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Notes on Upgrading the Drupal Site

All of the solutions proposed below would allow the site to run on CRC servers. For each, the two main considerations are
  1. how difficult (i.e., expensive) would the conversion be?
  2. what future support would be available?

Upgrade the site from Drupal Commons 2 to Drupal Commons 3.

section last updated 16Nov2016 - JG

Drupal Commons 3 is based on Drupal Core 7 plus a set of modules oriented toward providing social-network functionality. Commons was originally an open-source Acquia product, but Acquia's support now seems little more than token-level, and most current development seems due to a group of enthusiast open-source developers (like most Drupal modules).

Commons 3.39-7.x was released in August 2016, so it appears that Cmmons it is in fact under active development for Drupal 7. There is still no indication of development for Drupal 8.

Upgrading to Commons 3 would allow the site to be moved onto CRC servers, since Drupal 7 is compatible with all PHP 5.2.5 or higher (5.4 recommended). According to policy, however, Drupal does not provide backwards compatibility of code between major releases. Thus, there is no direct upgrade mechanism from Commons 2.x-6.x to Commons 3.x-7.x. Commons 3 is essentially a separate product from Commons 2.

Drupal does preserve data compatibility between releases, though. This means that upgrading the site from Commons 2 to Commons 3 would require substantial re-write of code, but the underlying data would transfer. It would not be as challenging as recreating the entire site from the ground up in a new platform.

This immediate difficulty aside, there are several good reasons to move away from Drupal Commons. What popularity it had appears to be waning, and future support for it is uncertain. In addition, Drupal's upgrade policy will likely cause this problem again when Drupal 7 reaches end-of-life, making Drupal Commons 3 disallowed on the CRC VMs.

Upgrading to Drupal Commons 3 would be difficult, but it would not be impossible. Future support is not guaranteed, and current problems are likely to recur. This is not recommended.

Convert the site to Drupal

Even if Drupal Commons is a declining platform, Drupal itself seems robust. Since Drupal Commons is simply regular Drupal (called "Drupal Core" in this context) plus a prepackaged set of modules, it should be possible to recreate the functions we need using Drupal 7 or 8 plus some number of modules added individually.

Also, despite the fact that Drupal does not officially provide backwards compatibility, upgrades from one major version to another (Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 or 8, for example) tend to be supported and documented by the large and active user base. This makes Core upgrades easier than Commons upgrades, though still not seamless.

The conversion from Commons to Core + Modules would not be a trivial enterprise, as I don't believe there are any official mechanisms for doing it. How much effort it would be relative to the other options, though, I can't estimate.

Converting to Drupal Core would also be difficult, but possible. Future support would be much more reliable, but probably not painless.

Convert the site to WordPress

As a platform, WordPress is far more popular than Drupal (at the moment, at least - Q4 2016), and support is easy to find. Moreover, the conversion of web sites from Drupal into WordPress is, in general, systematically possible. Several companies advertise such a service, though I can't guess the cost for a site like ours.

Xeno Media advertises expertise in both Drupal and WordPress, so they might be able to conduct such a conversion themselves. They don't mention this service explicitly or offer pricing information on their website, though.

The two big outstanding questions here are
  1. Drupal to WordPress is one thing, but is Drupal Commons to WordPress substantially different?
  2. Does WordPress offer the features that we need from the site?
Conventional wisdom seems to be that anything that can be done in Drupal can be done in WordPress. As always, though, the uncertainty is how difficult it would be to accomplish. This, in turn, will depend on exactly what our needs for the site are.

Converting to WordPress might be the best option, both in terms of ease of conversion and future support. We would need to clearly articulate our requirements for the site before pursuing this option, though.

Other Options

Joomla is a Content Management System often mentioned in the same sentence as Drupal and WordPress. I haven't learned much about it yet, though.

-- Main.JoelG - 2016-04-07


Topic revision: r9 - 2016-11-16, JoelG
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