn't been fully hammered out in Drupal 8 yet.
For example, it's almost certain that 'composer' will one day be THE way to install modules, themes and libraries under Drupal 8. While you can use it today, "how" you should use it has evolved and will likely continue to evolve until the best practice is determined.
To maximize your investment: wait a little longer
- If you have a complex Drupal 6 site, upgrading to Drupal 7 or 8 is going to be big investment in time and money
- In order to maximize that investment, you want a new site that will last as long as possible, and be as maintainable as possible
- That probably means upgrading to Drupal 8... but not the Drupal 8 of today, the Drupal 8 of 3-12 months from now!
- Which means waiting just a little bit longer...
Of course, in the interim, you want to make sure that your Drupal 6 site is maintained and remains online and secure. Luckily, you can purchase Drupal 6 Long-Term Support from one of the official LTS vendors (of which we are one - yes, we are a little biased ;-)).
So long as as the cost of Long-Term Support for 3-12 months is less than having to double upgrade (ie. Drupal 6 -> 7, then Drupal 7 -> 8) or rebuilding your Drupal 8 site after best practices are established, then you'll come out ahead!
I'm sure this article is bound to be a little controversial. :-) Please leave your comments below! I'm looking forward to the discussion.