Worried about WordPress updates breaking your site? Have you already faced a botched update in the past?
Don’t worry. We’ve been there too. Updating your WordPress site seems like a simple task but it can become complicated fast if things don’t go as planned. A failed update can render your theme incompatible, cause plugins to malfunction, and can even break your site.
Luckily, you can avoid this by testing WordPress updates before you update your live site. In this guide, we’ll show you how to update WordPress site without any hiccups.
Updating WordPress is a sensitive task that has the potential to break your website. You must always tread carefully by testing the update before implementing it on your WordPress site. We recommend that you backup your site first, then create a staging environment to test the update. Once you’re satisfied with the way the update is performing on your website, you can update your live site. This way your website never faces any errors, malfunctions, or downtime.
Are WordPress Updates Important?
The developers of WordPress continuously enhance and improve their platform. They add new features, fix bugs, security patches, and improve performance and speed. These enhancements are released in the form of an updated version of the software.
You may ask if the current version is functioning fine, why do I need to update it?
While you can choose to ignore the ‘New Version is Available’ notification, you’ll be setting yourself up for problems later.
Every update serves a purpose and it helps your website one way or the other. But the most important updates carry security patches that will fix any vulnerabilities discovered in the software. This protects your site from hackers.
Apart from this, developers of plugins and themes also update their software in tandem with WordPress updates. They do this so that their software remains compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
Plugins and themes soon become incompatible with old versions of WordPress. And when you finally decide to update, the risk of breaking your site is higher because many elements need to sync up.
So ideally, when an update is available, it’s best to run the update as soon as you can. But… don’t be hasty to click the ‘Update Now’ button. Always test out the update before you run it on your live site.
Up next, we’ll show you how to safely update your site every time next.
Note: We know that in some cases, you may need to update WordPress manually when you don’t have access to your wp-admin. Skip ahead to this section for the manual update method.
PRO TIP: There are two kinds of WordPress updates – major and minor. WordPress releases security patches in minor updates. By default, WordPress settings allow minor updates to run automatically as soon as it’s available.
You can also disable automatic minor updates on your site, but this is not recommended. It’s best to have security patches automatically updated as soon as they are available to prevent hackers from breaking into your site.
You can enable the same feature for major updates as well but this is not recommended because every major update should be tested first before you run it on your site.
Safely Updating WordPress To The Latest Version
It’s tempting to just click on ‘Please update now’ and run the update.
But, as we mentioned earlier, this method is risky. It has the potential to break your site and cause incompatibility issues. Furthermore, if there are bugs in the new version of the software, they will enter your site.
The age-old saying applies ‘it’s better to be safe than sorry’. We’ve detailed a safe method that will forever change the way you update your WordPress site. Following this method will ensure that your live website is never affected and is always up and running perfectly.
Steps to Take Before Updating WordPress
There are a few precautionary steps we recommend taking before you proceed to update your site:
1. Check out what’s in the update
The first thing you need to do when updating your site is to check what the update contains. You can do this by visiting the WordPress changelog. It will tell you whether the update carries new features, bug fixes, or security patches.
The information here will determine whether you should run the update immediately or if you can wait for a few days to see what other users have to say about the update. If it is a security update, update immediately.
2. Check PHP version
Most of the things you see on your website – both on the front end and the back end – are thanks to a programming language called PHP. PHP is central to WordPress and it is also updated on a regular basis.
As WordPress advances, older versions of PHP are no longer supported. So it’s important to ensure your site is running on the latest PHP version available.
To find out which version of PHP your site is using, log in to your web hosting account.
Go to cPanel > phpMyAdmin.
Here, you can see the PHP version of your WordPress site.
If you’re running an old version of PHP, it’s best to update it before running the WordPress update. We’ve detailed How to Update the PHP Version on WordPress.
3. Visit WordPress support forums
When WordPress users run updates, a lot of them post about it in WordPress support forums. They detail what happened when they ran the update and report any errors or bugs.
