Drupal 6 vs Drupal 7

October 13, 2012

In this new series that I’ve dubbed The Drupal Framework, I will be going over my basic framework for Drupal sites. Although I have some ideas for more Drupal tutorials, I wanted to take a few posts and describe my Drupal installations and the thought process behind the decisions about which version to use and what modules are necessary.

In March of 2011, I wrote an article on the FliteHaus blog all about how Drupal 7 was far from production-ready (Drupal 7 Has Arrived, So What?). Well, it’s been a year and a half at the time I’m writing this and I’m more convinced now that simple Drupal sites should be built on Drupal 7. In fact, the majority of the new sites we build at FliteHaus are now using Drupal 7 as the core framework.

Drupal 6: Pros and Cons

Let’s start with the pros.

The biggest pro, in my opinion, is just how long it’s been around – since February 2008. A huge majority of the Drupal web is built on version 6 and with so many contributed modules that have been created for it, custom development time is almost non-existent. Along the same lines, many of the fantastic Drupal 6 modules that I use haven’t been ported over to Drupal 7 yet (eg: Sections – which allows for different themes to be applied to parts of your site based on the URL). More on that in the next section.

Also, when it comes to e-commerce, Drupal’s Ubercart is one of the most robust (and highly contributed to) commerce packages available today. There are thousands of Ubercart modules and payment acceptance plugins that make Ubercart so versatile. And while Drupal Commerce is making strides within Drupal 7, Ubercart still looks to be the best option for selling products online using Drupal.

The biggest con with version 6, I think, would be its true lack of backend user-friendliness for clients. The Drupal 6 backend is a bit confusing (to be polite) and, without our custom FliteHaus admin theme, it would be hard to find what you’re looking for. The inclusion of a contributed module called Administration Menu helps by adding a toolbar to the top of the page, but the fact remains that this particular version of Drupal is best suited for use and updates by developers.

Drupal 7: Pros and Cons

Again, we’ll start with the pros.

Drupal 7 was released in January of 2011 and the biggest pro comes right from Drupal 6’s biggest con: a new, user-friendly backend interface. Drupal 7’s overlay module and new admin theme, in addition to a revamped toolbar, make Drupal 7 the most user-friendly version yet. Based on Drupal Gardens, Drupal 7 has managed to make everything much easier, no matter where you are in the site.

The next pro, which was almost a tie with the UI upgrade above, is server site module installs and upgrades. This has been a staple of WordPress sites for years and has finally made its way to Drupal 7. In addition to making the development of a site much faster, we can now give our clients the ability to upgrade their own modules. This, of course, is still a bit risky with module branch changes and full version module upgrades, but it’s a start.

Lesser important upgrades in Drupal 7, but still worth mentioning, are an updated jQuery library and a shift of focus toward HTML5 and CSS3.

While there aren’t a ton of cons for Drupal 7, the biggest would have to be that several of the modules that made custom development unnecessary in Drupal 6 haven’t fully been ported to Drupal 7. The e-commerce system is less powerful without Ubercart and re-theming individual sections of a website is a challenge without the Sections module. Geolocation (like a proximity search) is also a development issue without a robust GMap module and its related modules. There are some attempts to replicate these and some alternatives, but none of them come with the kind of documentation (or video tutorials) that accompany Drupal 6 modules.

Final Verdict

I love Drupal 7 for new sites that are relatively small and don’t require a rich feature set that include ecommerce or geolocation. Until the documentation becomes better or more tutorials/videos exist showing how to use certain modules, Drupal 7 is going to have to be reserved for simpler sites. Who knows, maybe I’ll write or screencast a few of my own in the future….

Drupal 6 is still ideal for larger sites requiring feature-heavy sections or shopping carts.

What’s Your Take?

Are you a Drupal designer or developer? What version do you use? What would you recommend to people or agencies building Drupal sites for clients? Let me know in the comments below!

Wanna chat about this article or any others? Feel free to DM me or mention me on Twitter @marcusdburnette to start a conversation!

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