WordPress updates seem fairly simple. You see that an update is available, you click on “update” and you’re done. But that’s easier said than done. If you’ve handled a WordPress site for long enough, you’d know that it’s just not that simple.
We see website owners struggle with updates for many reasons. Updates can make your site slow down, cause errors or even result in a complete site crash. Most of the time, too many updates pile up and it becomes overwhelming to tackle them. While you have enough on your plate already, updates are just not on the priority list.
But there are a multitude of problems you can face if you don’t update! Above all, you could leave your website vulnerable to malicious attacks.
If you’re searching for answers on updates, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve jotted down everything you need to know about WordPress Updates. So let’s dive in.
1. What are WordPress Updates?
In very simple terms, an update is a new, improved or fixed software. The update is a new version that replaces the old one to improve performance, add new features, and fix bugs or security issues.
So coming to WordPress, and its plugins and themes, like all software, they get updates on a regular basis too.
You may ask if the current version is functioning fine, why do I need to bother updating it?
While you can leave your site alone and think everything is running fine, you’re setting yourself up for much bigger problems. It’s important to understand why developers release updates in the first place.
No software is perfect. Period. It entails continuous development. Developers constantly enhance their software to improve existing features and add new ones.
The most important reason, however, is security issues in the software. If there is a security flaw present, this leaves your site vulnerable to hackers. If the developer finds the flaw, they patch it up and release an update.
2. What requires updates in WordPress?
There are three basic elements of WordPress that need updating.
Core – WordPress core is the backbone of your site. Just like a phone has an operating system (OS) like iOS or Android, the WordPress core is the OS of your website. Similar to updates for your phone’s OS, there are updates for your website’s OS as well. These updates happen at regular intervals and carry improvements such as security fixes, bug fixes or new features.
Plugins – These are additional components to your website just like apps are to your phone. They enhance the functionality of your site. From time to time, plugins on your WordPress site also need updates.
Themes – This reflects the layout and design of your website. WordPress has a few default themes such as ‘Twenty Nineteen’ or you can choose one developed by others. Whichever one you choose, it will see updates coming in.
3. When are WordPress Updates Released?
You will see update notifications quite frequently, especially if you have a lot of plugins. Developers release updates for the following reasons:
- Fix bugs
- Add new features
- Enhance existing features
- Improve performance
- Stay up-to-date with evolving industry standards
- Patch security issues
- Fix compatibility issues
When any of these changes are made to the core WordPress software or the themes and plugins you’ve installed, you’ll see an update available on your WordPress dashboard.
WordPress Update Cycles
If you keep track of when updates come out, you might be able to figure out a pattern. This way, you can be ready for a new update well in advance.
Core – Developers update the core of WordPress in regular cycles. You will notice that these updates come every few months, sometimes more often. WordPress releases updates regularly to ensure they are always improving the software and the users get the best experience available at the time.
Apart from this, WordPress ensures there are no big gaps between major updates. So updates are released in chunks at regular intervals, rather than waiting for a long period of time and making too big a change.
Themes and Plugins – Themes and plugins vary in their update release cycles. There are some of them that follow a systematic schedule, but many do not. It greatly depends on their functionality, the size of the team behind them, and whether it’s free or premium. WooCommerce plugins might see more updates since it plays such a pivotal role in the website. If you notice your plugin or theme isn’t getting updates, it could mean that the developer has abandoned it. You should switch to something else that is being managed regularly.
While you can follow core updates easily and figure out their cycle, it’s difficult to figure out update cycles for plugins and themes.
4. What are the types of WordPress updates?
A WordPress website is made up of the core, plugins and themes. There are different kinds of updates each of these elements get.
The WordPress core team makes these updates. There can be major fixes to the core or just small changes. Depending on how much the software has been changed, core updates are issued as minor or major updates:
Major WordPress Updates – WordPress has significantly evolved since its first release in 2003. This has been possible because the WordPress team has constantly been developing the software and releasing updates regularly. New features are released every few months and are considered major updates.
Every major release of WordPress is named after a big-time jazz musician. Version 1 released in 2004 was named after Miles Davis. Since then, major versions have honoured big names like Ella Fitzgerald, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter, to name a few.
A good example of a major update was WordPress 5.0 “Bebo Valdés”. It brought about the Gutenberg Editor, named after Johannes Gutenberg who invented the movable-type printing press. Gutenberg is a new block-based editor to increase flexibility with how the content is displayed on your site. The update also carried a new default theme called ‘Twenty Nineteen’ that is compatible with Gutenberg.
Minor WordPress Updates– These contain security patches and other fixes. If the WordPress team realised there was a vulnerability in the software, they fix it and release a new version. These kinds of updates are automated by default on every WordPress installation since Version 3.7. It’s highly recommended to update these versions as soon as possible.
For example, WordPress 5.1.1 was a security and maintenance release. It introduced 14 fixes and enhancements. The update included security fixes that handle how comments are filtered and stored in the database. It also had a number of bug fixes among other things.
You can spot the difference between a major and minor update easily by the version number. A major update would be 3.2, whereas a minor update would be 3.2.1.
Themes and Plugins
These elements of your WordPress site are updated by the people or team that created them. Majority of the time, themes and plugins get updated to ensure they are compatible with the new version of WordPress. Another reason for updates to them is to fix security issues or bugs.
With the Gutenberg release, a lot of themes and plugins became incompatible. The editor was vastly different from the classic old one. For this reason, many developers had to rework their themes and plugins to ensure they were compatible with the new version of WordPress. Once they made it compatible, they issued updates.
On a side note, if you’re experiencing trouble with the Gutenberg editor, you can install the Classic Editor Plugin from WordPress. This will be active and fully supported till 2022 and can be extended if WordPress feels its necessary. If you’re not ready for the change, you can switch to the old editor. You can take your time getting used to it but it’s best to start getting ready for when the classic version might be phased out completely.
5. Why are WordPress updates important?
Every update serves a purpose and it helps your website one way or the other. You will receive notifications to run an update on WordPress or its themes and plugins mainly for the following reasons:
Let’s look at these in detail to help you better understand why you need these updates.
i. Security Fixes
Without a doubt, this is the most important update you should be aware of. WordPress is an open source website creation tool that powers around 30% of all the websites in the world. Being so widely used around the globe, WordPress websites are targeted by hackers.
