WordPress Plugin Update Failed: Easy Fix

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One day your site is fine. Next day, it crashes. The only thing that changed? A plugin got updated. 

Keeping your WordPress plugins up-to-date is as critical to your website as maintaining good hygiene is to your health. And, the temptation of auto-updates is like hitting the snooze button on your alarm—oh, so tempting and seemingly harmless. But just as oversleeping could make you late for the big meeting, a failed plugin update can derail your entire site. It can leave you scrambling to fix a mess you never saw coming. One moment, you’re sipping your morning coffee, and the next, your site’s down, and you’re in full-on panic mode.

In this article, we’ll help you recover your site and figure out how to update the plugin safely. 

TL;DR: Plugin updates need to be taken with a lot of precautions. Take a backup and create a staging site first. BlogVault can help you do both, securing your live site from potential crashes. 

There are a few things to consider before you try to update your plugin again. 

First, are you seeing an error about another plugin still being updated? This is a sign that your site is in maintenance mode and you have to stop it. Access your site files using an FTP client like Cyberduck. Navigate to the root directory of your WordPress installation—typically this is where you’ll see folders like wp-content, wp-admin, and wp-includes. Look for a file named .maintenance. Delete this file, and voila! Your site should be back online, free from the clutches of maintenance mode.

Second, if your auto-update is failing, you might need to check if you’ve previously disabled auto-updates on your site. Sometimes, settings get tweaked, or snippets are added to the `wp-config.php` file to disable auto-updates for a variety of reasons. This could very well be the culprit behind those pesky failed updates.

Now, you’re ready to troubleshoot.

Step 1: Identify why the plugin update failed

Before we dive into fixing the problem, we have to identify why the update failed in the first place. This helps us figure out what needs to change so the update goes more smoothly the next time around.  

Pro tip: Take a backup before you start. Use BlogVault for its reliable backups, external dashboard and easy restores. 

Compatibility issues with WordPress version 

Some plugins require the latest version of WordPress. If they don’t, the update can crash your site. This is why we recommend that you check the changelog to see if the new update is compatible with your existing version.

Incompatible theme

Sometimes, a plugin may not be compatible with your active theme. Temporarily switch to a default WordPress theme (like Twenty Twenty-Four) and try updating the plugin again. If it works, you know that the theme is the problem. In that case, reach out to the developers of the theme and ask for help. 

Active plugins that are incompatible 

Some plugins might conflict with each other. Here are the steps to check:

  1. Install an FTP client. We’re using Cyberduck. 
  2. Connect to your server using FTP credentials on your hosting account. You’re looking for a username, password, port number and server IP address. 
  3. Once connected, navigate to the public_html or www directory, depending on your server setup, to find your WordPress installation root.
  4. Inside the WordPress root directory, navigate to wp-content and then to the plugins folder. Here you’ll see all installed plugins.
  5. Rename all the other plugin folders to something like pluginname_old. This action will automatically deactivate the plugins since WordPress won’t be able to find the renamed directory.
  6. Try to update the plugin again. If it works well, you know that one of the plugins was causing the problem. 
  7. One by one, start to rename the plugin folders back to their old names. Keep going till you find the problem plugin.
  8. Then, deactivate it and then resolve the issue. You can manually update the plugin and see if the update helps. If not, reach out to the plugin developers and find out what the problem was. Worst case scenario is to find a replacement. 

File permission errors

File permissions are settings on your server that determine who can read, write, or execute files and directories. Correct file permissions are essential for your WordPress site to function properly and for updates to proceed smoothly. Ensure the wp-content/plugins directory has appropriate permissions (typically `755` for directories and `644` for files). The wp-content folder is particularly important as it contains your themes, plugins, and uploaded content. 

Server configuration limits

Your server environment may impose limits that interfere with the plugin update process. Common server-related issues include. The PHP memory limit may need to be increased by adding the following code to the wp-config.php file. 

define('WP_MEMORY_LIMIT', '256M');

Resource conflicts

Your server’s resources may be insufficient for completing the plugin update. To address this monitor your server’s resource usage through your hosting control panel. Clear out unnecessary files. Consider upgrading your hosting plan if you’re consistently running low on resources like disk space or bandwidth.

Error logs

WordPress error logs can provide valuable insights when a plugin update fails. Review the debug.log file found in the wp-content directory for error messages that can help diagnose the problem.

