Switching to Drupal 8 – Taking the Plunge
In my last post, I explored some of the new features in Drupal 8. If any of that piqued your interest, you may be wondering what it means for you. Maybe you’ve got an existing Drupal website and are wondering whether it’s worth upgrading to Drupal 8. Or you might be planning to build a new site and wonder whether Drupal 8 would be right choice.
Drupal 8 is only a few months old. Is it mature enough for professional sites? If you asked the people at Memorial Sloan Ketering I’m sure you’d get a resounding “Yes!” Why? Because their new site uses Drupal 8. And they’re not alone. According to the numbers recorded on Drupal.org, over 50,000 websites are already running on Drupal 8. So if you’re building a new website, there’s no reason to even consider Drupal 7, right? Well, not quite.
Reasons to Start with Drupal 8
Loads of Improvements
Along with the frontend and backend user interface upgrades that we looked at in the last post, Drupal 8 has a lot of core changes to help developers build more stable and maintainable modules for your Drupal site.
Longer Software Lifetime
Based on the planned Drupal release cycle, Drupal 7 should continue to be actively developed for about another two years and receive security update support for another two years after that. Drupal 8 is slated for another four years of active development followed by a period of security support, making it a better long-term investment.
Reasons to Start with Drupal 7
While it’s possible to build a website using only core Drupal — chances are you’ll want to extend its capabilities with some of the more than 30,000 modules built for Drupal. Module developers have been working hard to upgrade their contributions to work with Drupal 8, and no doubt are working even harder now that Drupal 8 has been officially released, but there are still a lot of modules that aren’t production-ready yet. If you’re planning to start development in the next few months, talk to a Drupal developer about your specific needs to determine which version is appropriate for you.
Version 8 includes significant changes in Drupal internals—the stuff developers use to create custom Drupal websites. Here at Constructive, we’ve been working hard for months, ramping up our skills and knowledge so that we’d be ready to jump right in and start developing in Drupal 8, and we’re certainly not alone in this. Still, there’s a much larger pool of Drupal 7 developers than Drupal 8 developers, and if you can’t find good developers who are up-to-date with Drupal 8, you’re probably better off going with 7.
Upgrading Existing Drupal Sites
The Drupal team has included a migration tool in Drupal 8 to help people move their content from existing Drupal 6 or 7 sites, but a major version upgrade is never a simple matter. Drupal 8 has introduced a new theme engine which means that your theme will need to be completely rewritten. Custom code will have to be modified as well, and while the migration tool will help with moving content into the new system, it requires customization and testing to do the job.
If you’re happy with your current Drupal 7 site, it would be hard to justify the effort and expense of upgrading to Drupal 8. On the other hand, if you’ve already been thinking about making significant updates, and especially if they include re-theming, adding multilingual capabilities or sharing content with REST, it may make sense to make upgrading part of the project.
If you’re currently running Drupal 6, you already have a very good reason to upgrade: security. Drupal.org has announced that Drupal 6 will reach end-of-life on February 24, 2016. But don’t panic. “End-of-life” isn’t as scary as it sounds. Your website won’t expire on the 24th. It will work just as well as it always did. What will expire is security support by the Drupal community. Those security updates that you’ve been applying all these years (you have been applying security updates, haven’t you?) will stop coming. This doesn’t mean your website will become insecure on the 25th, but as time goes by and baddies invent more sophisticated attacks, your website will be progressively more vulnerable, unless you do something about it.
Upgrade Your Website
Chances are, your Drupal 6 site is at least five years old and is probably showing its age. Look at Drupal 6’s end-of-life not as a crisis, but as an opportunity. This is a great time to give your site a complete facelift and to open it up to mobile devices by making it responsive.
Moving directly to Drupal 8 would both maximize the lifetime of the new site, and let you take advantage of the latest improvements to Drupal—but if your site depends on modules that don’t yet exist in Drupal 8 or has been heavily customized, you’d probably be better off upgrading to Drupal 7.
Because Drupal is open source, there’s nothing to prevent others from stepping in and supporting a version of the software, and a few companies are already working with the Drupal security team to provide long-term support for Drupal 6. This means an added expense, but if you have a large, heavily customized site, this may be your best option.
Not everyone with a Drupal 6 site is in a position to either upgrade to a newer Drupal version or take on the added expense of paid support. If you’re in this position, there are still things you can do. Check out the What can you do to protect your site, come Drupal 6 support retirement day? section of this post for tips on beefing up overall security for your site. Also, make sure you’re using strong passwords and multi-factor-authenticationfor site logins, especially those with administrative privileges. These aren’t permanent solutions, but they’ll reduce your site’s vulnerability and give you some extra time to start planning and budgeting for a site upgrade.
If you’re planning a new website, Drupal 8 is a very attractive option. Along with significant improvements to the administrative interface, it promises a more stable and extensible architecture, a longer period of support, and an easier upgrade path to future Drupal versions. Drupal 7 is more mature, and boasts more modules and a wider user base.
If you want to learn more about which Drupal release is right for you, Get in Touch!