But there is an upside here. Since it’s open source, meaning anyone can learn and improve the code, there are also a number of people who report bugs or security flaws they discover. The core WordPress team then springs into action to fix these issues. They release an updated version of the WordPress core software. Once you install the update, the security flaw present on your site will be resolved.
In a similar way, developers of themes and plugins also released security fixes for their software. You need to install the updated version to ensure the security issue is fixed on your site too.
So, updating immediately is extremely vital to your site when you know a security fix is available.
ii. Bug Fixes
No matter how rigorous software testing is, there are always hidden bugs that slip through. A bug simply means an error or fault in the computer software which results in unexpected or incorrect results. In most cases, a bug is a human error introduced into the design and coding. If you experience any weird behaviour from a plugin, it’s probably a bug. As and when bugs are found by software testers and developers, the fix is made and an update is released. By updating your software, you won’t face any malfunctioning issues.
iii. New Features
When new features are added to the WordPress core, they release a major update. The core team is always working on introducing new features that improve the user’s experience, apart from improving the existing ones!
For example, Jaco, WordPress Version 5.2, named after the revolutionary jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius, had new features that made it easier to fix a website if anything was going wrong. It also included better tools for identifying and fixing configuration issues.
Now, if you continue to use the old version, not only would you be missing out on the new additions and improvements, but others would be experiencing a better WordPress experience than you.
When we see that an update is available, we fear that it might break our site. Since all elements are working well with each other, why fix what isn’t broken? But the longer you wait, the more incompatibility issues you’re bound to face.
Developers of themes and plugins usually coordinate their updates with major WordPress updates. This helps them ensure their plugin remains compatible.
It also helps them take advantage of the new features and changes made to the core software. So if you see that plugins and themes have an update right after a major WordPress core update, it would be a good idea to update them.
For example, the WooCommerce plugin saw major functioning issues with the release of Gutenberg. But developers worked on it and ensured it became compatible with the new version of WordPress.
The world is in a race to be ‘better than’ and ‘faster than’, often competing with the existing version. The same applies to the WordPress ecosystem as well.
Developers release updates for all three elements to improve the performance and speed of your site. This happens over time as the core team and plugin/theme authors discover bottlenecks and invest in optimizations. They release improvements as part of updates. After such updates, you’ll have a website that runs faster with better SEO adherence and better performance.
vi. Getting Support
There are WordPress support forums available for users to ask questions, discuss issues they face, help each other out in resolving them. When you’re looking for answers, you will mostly find solutions to the updated software. It would be harder to find answers on how to solve problems on the older versions.
So now you know why WordPress Updates are so important. But more than just knowing what you’d get out of it, you also need to know what happens if you choose to ignore these updates.
6. What are the Consequences of not Updating a WordPress Site?
Ever faced a small rip in your jeans but you ignore it cause it looks fine? But then you realise you waited too long to fix it and now the rip is a gaping hole. Here’s where ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ makes perfect sense!
Many website owners ignore updates because everything is working fine. But using outdated installations can leave your site open to hackers. According to Sucuri, in 2017, 39.3% of hacked WordPress sites were on account of outdated installations.
If you’ve been lucky and never been hacked, not updating may work for now, but in the long run, it’s going to cause severe problems.
In a way, it makes sense not to update it since everything is running smoothly, because updates are known to cause problems for sites. But unfortunately, the reasons to update far outweigh those that convince you not to update. Here’s what can happen if you don’t update WordPress and its themes and plugins regularly:
i. Incompatibility between the WordPress Elements
The WordPress core and the plugins/themes work in tandem with each other. If WordPress rolls out an update, certain plugins and themes might become incompatible. So the respective developers work on fixing it to ensure their product works fine with the new version of WordPress. Once you update the plugin or theme, any incompatibility issues should go away.
Now, if you choose to stay with the old version of WordPress for a long time, eventually when you try to install plugins and themes, they may not work on your site as they don’t support the old version.
The same applies vice versa. If you don’t update a plugin or theme for a long time, after a while it won’t function with the old version of WordPress.
ii. Your website might experience issues
If you haven’t updated and are running outdated installations, you may see your site malfunctioning, experiencing navigational problems, or pages being redirected. This is because you probably missed out on bug fixes that would’ve solved these problems. To ensure your site runs smoothly, you need to update.
iii. You’d miss out on new features
Software like WordPress doesn’t have a one-time development process. It is constantly developed and improved. As technology advances, developers tweak WordPress to stay up to date.
If you choose not to update to newer versions, you’d be missing out on new features that could make your WordPress experience a whole lot better.
Running on old versions would mean you’re using outdated technology and thus creating a lag between you and everyone else that chose to update.
iv. Website performance takes a hit
Updates also improve the performance of your site. If you’re running your site on an old version of the software, this means that you haven’t optimised your site to perform at the best level possible. So you haven’t taken measures to ensure the user experience your providing isn’t the best available at the moment. Search engines like Google would give preference to websites that perform better.
v. Data loss
If you wait too long to update, when you finally have no choice but to get the latest version, you could stand to lose data. This is because bugs that are present in your WordPress install may not manifest for a while. While some bugs are just cosmetic in nature, others can cause serious damage to your site and could result in you losing data.
vi. Security loopholes
As we explained earlier, updates can carry patches for security issues found in WordPress, or even in themes and plugins. Once the update is released, the information about the vulnerability is publicly available.
You may think this factor doesn’t concern you if you run a small site with very little traffic. You’d be gravely mistaken! A site no matter how big or small is a potential target for hackers.
WordPress is extremely popular and hackers probably get a huge payoff if they figure out how to hack WordPress sites. They can use your site to send spam and malicious things until you realise the hack and fix the issue.
If hackers are able to access and steal personal data of your customers, then you’re problems just got bigger. The costs involved can skyrocket.
Once you have been hacked or have malware on your site, this could lead to bigger consequences such as:
a. Blacklisting by Google
Google is constantly on the run to provide the best user experience. If it finds any malicious content on your website that could potentially harm a visitor, it would quarantine your site. You could be blacklisted which would take time to recover from. In the meanwhile, you’d be losing customers/visitors with every passing minute.
b. Webhost Suspension
If your website has been flagged for spam or security threats, your web host can suspend your account. This is because your site will now be in violation of their policy.
c. Dent in brand image
A brand is not easy to build. It takes time, effort and resources to establish a name. But what took so long to build could be lost in no time! If your website gets hacked and data is exposed, customers can lose their trust in your brand. A hit to your reputation can lead to a loss of visitors and revenue.
vii. Impact on SEO
All the factors listed above will ultimately have a negative effect on your SEO. If others have new features to take advantage of while you’re still running on outdated technology, it would only mean they have an edge over you.
