The Drupal community officially said goodbye to Drupal 6 at last week's DrupalCon in New Orleans. Drupal 6 was put on end-of-life status on February 24th 2016, three months after the release of Drupal 8. This leaves sites running on Drupal 6 without community support. No security upgrades or bug fixes make for a vulnerable site. What are site owners to do going forward to make sure their site is not vulernable? We'll explore the options.
Paid Long Term Support for Drupal 6
While there is not going to be any community support for Drupal 6, there are companies offering paid support. These won't come cheap, though. Drupal.org lists only 3 companies on their Long Term Support page for Drupal 6, and the support options for all of them are clearly aimed at enterprise-level companies. Tag1 Consulting's support plans start at $1200 a month! Acquia offers support plans, but only to clients already on their Acquia Platform cloud hosting. There is no pricing listed for the support, but their hosting plans start at $215/month for a basic server. The third company, myDropWizard, offers somewhat more affordable plans starting at $125/month, but that plan only covers critical maintenance tasks and security updates. Again, this not really affordable for many small businesses and individuals.
Upgrade your site
So, if you can't afford these paid support options, what are you to do? The Drupal community reccomends that site owners upgrade their site to a supported version of Drupal (7 or 8). However, this is not as straightforward as it sounds. In most cases, you will not be able to directly upgrade your site. Drupal has an upgrade for Drupal 6 to 7, but there are many issues that could break some of your site's functionality. There is no upgrade at all from 6 to 8. The Drupal 8 upgrade process is actually to perform a content migration. However, the Drupal 8 Migrate Upgrade module is still in beta, and the module's page clearly states that it does not deal with issues occuring in the upgrade process, and refer you to log an issue with the core migration system. This won't sound very reassuring to many Drupal 6 site owners. So upgrading is out - what other options exist?
The reccommended path for moving to a newer version of Drupal is actually to rebuild your site on the new platform, and then migrate the content to the new site once all the functionality and architecture has been replicated. So if you are rebuilding your Drupal 6 site on a new platform, the three obvious choices are Drupal 7, Drupal 8, and Backdrop CMS, which is forked from the Drupal 7 codebase. We'll look at each of these options.
Drupal 7 has been around for since 2011, and has a module for pretty much anything you'd want to build. It is mature, stable, tested and dependable. Chances are that all of your site's modules will have a working and supported Drupal 7 version. Themes are also largely compatible between Drupal 6 and 7. There are some changes, but with some minor adjustments your theme will still run in Drupal 7. Drupal 7 will ahve continued official support for years to come, until the release of Drupal 9. This would make it the conservative choice for migration.
The down side of using Drupal 7 is that it will not get much in the way of new functionality. It will largely only be receiving bug fixes and security updates.
Backdrop CMS was started as a response to the many fundamental changes in the architecture of Drupal with Drupal 8. Prominent Drupal developers Nate Haug and Jen Lampton forked the Drupal 7 codebase into a new project aimed at providing a familiar developer experience and compatibilty (mostly) with Drupal 7. It was a way to leverage the knowledge base of how Drupal 7 works, while still providing new features going forward. They explain their reasons in this blog post, and in heir project philosophy page.
Since the initial release of Backdrop in January 2015, development has been moving at a rapid pace. They have just released their fourth iteration, version 1.4. They have added many features and contributed modules into the core, including:
- Full Configuration Management (easy deploying between environments)
- Built-in Views module (dynamic list generator), and Layout module (similar to Panels in Drupal 7)
- long list of modules now inclued in core (CKEditor, Date, Date Popup, Date Views, Link, Email, Redirect and more)
- PHP 7 support
To put it mildly, they have been adding functionality at a breakneck pace. This makes it a good choice for site owners who want the familiarity and stability of Drupal 7, but knowing that it will be receiving new features. There is a bit of a risk when moving to a relatively new platform, but judging by the long list of companies listed on their Service Providers page, it won't be hard to find support for Backrop.
Backdrop may be a good option for smaller companies and individuals, that is also forward-looking.
For those wanting to stay in the Drupal ecosystem, and want the latest and greatest functionality, Drupal 8 is an exciting step forward. It is the obvious upgrade path for simpler sites, as most of the functionality you will need is now included in core. For more complex sites that rely on numerous contributed modules, you may want to proceed with a bit of caution. Many popular contrib modules do not yet have a stable release, and are either still in alpha/beta development. In other words, not yet ready for use in production. There is a good site called ContribKanban that has a module tracker listing the status of various modules. It's a good place to start, by checking the status of modules your site uses, and how close they are to full release. If most of the modules you need are either in release or have a release candidate, you should be good to go. The list of fully ported modules is growing, as of the writing of this article:
|Status||number of modules|
|Release candidate (RC)||14|
|No Port Active||75|
Drupal 8 will be the main focus of the Drupal development community for years to come, and will receive many updates over its lifetime. Drupal's move to a new faster release cycle means that Drupal 8 core will not be stuck at its current functionality for its whole lifetime, but can receive feature updates in minor versions (8.1, 8.2, etc.). In fact, version 8.1.0 was just released, and added several (mostly under-the hood) improvements.
All three of these options offer a good way to move your website to a supported platform. Drupal 8 should probably be the choice for most sites, as it provides the most future-proof soltuion. If you want the most painless transition, and want your site to be up and running as quickly as possible, you should go with Drupal 7. If your needs lie somewhere in-between, needing future development, while keeping a familiar environment, then you may want to give Backdrop a try.
Still not sure where to go with your Drupal 6 transition? Give us a shout, and we can help you figure out a way forward.