Other popular forums include Reddit, GitHub, Quora, and StackExchange. Checking these forums saves you the hassle of discovering issues by yourself. This is especially important if it’s a major WordPress core update. It makes a huge difference to check out other people’s experiences and learn from them.
4. Familiarize yourself with the site you’re about to update
In case you haven’t looked at your site in a while, or you run multiple sites, it’s best to get familiar with the site you’re updating.
Glance through the plugins and themes you’re using, and check the main pages. This will give you a sense of what the site looks like pre-update and post-update. If things go haywire, troubleshooting becomes easier.
5. Turn caching off
Many of us use caching plugins to speed up our sites. However, the cache may not recognize new content after you update your site. To prevent this, we clear WordPress cache and deactivate the plugin before installing an update.
Now that you’ve taken the precautionary steps, you can proceed to updating your site safely.
How To Update WordPress Safely
We’ve emphasized how important it is to always test updates before running them on your site. We’re going to show you how to do just that. But you need a tool that enables you to backup and stage your website in order to test the update.
There are also a number of backup and staging plugins available, however, not all of them work flawlessly.
We recommend using the BlogVault backup and staging plugin. It’s reliable and is guaranteed to work. Plus, it’s easy for anyone to use, it’s reliable and trusted by thousands of WordPress users.
If a plugin isn’t for you, you can also get WordPress backup and staging features from your web host. The steps mentioned below will remain similar. Let’s begin.
- Take a backup of your WordPress Site
- Set Up A Staging Site
- Update and Test
- Merge Staging With Live
- Test Your Live Site
1. Take a backup of your WordPress Site
You can take a backup of your site with a number of tools available. Here, we detail the steps using BlogVault.
Remember, whenever you’re going to make any major changes to your WordPress site, take a backup. It acts as your safety net if things go wrong. You can restore your backup and get your site back to normal fast.
- Install the BlogVault plugin on your WordPress site.
- Next, on your wp-admin panel, select BlogVault. You’ll see a form to enter your details. Add your email address, select staging, and Get Started.
- You will be redirected to the BlogVault dashboard where you can see that a backup has automatically started.
The backup process only takes a few minutes but it depends on the size of your website. But don’t worry, you can leave this page and the backup will continue. Once it’s complete, BlogVault will send you a notification via email.
2. Create A Staging Site
Setting up a staging site is actually quite a technical task and the long process has been a deterrent to many WordPress users. This has resulted in updates and major changes being made without testing.
But that’s all in the past because staging is much easier now and anyone can create a stage environment in just two clicks.
1. On the BlogVault dashboard, you’ll see an option called Staging. Select Add Staging Site.
2. On the next page, BlogVault gives you the option to select the backup version and PHP version you want to use. The latest versions are selected by default, so you can skip this and click on Submit.
It will take a minute for your staging site to be set up. But that’s it, your staging site is ready.
3. Staging environments are a clone of your website so that you can test and experiment without affecting your live site. BlogVault password-protects the site to hide it from visitors and search engines.
When the staging site is ready, BlogVault gives you a username and password. Note this down, you’ll need it in the next step. Next, click on Visit Staging Site.
4. A pop-up window will appear with the staging site URL. It will ask you for a username and password to sign in. Enter the credentials you noted down in the previous step.
5. You can access the staging site’s admin panel, add ‘wp-admin’ at the end of the staging site URL. To log in, you can use the same wp-admin credentials as your live site.
That’s it. Your staging site is ready for you to test out the WordPress update.
3. Update and Test
Once inside the wp-admin panel of your staging site, you should see the same notification to update your site.
Click on Please Update Now. Once the update is complete, you need to run a few tests to check if the update caused any errors.
Remember, if the update does create issues, there’s no need to worry. Any visitors to your site will not be affected by the updates or changes as your live site functions separately.
Here is a list of things to check:
- Visit all your important pages such as the home page, blogs, checkout, cart pages, and contact us.