Modify the WP_TEMP_DIR

WP_TEMP_DIR is a constant in WordPress that defines the directory where temporary files are stored. By default, WordPress uses the system’s temporary directory (usually defined by the server’s operating system). However, you can override this directory by defining the WP_TEMP_DIR constant in your wp-config.php file, by modifying the following line of code:

Define(‘WP_TEMP_DIR’, ABSPATH . ‘wp-content/’);

Change the path to a directory that has more space. 

Check internet connection

This feels obvious. But, if your network connection is iffy or is disrupted during your update, the update will fail. So, just double check to make sure that something as simple as your WiFi network isn’t messing up your WordPress site maintenance. 

Step 2: Update the plugin

Now that we’ve eliminated all the possible reasons why the update has failed, let’s retry the update for real.

Take a backup 

Before attempting to update any plugins or make significant changes to your WordPress site, it is crucial to take a complete backup. This ensures that you can restore your site to its previous state if something goes wrong during the update process. We recommend that you use BlogVault for this. It takes both automatic and on-demand backups. The backups are then stored on offsite servers. You can use the external dashboard to restore the site in one click. 

Creating a staging site for safe updates

A staging site is a clone of your live website where you can test updates and changes without affecting your actual site. Creating a staging site allows you to ensure that plugin updates will not cause issues before applying them to your live site. BlogVault helps you create a temporary staging site very easily. Once you’re done testing, click Merge and you’re all set. 

Updating a plugin on the staging site

After creating a staging site, you can manually update a plugin to ensure it works correctly before updating it on your live site.

  • Download the latest version of the plugin from the WordPress Plugin Repository or the developer’s website.
  • Access the staging site through the URL provided.
  • In the WordPress dashboard, go to Plugins > Installed Plugins. Locate the plugin you want to update, and click Deactivate.
  • After deactivating it, click Delete to remove the old version.
  • Go to Plugins in the sidebar. Then, click Add New and click the Upload Plugin button. Choose the downloaded ZIP file and click Install Now.
  • Once the plugin is installed successfully, click Activate.

Test the plugin update

Thoroughly test the functionality of the updated plugin on your staging site. Ensure that it works well with your theme and other plugins. Navigate through your staging site to confirm that everything else is functioning as expected. 

Push update to the live site

Once you are confident that the plugin update works correctly on the staging site, repeat the same steps on your live site to update the plugin. After updating on the live site, test everything on the live site again. 

Clear the cache

Cache is a mechanism for temporarily storing web content, such as HTML pages, images, and scripts. It’s designed to reduce server load, decrease page load times, and deliver a faster user experience. 

While caching can greatly improve site performance and responsiveness by serving frequently accessed content directly from the cache, it can also cause issues when updates are made to the site. This is because the cache might serve outdated versions of content, leading users to not see the most recent updates or changes. Therefore, it is important to clear the cache, especially after performing updates on your site, to ensure that the latest content and features are correctly displayed to all users.

Step 3: Test the success of the update

When testing a plugin update on your staging site, it’s crucial to ensure that the update does not introduce any issues or conflicts, and that it seamlessly integrates with your current site setup. Here is a comprehensive checklist of what you should test for:

  • Verify that all primary features and functionalities of the plugin are working as expected. For example, if it’s an SEO plugin, check that it can still generate meta tags correctly.
  • Ensure that the plugin settings and configuration options are intact and functioning.
  • Make sure any customizations to the plugin are retained and work properly after the update.
  • Check that the plugin update does not negatively affect the visual appearance of your site. Look for disrupted layouts, styling issues, or misaligned elements.
  • Ensure any theme-specific features or integrations with the plugin are working correctly. For instance, if the plugin adds a widget or a shortcode, check that it displays and functions properly within your theme.
  • Verify that the updated plugin works harmoniously with other installed plugins. Like we talked about earlier, plugin conflicts can sometimes disable features or break your site.
  • Look for any error messages or warnings in the WordPress admin area related to plugin conflicts.
  • Measure the page loading times before and after the plugin update to ensure that it hasn’t negatively impacted your site’s performance.
  • Use performance monitoring tools or your hosting provider’s resources to check if the plugin update increases CPU, memory, or database usage.
  • Test user-related activities such as login, registration, and password reset, especially if the plugin impacts user management.
  • If the plugin is related to forms (contact forms, e-commerce checkouts, etc.), test form submissions thoroughly to ensure data is being properly recorded and processed.
  • Check that the updated plugin functions correctly and looks good on mobile devices. Responsive design should be intact. Test across different devices and screen sizes to ensure consistency in performance and appearance.
  • If the plugin interacts with media (images, videos), test uploading, displaying, and manipulating media files.
  • Ensure that posts, pages, and custom post types display content correctly, particularly if the plugin impacts content presentation or layout.
  • Ensure the plugin update doesn’t affect your site’s navigation menus, headers, or footers.
  • Check for any UX issues that the plugin update might have caused. This includes broken links, non-functional buttons, or confusing user interfaces.

