Revert WordPress to Previous Version Quickly (Complete WordPress Downgrade Guide)
WordPress makes it very easy to upgrade, but you will be hard-pressed to find a way to easily downgrade WordPress to the previous version. This is by design because updates are very important, especially from a security standpoint.
Having said that, you may need to revert WordPress to previous version for several legitimate reasons:
- The latest update caused your site to crash and you need to restore it.
- An old plugin or theme is not maintained or supported anymore, and therefore is no longer compatible with WordPress.
- You need to test on an older version.
- A backup that needs to be restored was taken during an older version of WordPress
- The web host setup (mostly PHP) is not compatible with the latest version.
The key point to remember here is that a downgrade should only be a temporary measure. Once you’ve been able to troubleshoot the issue that is causing you to roll back WordPress version, please update your site immediately.
TL;DR Rolling WordPress back to a previous version is a tricky process and should be undertaken with caution. Before making any changes to your site, take a full site backup with BlogVault. After you’ve figured out the situation, you can use BlogVault to manage your site updates mindfully as well. Overall, BlogVault gives you 100% control over your site, with the safety net of superb backups.
The most common reason you want to go back to previous WordPress version is that the update caused your site to crash. While it is a perfectly legitimate reason to want your site back to functional, thank you very much, reverting an update is always, always a temporary fix.
WordPress Updates bring in security fixes, patches for vulnerabilities, feature improvements, and much more. They are exceedingly important, and we will be repeating this ad nauseum throughout this article.
Also, we want to point out that, even if your site crashed, it is rarely because of the new WordPress version. Most likely, there is an errant plugin or theme that is not compatible with the update. For instance, when Gutenberg was launched, it broke so many sites. This wasn’t because Gutenberg was flawed—regardless of what people like to say. The fact is that plugin and theme developers were just not equipped to handle the update and took a long time to become compatible with the latest version. This can hardly be laid at the door of WordPress.
Should you choose to follow this trajectory, we have laid out everything you need to avoid damaging your site beyond recovery. Speaking of which, please take a full site backup right now. If anything goes wrong, you’ll be very grateful you have it.
What to do before you downgrade WordPress
There are a few things to consider before you downgrade WordPress to a previous version. We’ve listed these out so because they most commonly trip up a downgrade, and thus break sites beyond repair. Either you’ll end up losing your site and having to start from scratch, or pay an exorbitant fee to a WordPress expert for recovery.
1. Only ever downgrade to the last working version
Assuming that the update caused your site to crash and that you’ve exhausted all other means of troubleshooting the cause, please only downgrade WordPress to the last working version. There will be a considerable amount of juggling with version numbers of plugins and themes, so to keep it as safe and simple as possible, make sure to pick a recent version of WordPress.
2. Take a full, offsite backup of your site
Once again, we strongly recommend you take a full site backup if you haven’t already done so. If anything goes wrong with your site, you can restore it with a functional backup, even if it isn’t perfect. We highly recommend saving the backups in places other than your site server as well. Use BlogVault to take the backup, and you can rest assured that your site is safe on multiple offsite servers. Other backup plugins and web host backups will not give you this peace of mind.
3. Create a staging site
Before making any changes to your live site, please use a staging site to test out the WordPress downgrade thoroughly. This step will prevent downtime on your site—as caused by the downgrade—but also if anything gets messed up, you can throw away the staging site and start again easily. If you’ve used BlogVault to backup your site, there’s a nifty staging feature built into the plugin too. You can choose to create a staging site in seconds from the same backup.
4. Deactivate plugins and themes
Extensions, especially plugins, can complicate things. Please deactivate all plugins and every theme except for 1 stock WordPress theme on your site. You can do this either through your wp-admin dashboard or, if that is not accessible, using FTP to rename the folders in the plugins and themes directories.
5. Revert plugin and theme updates
Actively maintained plugins and themes will usually release updates in line with major WordPress releases. It is one of the reasons BlogVault has a scheduled auto-update feature, because the avalanche of updates on your site post a new WordPress release can be overwhelming. Therefore, if you have updated any plugins or themes recently, roll those back in line with the previously installed versions.
6. Check PHP compatibility before starting
There is a possibility that you may have to downgrade PHP as well. However, this is up to your web host, as it forms a part of their setup. You will have limited control with this; some web hosts will allow you to set the PHP version from your hosting dashboard or cPanel, whereas others will require you to write into their support.