One of the major ranking factors is speed and performance of your page. If your page is not optimised for this, you could fall lower in the search engine results page (SERPs).
Furthermore, if your site is blacklisted or suspended, you’re sure to lose traffic. And once customers lose their trust in you, they will no longer want to visit your site even if you appear on the top results.
viii. It becomes difficult to find support
Not to say it’s impossible to find support for old versions, but it’s definitely much harder. Most of the questions and answers you would find on the support forums would be relevant to the latest versions available. You’d have to sift through a vast number of queries to find one relevant to your version.
The costs of ignoring WordPress updates can be huge! When you do face the consequences, getting them rectified can put a serious dent in your wallet. It’s good practice to keep everything updated on your WordPress site, however, there are so many factors that make it a difficult task.
7. Why Keeping WordPress up-to-date is Difficult?
Remember how easy it was to install WordPress? But when you actually try to set up your first website and learn the system, you realise it’s not that simple. There’s a lot you need to do.
Within the WordPress realm, the actual process of updating WordPress is easy. You check what updates are available and click on it to update. But there are a number of issues that can crop up once you do that. Here’s a rundown on why WordPress updates become difficult:
i. Your website could break
After an update, there’s a probability that something would malfunction on the site. Either a plugin or theme stopped working, or something looked funny. So simply clicking on ‘Update Now’ doesn’t always work out smoothly. Though the process seems so simple, it can cause more problems that become difficult to identify and fix.
ii. Updating premium themes/plugins can be expensive
There’s a plethora of free plugins and themes that you can find on WordPress Repository. But at the same time, there is a robust ecosystem of paid ones known as premium plugins and themes. You can buy them directly from the vendor or from marketplaces such as ThemeForest and CodeCanyon.
Most of these plugins get regular updates. While a few of them release the updates to all customers irrespective of when it was purchased, there are many who release updates only to those on annual maintenance plans. This trend is only increasing where customers can’t receive the update unless they subscribe to a plan.
Like most of us, you too might have added some of these plugins to your site only to find out later that you need to pay for the updates. In cases like this, if you’re going to continue to use it, you need to ensure that we subscribe to the wordpress management plans.
If you had a website developer create your site and they added these plugins or themes, you can check if they have a special license which covers updates for all the sites they build. In that case, life becomes a bit easier.
iii. Developers abandon theme/plugin
You might notice that some plugins or themes don’t have updates for a really long time. This should alert you that the developer is probably not maintaining it anymore. So apart from keeping tabs on updates, you also need to keep a tab on those that aren’t receiving updates.
Developers abandoned themes because they don’t have time to maintain it, the cost is too high, or the software is free and it brings no monetary benefits. Sometimes they just lose interest in the software as well. With abandoned ones, you might face issues once you update the core. You’ll have no other choice but to look for an alternative because an update for it will never come.
iv. Not receiving notifications for the update
Any plugin or theme listed on the WordPress.org Repository follows the standard WordPress updates system. Any update to such plugins/themes will appear prominently on your WordPress Admin. However, there are many plugins that people buy from other sources such as ThemeForest, MojoMarketplace etc. These cannot utilize the default WordPress mechanism to push updates. This is a major hindrance because of which updates to such are a lot more difficult to manage. Update notifications for these may not show up on your WordPress dashboard. You may need to monitor the official website and social media accounts to know when they release an update.
v. Too many sites to update
Monitoring and updating one website is cumbersome enough. If you run a business that has multiple websites, you’d realise how overwhelming it can be to keep track of all the updates. Agencies who handle many websites for clients can also face similar issues. Going into each website and updating the different elements of WordPress can be tiring. More than the energy spent, it seems like a complete waste of time.
vi. Updates happen too often
WordPress updates happen in regular cycles, so it may be easier to estimate when you need to update the software. However, with plugins and themes, updates are more sporadic and you may see them several times a week. This might get a bit annoying. For example, you just updated a plugin, and then in a short span of time, it has a new update. You might ignore it out of frustration or prefer to wait till a few of them pile up and update them all together.
Though there are complications you can face while updating, you can take measures to reduce the chances of it happening. If you update too soon, you might be exposing yourself to bugs in the new version, but if you update too late, you might invite a security threat. So when exactly should you update? Let’s take a deeper look.
8. When is the right time to update a WordPress website?
Before deciding to walk to your destination or take a cab instead, you’d analyze how much time or energy you have, the weather conditions, traffic, peak hours, etc. All these things factor into deciding when is the right time to walk, and when is the right time to drive. Similarly, there are a number of factors that would play a role in helping you determine when is the right time to update.
Traffic patterns to your site – You need to take into consideration your website’s heavy traffic time. For instance, Amazon’s priority during the holiday season or big sales would be ensuring the site is running at an optimal level. So any updates should be complete in advance or would have to wait till the end of the peak time.
So there might be likely situations where your website may not be getting much traffic on the weekends or in certain months. You can use Google Webmasters and Analytics to figure these things out. You can schedule your updates during these periods.
Know when to wait – When an update is released, many jumps to it immediately only to realise that it comes with a bunch of problems. It’s good practice to check WordPress support forums to see what others say about the update. So waiting for a few days might give you a better idea of what problems might arise out of the new update. If too many issues are reported, you could wait till a more stable update is available.
Prioritize security – If it is a security patch update, it’s advisable to run it immediately. Just imagine your house was in the middle of a jungle with a hole in the roof. The things that could come into your home and wreak havoc! The faster your roof is fixed, the better. Security patches will help keep such menaces out.
If you’ve already been hacked, you’d need to clean up your site first, after which a top priority should be to update your WordPress, and your themes and plugins to ensure you don’t have another hack.
If you find that you have no time to dedicate to updates, you can consider creating a schedule to follow. So based on when you think is an ideal time to update, you can schedule your updates.
9. Do I have to update every time WordPress releases an update?
The simple answer to this is YES. You should install the update every time WordPress releases one. Every update has a purpose, some of them are:
- To keep your site and its visitors safe
- Ensure there are no bugs and errors so that your website functions normally
- To ensure your themes and plugins are compatible
- Introduce new features to enhance the experience for you and your visitors
- To enhance your experience as a website owner and to enhance the user experience as well
Some people choose to stick with an older version for a long period of time. Everything runs fine till they realise plugins and themes don’t work anymore, or things on the website start going haywire. So now, they need to update from Version 3.6 all the way to Version 5.0.
