Drupal 8 was officially released on November 19, 2015. Because of this, Drupal 6 has now reached end-of-life, meaning it’s no longer officially supported and the Drupal community is encouraged to follow suit.
In a nutshell, this means that the core maintainers of Drupal, as well as the community at large, are no longer updating Drupal 6 in any way. This means no new projects are being created, no bugs will be fixed, no security patches will be released, and no documentation or support will be given. Essentially, end of life means that version of Drupal is dead.
What happens to those who have a Drupal 6 site?
Drupal 6 sites will continue to work, but you should definitely plan to upgrade your site as soon as possible.
From a security point of view, a Drupal 6 site is going to become increasingly more and more vulnerable to attack. Usually when bugs and security issues are found, patches and hotfixes are quickly released by the Drupal community to fix these issues. This is no longer happening, so vulnerabilities will increase over time.
From a development point of view, service providers and module developers will be shifting focus away from Drupal 6 website development and into the current software versions. As the software evolves, so do the processes and resources that work with it. Drupal 6 developers will be out there, but their services may become difficult to find and will most likely come at a premium.
What are the options?
You can upgrade your website to Drupal 7 or 8, depending on the requirements of your website.
Drupal 8 is now the preferred choice for a number of reasons. It’s the latest and greatest which means performance is at it’s best, it’s using some of the latest technology, and it’s user experience is more refined. As open source software evolves it continues to get better in every way, because it’s development is driven by the needs of its users. However, because the Drupal community is so large and so many modules can be found to extend it, there is naturally a time delay in migrating all of those modules over to the latest platform. If your website requires a module that has not yet been released for Drupal 8, your choices are to wait or upgrade to Drupal 7 instead.
Drupal 7 is still a very good option to develop your website on. It was released at the beginning of 2011, so it’s both secure and stable. Drupal 7 is guaranteed to give you good results and do anything you need it to do. Sure, it’s not the shiny-new toy on the shelf, but it is tried and true. Plus, its end of life won't be until Drupal 9 is released, so it’s safe to say you have many years of support. Of course, use Drupal 8 if you can, but if not, don’t sweat it. Drupal 7 has your back.
Other than support, are their other advantages to upgrading?
For Clients and Content Managers
From a content managers point of view, Drupal 6 is clunky and difficult to use. It’s not very friendly even to look at. However, as the software evolves, these things become less and less of an issue. Drupal 7 and 8 build on experience gained from the previous versions to create an overall cleaner and friendlier experience for those using it on a daily bases.
As new technologies are brought to the web and as people are accessing website in an ever changing format (phones, tablets, tvs, computers, etc.), the need for greater website performance increases. Platforms, like Drupal, get faster with every release because their code is refined, streamlined, and overhauled. New and current technologies are integrated (such as BigPipe Caching) which also increase performance. All of this is aimed at one thing, making your site load faster with an overall better user experience. Older technologies, like Drupal 6, lack these performance increases.
Like we mentioned earlier, newer software supports current technology. JQuery and JQuery UI, for example, are powerful tools which gives you all of those fancy effects seen on websites these days - fading menus, animations, etc. Drupal 6 only supports earlier versions of these tools, so much of user experience benefits that the later versions provide is lost.
Being able to use the latest JQuery allows developers to use framework tools, such as Bootstrap, to build websites. Frameworks make developing websites faster by using a common, documented code base that any developer can quickly pick up and work with. They provide a base set of layout tools, such as grids, menus, image rotators, popup boxes, etc., which can then be customized to the new website's design guidelines.
Developers benefit from these technologies in a similar way that content managers do from easier-to-use interfaces. The tools and languages used to develop website and custom functionality continue to improve. Less time is usually spend doing tedious tasks which allows more time for quality coding and adding in all of the bells and whistles new technology brings. Your project may not have cost savings because of new technologies, but will definitely be built to a higher standard and quality.
The bottom line
We’re just scratching the surface here on why you should be planning to upgrade your old Drupal 6 site. But the bottom line is, yes, it is time to upgrade. If not for you, then for your customers.
Of course, the friendly folks here at Acro Media can help you decide when to do it and what version to move to (7 or 8). That’s what we do, make the update process easy and seamless. If you’d like to discuss, please contact us and we’d be happy to talk.