Drupal is an Open Source Content Management System (CMS), which means it is available for free use but you still need to maintain Drupal sites and that is not FREE. Why is that? On a simpler philosophical level the answer is “Time is Money”. Somebody has to apply these free updates and ensure that they do not break the site. Let’s get into some details.
Of course one option would be to never update your site. This is like saying you never want to update your Windows or Anti-Virus software; it’s simply not worth the risk. In a best case scenario your site will be hacked and the hacker could steal all the data. In the worst case scenario a hacker could turn your site into a zombie site, controlled by them, and use it for all kinds of illegal purposes, increasing your liability. So what are the steps needed to update a Drupal site?
Ten Basic steps for updating a Drupal Site:
1. Make a copy of the current site in the dev area
2. Apply all updates
3. Check for and fix any errors
4. Check for any functionality breaks on the site
5. Backup current site files
6. Backup current site databases
7. Take the live site offline
8. Apply updates to the live site and make the same fixes as done in the dev site
9. Go online with the live site
10. Ensure all functionality on the new site is still correct
How often are Drupal updates issued?
Drupal Core: The current official version in most popular use is Drupal 7. It was released on 5th Jan 2011. Since then, up to end of the year 2014, there have been 34 updates released for Drupal Core. So that translates to 8-9 updates per year, or roughly an update every 1-2 months.
Contributed Modules: Most projects have at least a few dozen contributed modules, and on an average there are 2-3 updates released per month for these modules. Complex sites will have additional modules and accordingly, possibly extra update releases.
So effectively, there are at least a few updates available every month for each site.
Not all updates are created equal
It is OK to wait for a while to apply some updates, but security updates require immediate attention. Do keep in mind if you skip a few regular updates, then applying updates becomes harder, as the issued updates are not cumulative in nature and core updates might make some of the modules incompatible, thus requiring simultaneous updates of these modules.
How much effort it is to apply these updates?
In our experience, for most sites which are kept updated on regular basis, there is about 1-2 hours of effort, if you follow due diligence and do not skip any of the 10 steps for updates, as outlined above.
What do we recommend?
We are a full service Drupal Development house. For our clients we recommend a yearly maintenance plan, which bills for 1-2 hours of work per month. We update sites on a quarterly basis, unless there is a security update, which we take care of immediately. We have found this to be a cost effective solution for our clients.
Can I do my own updates?
Yes. Absolutely, you can update your own sites. This is not chip design – I think chip design, my last job, is much harder than rocket science 🙂
All information on updates is available online and you can certainly do this yourself, if you are so inclined. I do want to remind you of the philosophical statement we started with: “Time is Money.” If you do not do this for a living, it will certainly take you longer than it would for your Drupal expert. And if you break the site, you might end up paying more in long run.
We’re here to help, if you want it.