How not to upgrade your Drupal

Last monday the 26th of May I upgraded drupal from 5.3 to 6.2. This turned out to be a bad decision, as drupal 6.2 is not ready yet in many ways to host a site such as

The decision to do an upgrade at all was motivated by security fears, as the version 5.3 which I was using was said not to be totally safe anymore although I am not so sure about this. I should have upgraded to 5.7 which is the latest version of version 5.x and has all the latest security patches (but no new functionality besides.

However, when going through the documentation on the fantastic site (a universe of knowledge and helpful information I can only recommend to every nextlayerer) I saw that Zen, the theme that we are using, has meanwhile been upgraded to version 6. This had been a major obstacle to upgrading the site before. also, some other key modules such as Image and Image Gallery had already got versions for 6 although they were marked beta.

Well, I thought, bit of beta versioning now and then shouldn't hurt and I made the jump.
So I followed the instructions on the drupal site on how to upgrade . Unfortunately those instructions are not as straight forward as one would hope they would be.

Although it says on the very first page

"NOTE: One of the most IMPORTANT things to do BEFORE you upgrade, is to backup your sites files and database. See this example of an automated backup script."

if you then continue clicking through the following pages you get to which suggests that you first turn off all your modules which are not core. I did this, before before I backuped the data base, which is a big mistake. The site should be much more unambiguous about this.

It should not happen but apparently when I turned off the non core modules some data base tables collapsed. Normally data base tables for a module should only be deleted if you uninstall that module but what means 'normally' in the computer world. I saw it happen, I saw some weird error messages.

Nevertheless I pressed on. I did everything the site told me to do and not too much later I had a brand new drupal version 6.2. Kind of.

When the site came back from updating, it spewed out error messages like a Kalashnikow. It looked awful and nothing was in place anymore. the audio module did not work, all bibliographies seemed gone and the images, although they were still there, were not displayed properly.

The least worry at this point was that Zen, although in theory upgraded for 6.2 in practice did not render the pages correctly and made quite a mess of it. What I had not known was that the developers of Zen had embarked on a new strategy. The version which I used, zen classic, had been frozen and a much more stripped down version is now offered as a starterkit. Zen now focuses on offering itself as a generic theme on which to build your own theme. That had always been the philosophy but the previous version had actually quite a bit of CSS, so if you wanted to use Zen to create your own theme you had to de-theme it quite a lot.

Much worse than the theming issue was that the index.php created a list of error messages as long as my arm each time it was called, i.e. each time someone clicks on the homepage. That was clearly not a safe state for the site to be in, so I pulled the plug and put it in maintenance mode.

Now started the debugging process. A really important thing is to be very careful with which advise you use. One has to be grateful that people are so generous with their advise in the drupal forums and also the support list but some of those recommendations should be given a second thought.

For instance, one way of dealing with the annoying error messages, I was told, was to turn public error messages off. And a way that some people decided they 'solved' the issue with images was that they simply removed all of them and then imported all of them back in again so that the system recognised and displayed them. With a site which ahs different users who all care about their images and how they are tagged this is clearly not something I would ever do.

Finally, the best advise which I got on the support list was to go back to the old version. As I had to deal with some very important project proposal writing this week I could not make that step as quickly as I would have wanted to make it, so the site stayed in maintenance mode from Monday to Friday evening. I apologise for this and hope the inconvenience was not too great for you.

Then, with the help of Aaron Kaplan from who host our site we together moved back the old pages. A big thanks to Aaron who helped although he was physically on the other side of the Atlantic.

On first sight things look good and I cannot detect major problems. However, there are some issues to iron out. I am not yet sure if they are small or of more far reaching consequences. There I would like to ask you for help. If you do find things missing, things that used to be there but now don't work anymore, please report it by answering to this post.

I also would like to close this post with a general advise: Just like FOSS, this site operates on a principle of NO WARRANTY whatsoever. is a free service and I am happy if you use it, but I cannot guarantee the safety of your data. You are responsible for your own data. Therefore backup, backup, backup. Store your written articles on your own HD as well, not just here. export your biblios as a bib, keep backups of your images elsewhere etc. I will do my best to prevent data loss but my skills and time are limited. Still, I am very very sorry if anything has gone lost indeed.