To check which version of PHP is enabled on your site, go into Tools, and then Site Health on your wp-admin dashboard.
There, click on the Info tab, and scroll down to Server. Click to expand the section, and you should see a value against the PHP version. Make a note of this.
Next, check the support version chart to ensure that your target WordPress version is compatible with the PHP version on your site.
How to downgrade WordPress to a previous version (3 ways)
We will walk you through the different ways to downgrade WordPress version on your site. As with most everything in life, you have choices. We recommend using a plugin to do the deed because it is easier and less prone to errors. However, you may not always have this option, especially if wp-admin is not accessible.
How to revert WordPress to previous version using a plugin
We will be using WP Downgrade to rollback WordPress version. Our test site has the latest version of WordPress installed, which at the time of writing this article is 6.0.1. Our site server has PHP version 8.0 installed, so as per the compatibility check, we can only downgrade our test site safely to WordPress 5.6. Anything lower and our test site will experience a critical error.
1. First, install and activate WP Downgrade from the Plugins menu on your wp-admin.
2. Click on Settings, and then on WP Downgrade to get to the plugin’s settings.
You’ll see an instruction to get the exact release number for your target WordPress version.
This is important. Get the number from the provided link, and insert into the textbox.
3. Click on Save Changes. You should see a message appear that says you need to go to Update Core to complete the process. Click on the button to proceed. This will take you to the Updates menu.
4. You should now see a new button under the section heading: You have the latest version of WordPress. In our case, the button is Re-install version 5.6, as this was our selected target version. Click on the button to proceed.
5. On reloading wp-admin and visiting the Updates menu, you should see that the active version is 5.6.
If you want to keep this version for a while, disable WordPress automatic updates. On our test site, major automatic updates were enabled. Click on Switch to automatic updates for maintenance and security releases only. to enable only minor automatic updates, otherwise, in 12 hours, your site will update automatically to the latest version again.
How to downgrade WordPress manually using FTP
Reverting a WordPress version manually is very similar to installing it from scratch. The steps for using FTP and cPanel are very similar, so we’ve clubbed the instructions into a single section.
1. The first step is to download the target version from WordPress. For this tutorial, we used a site that was on a server that had PHP 7.4 installed, so our target WordPress version is 5.3.12.
2. Next, unzip the downloaded file on your computer. You will see a folder named wordpress.
3. Use an FTP client to connect to your site’s server. We’ve used FileZilla. You should see two panes: the one on the left is a file explorer for your computer, and the one on the right is the one on your site’s server.
4. Navigate to the folder with the unzipped WordPress installation. Drag the wordpress directory from the left pane to the right pane. This will start the copying process. It will take a few minutes to complete, so be patient. FTP is a slow transfer protocol.
5. Once the directory has transferred, go into your root directory, where WordPress is installed. Most commonly, this will be the public or public_html directory. In our case, it is migratetester.dreamhosters.com.
6. Delete the wp-admin and wp-includes directories from the root directory.
7. Then, go back to the wordpress folder, and move the wp-admin and wp-includes directories to the root directory.
8. Next, gather up the loose files in the wordpress directory, and move those into the root directory. Make sure not to touch the wp-content folder and the wp-config file. Those should remain intact.
9. Finally, go to the wp-includes directory, and find the version.php file. Make note of the number against the $wp_db variable. Then open up your site’s database, and look for the db_version value in the wp_options table. If these values are different, click the value in the database to update it to match the one in the version.php file. Save and exit.
Manually roll back WordPress using WP-CLI
You can use WP-CLI to downgrade to a previous version of WordPress as well. The steps are easy enough to do, however you do need to make sure that WP-CLI is enabled and working on your system.
1. Find your site’s SSH credentials, and connect to your site using the command line. In most cases, the SSH credentials are the same as the FTP ones.
2. Check the existing WordPress core version with the command
wp core version.
3. Find your target WordPress core version from WordPress releases. You will need the exact number. We’ve chosen 5.6 for our test site.
4. Force downgrade the core version with the command
wp core update --version=5.6 --force replacing 5.6 with your target version number.
After the operation completes, you should see a success message saying your WordPress version has been successfully updated—even if it is a downgrade.
After you roll back WordPress version
Congratulations, you’ve successfully downgraded your WordPress version. Assuming you need the site at this lower version for a few days and you still want a functional site, there are a bunch of things you need to do.