In cases like this, you might need to hire an expert. It would be easier to just create a new site and import all your old content than go through the hassle of trying to make such a big jump. If you’re running a big site, this could turn out to be an expensive affair.
In the long run, not updating causes serious problems. You can’t keep running your site on an old version forever. So, it’s best to update as and when they are released.
10. How do I know if a WordPress Update is Available?
There a plenty of ways you can stay notified on updates! On your WordPress Dashboard, you should see a tab called “Updates”. If you don’t, click on “Dashboard” on the top-left hand corner of your screen. A menu will pop up which has the option of “Updates”. If this has a red badge with a number in it, it means updates are available. The number denotes how many updates are available.
Once you see that updates are available, you can click on it. You will be redirected to the Updates page. Here, you can see what updates are available. If you feel there are updates available and it’s not showing, you can use the “Check again” button to refresh.
WordPress Update Notifications – If there is a new version of WordPress available, it will appear on your dashboard ‘WordPress 5.1.9 is available! Please update now.”
Theme Update Notifications – These notifications appear under the ‘Update’ tab. You won’t see the red badge notification under ‘Appearance’ and ‘Themes’. Alternatively, you can go to your themes page, and if there is an update available, it will appear on the top of each theme as “New version available. Update Now.”
Plugin Update Notifications – If there’s an update available for a plugin, you’d be notified under ‘Updates’ and under ‘Plugins’. You can click on either one to see which plugins need to be updated.
If you’ve installed a plugin or theme that is not available in the WordPress repository (like from CodeCanyon or Theme Forest), then these update notifications may not appear in this tab. You would need to check the official website or their social media pages to know if an update is available.
Email Notifications – You also have the option of installing a plugin that will send you email notifications when updates are available for WordPress, and for your themes and plugins. Plugins like WP Updates Notifier and Mail on Update are helpful.
11. How to Update a WordPress Site?
Once you know that there are updates available, you can click on it. The next page will show you what updates are available.
You can see whether WordPress itself needs to be updated, and which plugins and themes have updates available. If you haven’t bothered about updates for a while, you might see a long list waiting for you. Before you update, you can read the details of what the update has. If it has security fixes, you know that it’s something that you should do immediately.
To update them, WordPress has made it very easy. Remember to always take a backup before you go ahead and update anything. Although you can use the process we’re about to entail, it’s best to follow safe practices while updating your site.
But first, let’s look at the easiest way to update your WordPress site!
WordPress Updates – If you see a new version of WordPress is available, you can click on it. The next page will give you the option to ‘Update Now’ or ‘Download’ the package and install it manually. The manual process is a lot longer and is required only in certain cases. The usual route allows you to just click on ‘Update Now’ and WordPress will do the rest. Once it’s done, you need to refresh your page and you’ll see that you’re using the latest version of WordPress.
Plugin Updates – If you want to update all your plugins at once, you can ‘Select All’ and click on ‘Update Plugins’. You also have the option to select which ones you want to update. Once the plugins are updated, WordPress will prompt you on how many plugins were updated.
Theme Updates – 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 still be used to hack your site if there is a security issue in them. If you choose to keep more themes installed, ensure their updated.
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.
There you have it! The easiest way to update a WordPress site – its core, themes and plugins. But if you’ve run a WordPress site for long enough, you’d know once-click updates don’t work out fine every time.
Sometimes updates can cause small issues that are easily fixable but some of the major problems require a lot more expertise, time and money. This makes updating WordPress tricky business.
However, there is a way to get around updates and have everything functioning smoothly. We’ve entailed everything you need to do before, during and after an update to ensure your website is never affected.
12. Things to do before updating your WordPress site
Updating your WordPress site can be done with a single click. But we all know that is asking for a world of trouble especially if you’re running a large site or a WooCommerce one. So it’s important to take your time and understand what would work best for your site.
Getting the update process right would save you from the hassle of fixing a broken site.
Almost all website owners, including us, have faced problems with updates. It takes time to get into the groove, but once you get the hang of it, we guarantee you’ll be doing it in a few swift moves!
From all the problems we’ve seen spring up in the past, we’ve listed out things you need to do before updating your site, so that you don’t face dreadful problems later.
i. Make a list of important URLS
Any page that has a high number of visitors or is crucial to your business needs extra care.
The homepage is important for any website because it’s the first impression you create. The cart and checkout pages would be extremely crucial for a WooCommerce site. For an NGO, the activities and donation pages would be important.
So it varies for each site, but essentially, the Home, Category or Product, About Us, Contact Us, Check out, Cart, and the My Account pages are the critical URLs.
This list will come in handy before and after updating.
ii. Run through the website you’re updating
Get a good sense of how your website is functioning before an update. Check if there are any problems currently on the site, so you know they existed before the update. Check all critical URLs to see if everything is working fine. You may even take screenshots of these pages as you go through them. This will come in handy later when you run tests on the updates.
iii. Make a list of all your plugins
You need to list out all your plugins and see which ones are running on outdated versions. As you gain more experience with updates, you’ll know which plugins tend to become problematic.
You also need to be aware of plugins that are not receiving updates. This should indicate that no one is maintaining them anymore. You’ll need to get another plugin to replace this one.
You also need to know which ones are premium themes and plugins that do not get update notifications in WordPress admin. You’ll need to visit the website of the themes and plugins and check what version you are using, and what version is available.
iv. Check out what’s new in the update
Whether it’s the core or a theme/plugin, view the details of the update.
By clicking on “View version details”, you’ll get a pop up that shows you the Changelog. You can see all the changes that have been made to the old version. Sometimes it may be just one small bug fix but it can make your software function way better.
Reading these changelogs will help you get a good sense of what the updates are going to change on your site.
v. Turn caching off
Many of us use caching plugins to speed up our sites. With new updates, the contents of the page may change to reflect the improvements added during the update.
However, the cache may not recognize these and instead serve stale content. To prevent this we clear the cache and deactivate the plugin before installing an update.
vi. Create a Test Scenario
Once the update is complete, you will need to test the website like a visitor. Having a test scenario ready will save time and ensure a thorough check is done. You can list out the order in which you would like to visit the critical URLs, the different buttons you want to check, different functions of the website, etc. It basically helps create a streamlined process and acts as a checklist for testing the update.