What are the best practices for plugin updates?

We’ve fixed your failed update problem now. But, you may have to repeat this process for other plugin updates. So, while you have a chance to start afresh, let’s talk about the best practices. 

  • Always create a full backup of your website (database and files) before performing any updates.
  • Verify that the new plugin version is compatible with your version of WordPress and other plugins/themes you’re using.
  • Review the plugin’s changelog to understand what changes, bug fixes, or new features are included in the update.
  • If possible, test the update in a staging environment identical to your live site to ensure it doesn’t cause issues.
  • Put your site in maintenance mode during updates to prevent visitors from encountering errors.
  • Keep plugins updated regularly to benefit from the latest security patches, bug fixes, and features.
  • After updating, check error logs to quickly identify any issues that may have arisen. This makes it easier to pinpoint which plugin is causing issues if something goes wrong.
  • If you’re using a caching plugin or CDN, clear the cache after updating to ensure that users see the latest changes.
  • Keep an eye on your site after updating to ensure everything is functioning as expected.
  • Maintain a log of updates performed for future reference and troubleshooting.
  • Be prepared to revert to the previous plugin version if the update causes any issues.

Final thoughts

Plugin updates are a finicky business. If you’re not taking precautions to make sure they don’t fail, you’re likely to crash your site or have it stuck in maintenance mode. This is why we recommend that you don’t make changes to your live site willy-nilly. Take a backup first to make sure you have something to fall back on. Then, create a staging site that you can test your updates on. 

BlogVault can take reliable backups and easily create a staging site for you. The backups are automatic and on schedule. They are stored offsite and taken in increments; no server resources are impacted. They are also easy to restore. Even their staging sites are a breeze to set up and push changes on. It’s one tool for all your updates. 


How to fix WordPress plugin update failed?

  • Ensure you are connected to the internet.
  • Ensure that your WordPress installation has the correct file permissions. Typically, directories should be set to 755 and files to 644.
  • Download the plugin’s latest version from the WordPress repository, delete the existing plugin from your dashboard (after making a backup), and install the new version manually.
  • Temporarily disable any security plugins that may be blocking the update process.
  • Increase your PHP memory limit, max execution time, and upload max file size in your `php.ini` or `.htaccess` file if applicable.
  • Ensure your hosting account has enough disk space.
  • Enable debugging in WordPress by adding `define(‘WP_DEBUG’, true);` and `define(‘WP_DEBUG_LOG’, true);` to your `wp-config.php` file. Check the debug log for any errors.

Why can’t I update WordPress plugins?

  • Ensure your user role has the necessary capabilities to update plugins. Admin roles should typically have these permissions.
  • Sometimes, conflicts with other plugins or your current theme can prevent updates. Try deactivating all plugins and switching to a default theme like Twenty Twenty-Four, then try updating again.
  • Your hosting provider’s server configuration might be preventing updates. Check with your hosting provider regarding any server-side restrictions or required settings.
  • Make sure your WordPress core is up to date, as certain plugin updates might require the latest WordPress version.

Why does my WordPress update keep failing?

  • Ensure you have a stable internet connection.
  • Server limits like PHP timeouts can cause updates to fail. Increase your server’s `max_execution_time`.
  • Issues with corrupted update files can prevent successful updates. Try re-downloading and re-uploading the plugin files.
  • Some plugins may not be compatible with your WordPress version or other plugins. Deactivate all other plugins and try updating one at a time to identify the problem.

Why is WordPress plugin update download failed unauthorized?

  • Ensure you’re properly authenticated. Some premium plugins require a valid license key or authentication token to download updates.
  • For premium plugins, ensure your subscription is active. You might need to renew it to access updates.
  • If the plugin update requires an API key, verify that the key is correctly inputted in the plugin settings.
  • Check if a firewall or security plugin is blocking the download. Temporarily disable it to see if the update works.
  • The server might be blocking external requests. Contact your hosting provider to ensure that the server is correctly configured to allow such requests.


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