- Test any forms or input fields on your site.
- Make sure all your button links or custom theme layouts work fine.
- Check custom menu items that you can find under Appearance > Menu.
- Check for broken links and images. You can use a tool like https://nibbler.silktide.com/.
- Run a cross-device test on all major devices such as iPad, iPhone, Desktop, and Laptop.
- Run a cross-browser test on all major browsers such as Chrome, Safari, and Mozilla.
If you encounter problems or errors with the update, we’ve detailed how you can fix them in a later section. You can skip ahead and once you fix the issue, you can come back here.
After you’ve run all tests and you’re happy with the way your staging site is performing with the new update, we can move on to the next step.
4. Merge Staging With Live
Now that you know the update works fine, you can visit your live site and run the update there. But if the update caused issues and you fixed it on the staging site, replicating all your changes becomes a hassle.
It’s difficult to remember which changes you made and in what order. To overcome this issue, BlogVault has a nifty feature called Merge To Live.
All you have to do is click a button, and all the changes you made on your staging site will be replicated on your live site including the update.
To merge your changes to live,
1. Visit to the BlogVault dashboard, under Staging, you’ll see an option Merge to Source.
Once you click on it, BlogVault will sync your staging and live site. It will display a list of changes you made to the staging site. You can choose to merge all changes or select the changes you want to merge.
2. Next, you need to enter your FTP credentials which consist of an FTP host, username, and password. These credentials grant BlogVault permission to merge the changes from your staging site to your live site.
If you don’t know your FTP credentials, you may find our guide to Finding Your FTP Credentials helpful. You can also contact your web host and ask them for the credentials.
3. Lastly, you need to select the folder which houses your WordPress site. By default, this folder is named public_html, so you can select that. In case you’ve changed the name of your website’s folder, select that folder.
BlogVault will take a few minutes to merge the changes to your live site. Once done, you’ll be alerted that the merge was successful.
And that’s it. You’ve updated your WordPress site safely and without breaking your live site.
If you follow this method every time you update your site, you’ll never have to activate maintenance mode or face any downtime while running updates.
5. Test Your Live Site
Now that you’ve updated your live site, it’s important to run a few checks. We recommend running the same tests you carried out on your staging site. Visit your website using incognito mode to see how it looks as a visitor. Make a purchase or sign up for a plan to make sure everything is running smoothly.
PRO TIP: If you have a caching plugin installed on your site, clear your cache. This will ensure that any old content will be cleared and only new content is served when you visit your website.
Once you’ve checked all your pages and run basic tests on your site, you can sit back and relax.
Common WordPress Update Errors and How to Solve Them
By now, we know that updates don’t always run smoothly. Many times, errors prop up and we’ve listed some of the most common ones below:
- You see an error message that the update failed
- You get other error or warning messages
- You see a broken website or white screen of death
- Your theme or plugins have become incompatible with the new WordPress version
- You find that you cannot edit or create posts
- You face issues with the WooCommerce section of your site
If you encounter such errors, don’t worry. WordPress has an abundance of resources and a strong community that supports each other. Here’s how you can resolve the issues your facing:
PRO TIP: For those of you facing update issues on your live site, trying to resolve the issue on your live site can make things worse. Here’s what we suggest doing:
- If you have a backup copy, restore your site to bring it back to normal.
- If you don’t have a backup, put your website into maintenance mode so that your visitors don’t see a broken website.
- We strongly recommend backing up your website first. Next, create a staging site and use it to troubleshoot.
Now, you can begin to troubleshoot the problem.
Step 1: Check the WordPress forums for the problem you’re facing. You are likely to find solutions on this forum.
Step 2: Look for solutions on other popular forums like Github, Quora, Reddit, and Stackexchange. You can even check Twitter.
Step 3: Check if your PHP version is compatible and update the PHP version, if needed.
Step 4: Sometimes, the update can use up all your server resources causing your website to time out. You can try increasing your PHP limit to overcome this. Learn how to do this in our wp-config guide.