So taking, for instance, a college website, we would like to check the website in a particular order:
- Home page
- Courses available
- Tuition Structure
- Download brochure
- Download application
These would form my critical pages. After this, we would like to move on to check other pages that are second priority such as the About Us, News, etc.
It’s like drawing out a map so that you have a set path to follow. This ensures you give priority to the important stuff first.
vii. Check wordpress.org support forums
It’s very likely that someone’s already tried out the update before you. A lot of people use these forums to report what happened with the updates. So it saves you the hassle of discovering issues by yourself.
This is especially important if its a major WordPress core update. It makes a huge difference to check out other people’s experiences and learn from them.
viii. Set up a Maintenance page
If you’re running a massive update that would result in some downtime on your site, you can put a maintenance page. This will alert the humans and bots that your site is only down temporarily and they can check back later.
So instead of users seeing a broken site, they will be informed that you’re under maintenance. This improves your user experience. As for bots, Google will not index any changes until the maintenance mode is disabled. So your rankings will not be affected.
You can tackle this in the .htaccess file if you’re tech-savvy. But if you’re not, it’s best to opt for a plugin like WP Maintenance Mode plugin.
13. Tools needed to Safely Update a WordPress site
Dealing with updates becomes a whole lot easier if you have the right tools. These tools can turn a boring update job into one that’s a lot more interesting. And the best part is they’re so simple to use. Before you select any tool, you need to ensure it enhances your update experience rather than hamper it. So let’s look at some of the most important tools you need and the benefits they provide.
a. Visual Comparison Tool
Having screenshots of your website before an update will help you determine if anything changed or went wrong. Now taking screenshots of every page might be feasible for a small site, but it’s still a waste of time. Taking screenshots of a large website is just ridiculously time-consuming.
Enter WPBoom! A lifesaver when it comes to this task. Sign up by opting for a free plan or a premium one. Add your site and set a schedule of when you want screenshots to be taken. You can also force a screenshot any time you want.
Once WPBoom runs through your website for the second time, you can start comparing screenshots of every page.
So once you roll out an update, you can compare the new page to the pre-updated page and see the differences. This can help you find any broken pages easily.
If you need screenshots of how your website loads on different browsers like Chrome, Safari and Mozilla FireFox, there are a few other tools that make this task easy.
These tools also take screenshots of how your site loads on different devices like iPhones and Android Phones.
These tools are usually paid ones that start at $29. You can take screenshots across a range of devices. Then you can test your live URLs or run automated tests.
You don’t need to know any coding to use these tools (except URL2PNG)
b. WooCommerce Automated Testing Tool
It’s happened to so many WooCommerce website owners where they had no clue the payments page was not working. It’s usually a loyal customer or someone who is determined to get the product that reaches out to inform the owner.
So just imagine you roll out an update and everything works fine right after. But a few orders down the line, an update for a plugin came in but you haven’t updated it yet. Unfortunately, this has resulted in customers being unable to checkout.
This is where Robot Ninja comes in and is an absolute must-have for a WooCommerce site. It runs manual tests using real payments and real products and gives you a comprehensive report.
You, on the other end, don’t have to know any coding or do any of the work. If it does find an issue, it will alert you that you need to make changes to fix your checkout.
So before and after any updates, you can use Robot Ninja to run an automated test for your WooCommerce site.
c. Backup and Restore Tool
Before you start making changes to your site, you need a backup. We can’t stress enough about how important a backup of your site is. If things go wrong with an update, then you can just simply restore the old version of your site before the update.
A backup plugin will make a copy of your content, database and all other files that you need to restore your site.
With BlogVault WordPress backup plugin, you can take backups in no time and it will be stored securely. You can schedule backups to happen automatically and you can force a backup whenever you need. There are special plans designed for WooCommerce websites as well.
This is a paid tool but one of the best features that sets it apart is it’s easy to restore. Backing up files is only one part of the deal. Being able to restore them without any issues is more important.
d. Staging Tool
A staging tool helps you create a clone site (staging site) where you can experiment with changes and updates. This will not affect your live site in any way. When you’re happy with the updates, you can merge it with your live site.
There are many staging plugins available like WP Staging. You could also use BlogVault WordPress Staging to stage a site.
With a staging site, you have the power to update with no worries about it having any effect on your live site. So now, you can be one of the first people on the support forums to report update issues!
e. Audit Log
An Audit Log keeps track of all activity on your site so if anything were to go wrong, you can easily find out what error was made, when and by whom as well. WP Security Audit Log makes troubleshooting a much easier task!
This is especially useful if you have multiple people working on a website. Admins can keep an eye on who is doing what.
If an update causes an issue immediately or even five days later, you can use the Audit Log to see where things went wrong.
Once you’ve completed the prep and got the right tools, we can get down to carrying out the updates. We’ve entailed a process that’s tested and works. Every site might have a few differences, but following this framework will help make the updating process smooth.
14. How to perform safe WordPress Updates?
You need to figure out a process that suits you best, but if you have the basic framework and safety measures in place, you should be able to carry out updates without any stress.
In general, we’ve elaborated a process that you can use to ensure your WordPress site stays updated, without affecting its performance or your user experience.
Step 1 – Backup your WordPress Site
If a website were a trapeze that you were happily swinging from, think of a backup like a safety net that was to catch you if you fall.
No matter how much of a pro you are at handling the trapeze, there are things that are out of your hands such as the equipment, the stagehand, the production crew. You can’t control it all.
Similarly, as website owners, we can’t control the updates and what they bring, but we still have to incorporate them as and when they come out. The longer we wait, the worse it could become. Updates can break your site, render things incompatible with each other, cause buttons to malfunction, etc.
With so much risk involved, knowing you have a safety net gives you peace of mind and confidence to try things!
To back up your site, there are quite a few plugins available in the market. Once you activate the plugin, it will make a copy of your website.
While choosing a backup plugin, make sure it checks the following boxes:
- Doesn’t affect your site’s performance while taking a backup
- Stores data securely
- Easy to restore
These are the key features you should have in a backup solution. Anything beyond this is an added bonus.
In case the updates cause problems for your site, the backup works like a rewind button. If you messed up, you can just restore your backup where everything was functioning just fine!
But this is only one safety measure! There’s another step that you can incorporate that will save you from ever needing to hit the rewind button. And that’s staging!