- Visit your site and check all the pages: Any change can break your site—if it wasn’t broken already—and downgrading WordPress is as big as it gets. Visit your site and check all major pages, if not all. Check for missing images, broken formatting, malfunctioning forms, and so on.
- Log into your site: When WordPress is installed, reinstalled, or downgraded, the process checks the database version. Sometimes, the database too needs to be updated accordingly, and so you’ll see a prompt when logging into wp-admin for the first time. Follow onscreen instructions, and you should be set.
Secondly, wp-admin should be accessible. There are times when you can visit your site, but not log into the dashboard. In this case, you’ll have to revert the rollback and start again, because something went wrong.
- Disable auto-updates: To keep the changes you have made for more than 12 hours, you need to disable auto updates. If you aren’t worried about the minor releases, then you can do so from the Updates menu. If you require a very specific version of WordPress, then you will need to set constants in the wp-config file to disable minor WordPress updates as well. Either way, we have a detailed tutorial on how you can go about doing that safely.
- Clear all the caches: This is to ensure that only the latest version of your site is available to visitors.
- Reactivate your plugins and themes: Once you’ve ascertained everything is working like clockwork, enable your plugins and themes one at a time. This is important because any one of these could trip up your site. Doing them one at a time gives you a chance to check your site after each activation, and spot a culprit instantly.
Troubleshooting WordPress downgrade issues
The most common error you will see when you go back to previous WordPress version is a critical error. There are several causes for the error, which we will tackle by the process of elimination.
Misbehaving plugin or theme
You won’t be able to glean too much from the error message itself until you enable debugging mode.
To do so, use FTP to open the wp-config.php file. Once you’ve opened the file, change ‘false’ to ‘true’ in this line: define(‘WP_DEBUG’, false). Save and close the file, and exit FTP.
Then, reload your site. The error message will have a little more information, and possibly a recognizable plugin or theme name. If so, log into FTP again, go into the wp-content directory, and rename the offending plugin or theme to something else. This will effectively disable it, and so solve the critical error issue.
File transfer didn’t complete correctly
In the process of uploading the WordPress install to your site server, even if you lost network connectivity for a second, chances are some files may be corrupted. In this case, there is nothing you can do except reverse the process and start again. It is incredibly frustrating, but those are the breaks of working with FTP.
Incompatible PHP version
If you can access wp-admin, then check the PHP compatibility with your WordPress version. If they aren’t compatible, you need to pick a target version of WordPress that is compatible. Alternatively, you can write into your web host’s support to change the PHP version. They may or may not accede to your request though, so have a plan B just in case.
Why you shouldn’t downgrade the site except temporarily
While we understand that there is sometimes a necessity to downgrade WordPress in the short term, it is just not safe to do so for long.
- Updates bring improvements, security patches for discovered vulnerabilities, new features, etc.
- Keeping an older version of WordPress leaves your site vulnerable to hacks.
- The incompatibility will eventually catch up, as plugin and theme developers stop supporting older versions.
Things you could try instead of downgrading WordPress
If you downgrade WordPress because of a site crash or incompatibility, it is important to note that WordPress is rarely the cause of issues on a site. There are other troubleshooting methods you can try, before going nuclear with a WordPress downgrade:
- Deactivate plugins and themes
- Updating plugins and themes
- Increase the PHP memory limit
- Check to see if your site is hacked
- Switch to a default WordPress theme
- Clear the cache
- Contact your web hosting provider
Downgrading WordPress is not a task for the faint of heart. There is a reason it isn’t an official option on WordPress itself: your site is always safer and better off with the latest version.
Having said that, you may need to troubleshoot your WordPress site, and after exhausting all other avenues, your last resort may be to revert WordPress to previous version. We hope this article helped you do that successfully, and remember to always back up your site before making any changes.
How do I downgrade WordPress to an older version?
There are 2 ways to downgrade to an older version of WordPress: 1) using the WP Downgrade plugin; or 2) installing an older version of WordPress manually.
How do I downgrade my WordPress version in cPanel?
To rollback WordPress version via cPanel, download the target version from WordPress, unzip it, and upload the folder via File Manager on cPanel. Then, follow the instructions to manually install WordPress.
Karishma was an engineer in a former life, and so she specialises in making tech more accessible through communication. When she isn't writing, Karishma spends her time tinkering in the innards of WordPress websites