Step 5: Increase your PHP memory. You can learn how to do this in our wp-config guide.
Step 6: Rule out and disable conflicting plugins.
Step 7: Rule out theme conflicts due to outdated theme template files.
Once you resolve the issue, you can safely update your WordPress site by pushing your changes from your staging site to your live site.
This way your live site is never affected by failed updates and errors. You’ll always have an up and running website for your visitors.
Now, we know that there are times when you may not be able to follow this safe method of updating your site and have to resort to manually updating it. We cover the manual method next.
Also Read: [Solved] WordPress Stuck in Maintenance Mode
How to Update a WordPress Site Manually Using FTP
Important note: The manual update process is technical and requires going into the backend of your WordPress website. This method should be reserved for unavoidable situations. The slightest misstep here can result in a broken website. Remember, to always take a backup of your site first. Always!
Before we dive into the steps, let’s understand what FTP is.
FTP is a software that allows you to connect your computer to your website’s server. In doing so, you can access your website’s files.
There are many FTPs you can choose from. FileZilla is one that’s free and very popular. You simply need to download it and install it on your computer. Once that’s done, we can begin to access your site.
1. Accessing FTP
FTP grants access to the backend of your WordPress site where you can make serious changes. Therefore, it is protected by a username and password so that only authorized users can access it.
a. To begin the process, you need to Find your FTP or SFTP credentials. You can fetch them from your web hosting account or contact the web host support if you are unable to find them.
b. Next, open your FTP application, enter your credentials to initiate the connection.
c. In case it gives you a prompt that the certificate doesn’t match, try changing the certificate chain from 0 to 1 or 2.
d. Next, you will see four panels. The left side is your local computer called “Local site”. The right side holds your website files called “Remote site”.
2. Updating WordPress
You need to be cautious while carrying out the steps below.
Step 1: Download the latest version of WordPress
Download the latest version of WordPress from the official WordPress website or directly from your dashboard.
Unzip the file, this will create a separate folder usually called “WordPress”. Note where it is located, you will need it later.
Step 2: Open the folders needed
Go back to Filezilla. You need to open two folders to update your site:
1. Your website’s folders on your server
On the right-hand panel, find the public_html folder.
Double-click on your folder and you will see three folders wp-content, wp-admin and wp-includes.
2. Your new WordPress installation folder on your computer
Next, on the left panel, access the folder which contains the new WordPress installation you downloaded.
Step 3: Replace wp-admin and wp-includes
On your remote site, locate and delete the wp-admin and wp-includes files. On your local site, go to the folder in which you saved the new WordPress installation file.
Upload the wp-admin and wp-includes from the local site back into the remote site.
Step 4: Copy wp-content
Open the wp-content folder on the local site and copy and paste all the files into the wp-content folder on the remote site.
A prompt will appear asking do you want to overwrite the existing files. Select Yes. Any other content files you have will remain the same.
DO NOT delete your wp-content folder on your remote site under any circumstances. This folder houses all the files that display the content of your website. If you delete it, you’ll lose your posts, pages, media uploads, etc.
Step 5: Update your database
Access your WordPress dashboard. You might see a prompt Database upgrade required. Simply click on it and you’re done.
Ensure you re-enable all your plugins. Clear your browser cache and refresh your page. You should be able to see all the new changes.
Additional Information on Manual WordPress Updates
- If you want a fresh WordPress installation on your site and want all old content to be erased, then you can just delete all the contents under your website’s folder. Then upload the new WordPress installation folder.
- In case you are unable to select a folder and upload, try uploading the zip file. You can then extract it on your remote site. After this, you can move the files and folders to the location you want by right-clicking and choosing ‘Move’.
- If you experienced a failed auto-update and are trying to do it manually, you can delete the .maintenance file from your WordPress root directory. The “Failed update” message on your site will disappear.
- At a more advanced level, with an installation using this process, you can examine the wp-config-sample.php file to see if there are any new settings you want to use or modify in your own wp-config.php file.