Step 2 – Create a WordPress Staging Site
Staging creates a clone environment of your website. This is your play area where you can make all the changes you want. None of it will affect or reflect on your live site.
Your WordPress host might provide the option of staging sites. If not, you’d need a plugin that would allow you to create one. Here again, our go-to backup plugin BlogVault also allows you to create a staging site very easily.
Once it’s set up, you can carry out the updates and check if they work fine. Check all your important pages and functions.
Remember, if it 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. You can simply delete the staging site and create a new one.
Step 3: Update Live Site
If you’re happy with how your staging site is functioning, you can update your live site in two ways:
If there aren’t too many updates, then we recommend you replicate the updates on your live site. In case you find that too be a lot, you can use migration tools that allow you to push the changes from the staging site to the live site.
Once you do this, your live site is now updated safely and smoothly!
15. How to test a WordPress website after updating it?
After you’ve updated your site and you feel everything is functioning fine, your last and final step should be to test it out. Ensure you have the right tools installed as mentioned earlier. Now let’s get started with testing your site.
i. WP Admin Check
Login to WordPress admin. Refresh your browser, visit the updates page and click on ‘Check again’. Ensure that the update has been successful and that you have the latest version.
ii. Website Check
Visit your website (not through admin panel). Thoroughly check if all the critical URLs are performing well. Each site will vary, so for example, if you have a WooCommerce site, investigate your cart and checkout pages. Try making a purchase and ensure the payment gateway is working fine. If you have a photography website, you’d need to make sure your gallery, slideshows, carousels are working fine.
iii. Visual Comparison Check
Go back to the visual comparison tool you installed and take screenshots of your website again.
If you’ve installed WPBoom, it will alert you if there are any visual changes to your site. You can take screenshots again and compare your website before and after the update. If you spot any errors, (which you shouldn’t) it’ll be easier to figure out where the problem lies.
iv. Automated script testing
Since updates are a repetitive process, there are ways to automate the testing as well. Word of caution, you need technical expertise to get this done. You can write a script that will carry out the testing process. Make sure you include multiple browsers and devices in the script testing. This will give you a good view of how your website functions across the board. We recommend you run your test scripts on contact forms, the checkout and any other critical functioning of your website. Also, include all major browsers and devices like:
- Chrome, Firefox, Safari
- Windows, Edge, Mac
- iPhone and Android phone
After thoroughly testing, if everything is working fine, congratulations! You successfully updated your site safely with no problems at all!
16. What to do after updating a WordPress site?
Now that you’re done updating your site, you can rest assured that everything is functioning A-okay!
But before you close the chapter on this update, there are a few things you need to do.
Remove Maintenance Page – If you put up a maintenance page, the first thing you need to do is take it down.
Take a fresh backup of your site – After the update is complete, take a backup so that you have a copy of your newly updated site. If you’re using a plugin like BlogVault, you can just force a backup with their on-demand option.
Turn caching back on – Don’t forget to turn caching back on! The cache helps your website perform better so it’s good to keep it on.
Once you’ve made sure the site is well tested and working fine, you should be good to go now! The update process is complete and you can go back to focus on other things till the next update!
Now we know that for some the update process might not have gone smoothly. Everything is not A-okay! If an update broke your site or you’re facing issues you don’t know how to deal with, it can cause a lot of panic. Not to worry, there are ways to fix it. Let’s take a look at what we can do about it.
17. Steps to remedy a broken WordPress site after an Update
It’s not uncommon to see errors on your site after an update. Here we list out a few basic steps you can take to fix your broken site:
Restore your backup – You might have a backup provided by your host. If not, you might have backed up your site with a plugin like BlogVault. Simply restore the latest backup to get your site up and running.
Rollback the update – If you have access to your admin panel, you can install a plugin that helps you rollback the update. Otherwise, you might need to access the files through FTP to re-install the previous version. But note, a rollback may not work in all cases. Check out the next section for more on this.
If neither doesn’t work or if you’re seeing errors on your site – maybe a page looking funny or not loading at all – you can either try to tackle it manually or seek help from an expert.
The WordPress forum is also a good place to get information on how to resolve most issues. You can also find most answers here on wordpress.org.
With manual resolutions, sometimes trying to fix the problem on your own and going into the backend files can only lead to bigger problems. If you aren’t sure about what you’re doing, it’s best to get someone who does!
18. How to rollback a WordPress update?
Rolling back a WordPress update simply means reverting back to the old version.
Note, if there were changes to your site after an update such as a new order or new post, if you rollback, you might lose this data. In such cases, real-time backups are ideal. BlogVault has the option where you will be able to restore your site and retain any new changes.
Coming to how to rollback, you can do this through a long-drawn process using FTP, but there are two plugins available that just simplify the entire thing for you. For your WordPress core installation, there’s WP Downgrade. For themes and plugins, there’s WP Rollback.
But be aware that you do this at your own discretion. We highly recommend you try this out on a staging site before you do it on your live site.
a. WP Downgrade
This plugin can be used to re-install an older version of WordPress core. It lets you easily upgrade or downgrade your WordPress core installation.
Once you install and activate WP Downgrade, you can go to ‘Installed plugins’, find WP Downgrade and click on ‘Settings’.
Here, you will see that the status is ‘Inactive’. Once you enter the WordPress Target Version and save changes, you’ll see the status change to ‘Active’.
After this, it gives you an option to ‘Up-Downgrade Core’. Your site will go into maintenance mode until the update is complete.
You need to go back to Dashboard > Updates, and you’ll see that you have the latest version of WordPress.
To see that there is an update available, you have to go back to the WP Downgrade plugin, leave the ‘WordPress Target Version’ blank. The plugin will deactivate and you’ll see that a new version of WordPress is available.
b. WP Rollback
This plugin works for themes and plugin updates. Once you activate this plugin, you’ll see that all your plugins get an option to ‘rollback’. The rollback option allows you to select the different versions of the plugin or theme.
To rollback a theme update, you need to go to Appearance > Themes > Theme Details. You’ll see the rollback option at the bottom right corner. Select the version you’d like and then rollback.
Any updates you made can be undone with these plugins in a matter of a few minutes.
19. How to update your WordPress site after a Rollback or Restore?
Now that you managed to restore your site or just rollback the update, you’re still left wondering how to get the update without the problems attached!
