Tools & Tech / January 2016

I’m on Drupal 6—what happens now?!

Drupal generally only supports the latest two versions of their platform. When Drupal 8 was released in November 2015, the Drupal community made the decision to no longer provide major updates for Drupal 6 to focus on the most recent versions of the system. The official stop date for Drupal 6 development is February 24th, 2016 (read more about it here). This has left a lot of organizations with older Drupal sites worried about the sustainability and security of their websites.

Why that’s a problem

Off the bat, don’t panic. It isn’t like Drupal 6 sites are going to magically disappear. The issue is that the Drupal developer community actively releases patches to their system to account for vulnerabilities that lead to security problems. Since the release of Drupal 6 in 2008, there have been 37 updates to Drupal core (nearly one every two months), and every single update included security improvements. Now that the community is not updating Drupal 6 core, more security problems will come up over time. Modules will no longer get regular updates which can also lead to security vulnerabilities. However, the recommendation from the Drupal community is not that you immediately update your website (although this is a lot of fear mongering on the internet)—rather, if you’re building a new site, it’s a good decision to use the latest version.

Why this isn’t a HUGE problem

The Drupal CMS has a huge open source community. While the community’s focus will be on later versions, some people will still be out there in the world using Drupal 6. If a major vulnerability appears, it’s probable that someone will address it or provide information on the problem for a fix.

And realistically, if you’ve missed security updates in the past, and your website has continued to run, it will likely continue to operate past the February 24th end date.

What you can do about it

First thing you should do if you’re running Drupal 6 is to do an audit of the security of your site. You can take some standard precautions to ensure your site is secure, such as reducing the permissions that the Drupal CMS has on your webserver, ensuring you have regular backups (we use Backup & Migrate), adding in some existing security modules, using secure passwords (consider using a password solution and generator, like 1Password) or two-factor authentication, and avoiding easy-to-hack login credentials (like “admin” or “administrator”).

Consider the value and cost of upgrading to Drupal 7 or 8. Consult a web developer to see if you are able to easily port your site to a more recent version, or if migrating your custom theme will require extensive work. Compare the modules that you’re using in your Drupal site to ensure they exist in later versions or if there is a reliable alternative.

You can also use this as an opportunity to reevaluate what works and does not work with your site. Review your analytics or conduct some user testing to see how people behave and if the site is allowing them to be successful. Gather a group of sample visitors to your site and watch them perform common tasks—are they able to complete them as you would expect? Perhaps this is the right time to consider a larger redesign of your site.

For more tips on low cost user testing, check out my presentation at Museums and the Web on April 6th in Los Angeles, or come to our lunchtime workshop on February 17 in Philadelphia.