And that’s it. You’ve successfully updated WordPress on your own. Once complete, be sure you run all the post-update tests we detailed above.
That wraps up our guide on How to Safely Update WordPress. But given that WordPress is so extensive, there are specialized updates that we need to address.
Specialized WordPress Updates
We’ve detailed important information and tips and tricks you can use for:
- Automatic Updates
- WooCommerce Updates
- Plugin Updates
- Theme Updates
- Multisite Update
- Multiple Sites Update
WordPress has a feature that you can enable that will automatically install updates every time one is available.
But as we emphasized already, automating updates without testing them is risky. Here’s what you need to know:
- WordPress releases two kinds of updates – major and minor. Major updates change from version 4.1 to 4.2. They contain developmental changes including the addition of new features, or changes to core technologies on WordPress. Minor updates change from version 4.1.1 to version 4.1.2 and contain WordPress security patches and fixes.
- By default, WordPress automates minor updates because they usually carry security patches that prevent your site from being vulnerable to hackers. It’s not wise to disable the automatic feature for minor updates. Disable it only if you are prudent with updates and run it every time one is available.
- There are WordPress plugins that you can install to enable automatic updates on your site. However, we don’t recommend enabling automatic settings for major updates. It’s extremely risky and many users have faced broken websites due to automatic updates.
While automating WordPress updates seems like a good idea since it takes one task off your hands, it has its drawbacks. Always test updates before running them on your site.
WooCommerce stores are a whole different ball game. There’s much more at stake as you sell products and services through your website. If you run an update directly on your live site, the risk is too high. If your website breaks, you stand to lose customers and revenue while your site is down.
So, here’s what we suggest:
- Use real-time backups for your WooCommerce site. This ensures that every change made on your website is backed up – every order, every sign up, customer details, and the like.
- Ensure your website is protected by a strong firewall so even if vulnerabilities are discovered in the WordPress software, your website will still be safeguarded.
- We recommend scheduling your updates and dedicating a few hours towards it.
- Always use a staging site to test out updates before implementing them on your live site.
- Conduct extra tests by checking your cart and checkout pages. Carry out a transaction to make sure the whole process up to your payment gateway is working.
- If you’re experiencing a botched update on your live site, you can try rolling back the update using the WP Rollback plugin.
We have an extensive guide dedicated to WooCommerce Updates that you might find helpful.
Just like how the WordPress core receives updates, plugins get updates too. Plugins are created and maintained by third-party developers. WordPress has thousands of plugins that add features to your website to enhance its appearance, functionality, and performance.
The process of updating plugins is similar to WordPress. On your WordPress dashboard, under Plugins, you’ll see which plugins have updates available. You can click on Update Now to run the update. But here too, it’s better to test the update before you update the plugin.
Now, most plugins are available in the WordPress repository and many of us install our plugins from here. But plugins are also available in third-party marketplaces like CodeCanyon or on the plugin’s own website.
If you’ve purchased plugins from outside of the WordPress repo, then you may encounter a few more challenges with updates:
- Update notifications will not appear on your dashboard. The plugin developer will inform you that an update is available via email. Or you may have to follow their blog or social media handles to know when an update is released.
To update your site, you need to download the new version of the plugin from the third-party source. Then, using the Upload Plugin option on your wp-admin, you can upload it manually.
- In some cases, you have to pay a premium to get access to updates. Usually, when you purchase the plugin paying a one-time fee, you need to pay for the update.
- Lastly, never ever use pirated or cracked versions of plugins. For starters, you will be disconnected from the developer and will not receive updates. But more importantly, these pirated versions are often riddled with malware that can infect your website.
In addition, you need to be aware of the difference in service between free plugins and premium plugins that you use on your website. Premium plugins have a price tag but they are maintained well by their developers and frequently updated. It’s safer to use premium plugins.