- We suggest you leave your live site alone and always create a staging site to test out updates. If anything goes wrong, it’s much easier to recover. You can simply delete the staging site and create a new one. It does not affect your live site.
- Go by the safe update process we entailed earlier – backup, stage, update.
- Sometimes you just need to try again. Once you stage a site, run the update again. It might just work fine.
- It might be a simple issue with the order in which you updated your plugins, themes and core. You might need to just switch the order. So if you updated the plugins first and then the core, it might have caused an incompatibility issue. So you can reverse the order and try again to see if it works.
- Check the WordPress forum if people have reported similar issues. You might need to wait till the developers fix a bug in the update.
- Check the audit log to see what errors have been reported. You can try to figure out what is causing the issue from here.
If nothing seems to be working, your best bet would be to get a professional who knows what they’re doing. In case you want to try to fix things yourself, you can tackle the issue from FTP.
We can’t stress on this enough, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s best not to mess with these files. That said, let’s see how we can update WordPress manually.
20. When is a Manual WordPress Update Needed?
Users can also update WordPress manually using FTP (File Transfer Protocol). You need this only if you are locked out of your WordPress admin, or you have restricted access. If your site’s admin panel is inaccessible, a manual update might save it from being hacked.
Many developers also prefer to use this method when they want to incorporate customized changes to templates and other files. One can also use this method when the usual way of updating WordPress failed.
21. How to Update a WordPress Site Using FTP?
Before we dive into the steps of updating WordPress using FTP, we need to understand what FTP does.
WordPress is designed to let just about anyone build a website, with no tech knowledge whatsoever. So if things go awry, it might be difficult to figure out where your files are located and what exactly to fix. Your files are located on a server. You just need a bridge to connect you to them. This is where FTP comes in.
FTP allows you to access the files of your website by connecting your computer to your website’s server. 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.
a. Basic Steps
- Always take a backup of your site first. Always!
- Deactivate your plugins.
- If you have access to your WP admin panel, you can download the latest version of WordPress from there. Otherwise, you can visit wordpress.org and download it.
- Unzip the file, this will create a separate folder usually called “WordPress”. Note where it is located, you will need it later.
b. Accessing FTP
- Find your FTP or SFTP credentials in your Control Panel or Profile details of your web host.
- You can then open your FTP application, enter your credentials, and your site’s files will load.
- In case it gives you a prompt that the certificate doesn’t match, try changing the certificate chain from 0 to 1 or 2.
- You will see four panels. The left side is your local computer called “Local site” The right side is your website files called “Remote site”.
i. Updating WordPress
Step 1 – Depending on whether you are using a shared host or not, things may vary here. If you cannot see your website folder, double click on the public_html folder. It should be under that.
Double click on your folder and you will see three folders wp-content, wp-admin and wp-includes. This is where you can make changes to your website only.
First, you need to be cautious not to delete your wp-content folder 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 2 – 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 3 – Coming to wp-content, you need to 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 if you want to overwrite the existing files. Select yes. Any other content files you have will remain the same.
Step 4 – You then need to log into your WordPress admin and see if you have any update notifications. If you can’t sign back in, try clearing your cookies.
Step 5 – On the dashboard, you might see “Database update required”. Simply click on it and you’re done.
Step 6 – 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.
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.
ii. Updating WordPress Plugins Using FTP
The method is pretty much the same if you want to update your WordPress plugins manually.
- You need to download the zip file of the plugin and unzip it to its own folder.
- Log into FTP and access the wp-content/plugins folder.
- Delete the plugin you want to upgrade.
- Right click on the new folder on the remote site, choose ‘Upload’ and make sure you are uploading it to wp-content/plugins.
Once done, you can sign in to your WordPress site and verify that your plugin is the new version.
iii. Updating WordPress Themes using FTP
Themes are a bit different. If you’re using a customized theme, if you overwrite the files with the new ones, you will lose your customizations. You might need a developer to help you with this.
However, if you’ve only made changes to your theme using the WordPress admin, then you can go ahead with updating it using FTP.
- Download the zip file and unzip it to its own folder.
- Use FTP to delete the existing theme.
- Upload the new theme from the local site by right-clicking on it and selecting ‘Upload’.
- Sign in to your WordPress site. Go to ‘Appearance’, then ‘Themes’ and ensure your theme version has been updated.
Important to Note
The process isn’t too technical and anyone should be able to do it. However, this method should be reserved for unavoidable situations. Remember, you shouldn’t be messing around inside the wp-admin and wp-includes folder. If you are following instructions that tell you to make changes to these folders (other than delete and copy the new one), this should alert you that you’re probably doing something wrong. You’re hacking into things that you shouldn’t be messing with.
For plugins and themes, you only need your wp-content folder. For WordPress core update, you just need to replace the wp-admin and wp-includes folder. And then replace the old wp-content contents with the new one in a way that doesn’t affect your added content.
Manual updates using FTP or cPanel is helpful in certain situations, but you shouldn’t really need it under normal circumstances. When it comes to this, it’s best to seek help from a WordPress developer or management solution.
Now that you know all about manual updates, we can take a look at automatic updates. Setting automatic updates has its advantages but it may not be the best idea.
22. Automatic WordPress Core Updates
By making updates automatic, the software will update on its own as and when a new version is available. You don’t have to check for updates and then go into the ‘updates’ tab and click on it manually to get it updated. It makes life so much easier, as everything stays up to date without any interference from you.
Managed hosting providers such as WPEngine, FlyWheel and Pantheon, update the WordPress core automatically.
But there is a downside to automatic updates that can potentially break your site. We’ve taken an in-depth look into automatic updates, what they mean and what they can do for your site.
As we covered earlier, a typical site consists of the WordPress core, themes and plugins. All these require updates regularly and can be configured to automatically update.
As we know, WordPress releases major and minor updates. The minor updates carry security fixes and other maintenance fixes. When it comes to minor updates, WordPress has made it automatic by default. This was a conscious decision made by the WordPress team to ensure all websites on the platform remain secure. You can, however, disable it if you want.
Themes and Plugins
If you have a lot of plugins on your site, it can be a nightmare to keep track of updating them. This is where auto-updates come in handy. To automatically update the themes and plugins, you can change the code in your wp-content folder or just install another plugin that will take care of updates.
23. How to automate Core Updates?
If you want to make the WordPress core updates automatic, you need to make changes to your WordPress installation files. You can automate all updates or just the minor releases. To do this, you need to locate and open your wp-config.php file. You can do this using FTP or cPanel of your host.
