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

In conclusion...

  • 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.

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I agree with you David. All the companies that make these 'recommendation' blog posts do so in part to make money selling their services. It's nice to hear from someone who looks out for his clients' best interests.

True, it is really the wrong time to upgrade a complex D6 site to anything (speaking as one who has done some painful major version upgrades). Maybe some of the articles suggesting upgrade is needed are chasing the buck. Maybe they are just casting around to generate some fresh content (something I am woefully bad at on my own neglected site!). Hopefully most will give each client an informed view, and will in the event turn away, or rather postpone, an upgrade which may not be in the interests of the client. D8 is generating so much interest among devs that I am optimistic it will not be long before the time is right.

Hi David:

Interesting thoughts - not sure that I agree as readily as Jody, but then, given his reasons for agreement, perhaps he should read your hird last paragraph a little more thoroughly before jumping on board quite so readily, and, maybe having done so his stance will change.

There are many deeply relevant reasons why a move away from Drupal6 is very viable, and dare I say it, important in the lives of enterprises running D6 platforms, PHP vulnerability and support being just one if we'd like to start at that level.

At the end of the day, it is about what makes commercial sense coupled with technical support that develops into a business case. I believe that using that premise, upgrading to D7 makes imminent sense, regardless of when the mythical D9 is due for release. D8, as you have noted, is still not full supported, and is therefore not a commercial proposition for even relatively low-end requirements. By that argument, coupled with time-to-maturity (market adoption and support is part of this thought) for the platform, and D7 makes much sense... or maybe something completely different!! Lol.


I totally agree with the analysis given in this article.

Can't agree more with you on if you have Drupal 6 website, it's better to migrate it directly to Drupal 8. Though, I have a question concerning migration. How is it performed? Perhaps some tips on it? Because I've found and automated migration solution:

I'm over a full year late to this post and I'm still in complete agreement to the premise. :-)