When it comes to free plugins, they are often created by developers who are newbies or hobbyists. Free plugins may not always be maintained which could open up vulnerabilities on your site that leave your site exposed to hackers.
Themes can be updated from the ‘Updates’ tab, where you can do a bulk update by choosing ‘Select All’ and updating. You can also update it from the ‘Themes’ tab under ‘Appearance’. You’ll see a new version is available. It just takes one click and the theme will be updated.
But many WordPress users find it difficult to update their theme as it breaks their site. This is quite a common issue among WordPress users and we’ll explain why.
When it comes to WordPress themes, here’s what you need to know:
- When you install a theme on your site, most definitely, you customize it to your preferences. When you update your theme, these customizations are lost. To overcome this, you need to create a child theme and make the customizations here.
So you can continue to run updates on the parent theme, but your customizations will remain with the child theme.
There are plugins available that will enable you to create a child theme in just a few clicks.
- It is advisable to have only one theme installed – the one you’re using. If you have many themes installed, even though they aren’t active, they can be used to hack your site if there is a security issue in them. If you choose to keep more themes installed, ensure they’re always updated.
- The problems faced with free and premium plugins apply here as well. Update notifications will not appear on your dashboard. The theme developer will inform you that an update is available via email. Or you may have to follow their blog or social media handles to know when an update is released.
To update your site, you need to download the new version of the theme from the third-party source. Then, using the Upload New option on your wp-admin, you can upload it manually.
- In some cases, you have to pay a premium to get access to updates. Usually, when you purchase the theme paying a one-time fee, you need to pay for the update.
- Never use pirated or cracked versions of themes. You will be disconnected from the developer and will not receive updates. But more importantly, these pirated versions are often riddled with malware that can infect your website.
In a multisite setup, a single WordPress installation is used to create a network of sites.
You can only update WordPress on a network level. This means only a super-admin can update WordPress. And when an update is implemented, it will be rolled out for all websites in the network.
Here’s what we suggest:
- Before updating, take a reliable backup that supports multisite networks. Not all backup solutions support multisite networks. You can use the BlogVault Backup Plugin to backup your network in under a few minutes. If anything goes wrong during the update, you can rest assured that your backup copy will work and can be easily restored.
- Always use a staging environment to test the update.
- Carry out more rigorous testing when it comes to multisite networks. This is because you may check one or two sites and see that the update is working fine, but there may be one site on your network that has a problem.
After updating your site, you need to check every single site on your network or inform the admins to check the sites.
While updating a multisite network is easy since you only have to update one installation, you need to take extra care to ensure the update goes smoothly on all sites.
Multiple Sites Update
If you host multiple websites, then keeping track of each domain and what updates are available becomes a hassle. Further, staging and testing updates on every site becomes difficult. Nonetheless, every website needs to be updated carefully and on time.
To manage updates on multiple sites, we recommend using a WordPress Management Tool like BlogVault. Here’s why:
1. You can add an unlimited number of websites to the dashboard. This gives you an overview of all your sites.
You can see which sites need to be updated and if there are plugins or themes to update.
2. Backups are scheduled and automated for every site.
3. It’s also easy to create a staging site and test the update quickly from the same dashboard.
4. You can also roll out updates in bulk on all your sites if you’ve tested them and know they won’t cause trouble for your sites.
5. If you manage multiple sites for your clients, you can also get professional-looking reports to present to them.
There are also complete WordPress management solutions like WP Buffs that will handle WordPress Updates for you. Updates are tested on staging sites and executed during low-traffic hours to avoid any issues on the live site.
Though keeping WordPress updated seems like a daunting task, there are ways to set a planned process in place. This way hackers won’t hack your site, you’ll never see downtime, or your site crashing on account of updates.
By following the safe method we entailed above using a staging site, your site will be updated seamlessly every time.
We hope this article gives you all the information you need to go ahead and update your site without the hassle and worry! If after reading this article, your website is updated, safe, and running fine, we’re only happy we could help!
Update Your WordPress Site Safely With BlogVault!