Add the parameter
define ( ‘WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE’ );
- Automate All Core Updates
To automate all updates, change the parameter to
define ( ‘WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE’, true);
By doing this, you will enable all release updates, developmental updates and translation file updates to automatically be installed.
- Automate Minor Updates
To automate only the minor updates, change the parameter to
define ( ‘WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE’, ‘minor’);
This will automate only the minor releases and translation updates. Save the file and re-upload it to the same destination. Do not change the name, instead, you can overwrite the existing wp-config.php file.
24. How to automate updates of Themes and Plugins?
There are plugins available for WordPress sites to automate the update functions. You can choose to automate core updates, and even for themes and plugins. You can also choose to automate only selected plugins that you trust. Here are a few popular plugins you can use to make updates automatic:
a. Companion Auto Update
This plugin enables auto-updates that run in the background for all plugins, themes and your WordPress core. You get full control over what should be updated automatically and what shouldn’t. You can disallow automatic updates for the ones you want.
For the WordPress core, you can choose whether you want only minor updates, major updates, both or none. You can also set up auto updates for translation files.
The good thing about this plugin is that you get an email when an update is available. You also get emails when the plugin has completed an automatic update of any plugin, theme or core. You have the choice to disable email notifications if you want.
If you’re running a WooCommerce site, you can disable auto updates only for WooCommerce while the rest of your plugins can be automatically updated.
By default, the updater runs twice a day, but you can schedule this to every hour or every day. You can schedule a specific time as well so that you can run the updates when there is less traffic.
b. Easy Updates Manager
This is a lightweight plugin that allows you to manage updates on single sites as well as multisites. You can enable and disable automatic updates in just one click.
You have control over what updates you want to run automatically. If you have custom developed a theme, you can hide updates for these.
You can also force updates to check if the automatic update function is working.
If you’re using UpdraftPlus, this plugin can be easily integrated.
This plugin also has email notifications that you can configure to your requirements.
25. How to configure WordPress to automatically update Plugins and Themes?
It’s always best to test out an update before installing it, and always backup your site before you update a plugin or theme. 👌 Click To Tweet
Again, before you get into this, you should know there are risks associated if you tamper with the wrong files or enter an incorrect code.
Sometimes updates to themes and plugins can break your site or even specific pages. It can cause a number of problems if not done correctly.
It’s always best to test out an update before installing it, and always backup your site before you update a plugin or theme. If you choose automatic updates, you bypass the stages of backup and testing. If you want to know more about how to safely update your site, you can jump to this section.
Automating plugins and themes in the config file is not supported by WordPress. Instead, you can add a filter as given below:
add_filter ( ‘auto_update_plugin’, ‘__return_true’ );
add_filter ( ‘auto_update_theme’, ‘__return_true’ );
Note, this needs a bit of technical knowledge. You can add this filter to your WordPress site in three ways:
The functions.php file of the theme. But if you add it here, when your theme gets updated, you’ll lose this filter. You’ll have to add it every time the theme is updated.
You can create a child theme and add the filter to the child’s functions.php. This way even if the parent theme gets updated, your customisation will not be lost.
- You can create a must-use plugin and add the filter there.
26. Pros & Cons of Automatic Updates
There are an upside and downside to automatic WordPress updates. You need to make a wise decision as to whether or not automatic updates would work for your site.
a. Advantages of Automatic Updates
- It makes website management much easier.
- Setting up auto-updates isn’t complicated.
- The option to automate updates is free.
- Your site is safe as security updates are always installed immediately.
b. Disadvantages of Automatic Updates
Updates sometimes cause your site to malfunction. When you automate updates, you may not be aware of these changes. If you haven’t been notified of the automatic update, then trying to figure out what caused the problem would be a long process.
Furthermore, you won’t know when to back up your site before an update is automatically installed. If you haven’t taken a backup and an update causes your site to go down, you could lose all your data.
If you’re trying to make updates automatic through the wp-config or php file, you could introduce errors and bugs if you don’t do it correctly.
It’s better to follow safe practices before updating your site.
27. Disable Automatic WordPress Updates
When it comes to disabling the automatic updates to your WordPress core, you have three options:
Disable All Core Updates
The same way you enabled auto-updates, you can access the wp-config.php file and change the coding to
define ( ‘WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE’, false );
This will disable all auto updates to the WordPress Core.
Disable All Core Updates except Minor Updates
WordPress Core Updates that are minor are automatic by default. In case you want to make sure the auto updates are turned on for minor updates, you need to check the wp-config.php file and look for
define ( ‘WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE’, ‘minor’ );
This will ensure that your WordPress core gets updated as soon as a minor release is rolled out by the WordPress team. It’s highly recommended that you keep this setting because minor releases carry security and bug fixes that are crucial to the security of your website. You’ll know it’s a minor update by the version number. For example, Version 5.4 is not a minor update. But Version 5.4.3 is a minor one. It may not always be the case. You can check the version change log on wordpress.org to know more about versions.
Disabling Automatic Plugin Updates
You can just delete the must-use plugin you created and installed. Or you can change the filter to:
add_filter ( ‘auto_update_plugin’, ‘__return_false’ )
Disabling Automatic Theme Updates
Again, you can just delete the must-use plugin you created and installed. Or you can change the filter to:
add_filter ( ‘auto_update_theme’, ‘__return_false’ );
Before you enable or disable automatic updates, you need to weigh out the pros and cons. Though there may be some benefits, automatic updates work only for certain situations such as the minor updates. If you have a small site with one or two plugins, then automatic updates might be an easy way to go.
If you’ve got a large site, multiple sites, or a WooCommerce site, automating updates isn’t a good idea. There are better ways to figure out how to manage updates for multiple sites and WooCommerce sites.
28. How to update multiple WordPress websites?
Multiple websites are popular in the WordPress community. It enables website owners to run different businesses or to run different websites within a single business. Agencies and developers also manage multiple websites as they build websites for others. These websites are usually managed and maintained by the agency or developer who created them.
Updating multiple websites becomes more tedious and complicated than just handling a single website. We already saw how elaborate updating one website can get, imagine doing it X number of times for multiple sites. If we try to update multiple sites the old-fashioned way, we’d encounter a series of obstacles:
We would need to constantly monitor every site. This means entering each wp-admin, accessing the dashboard and checking if updates are available.
We would need to take a backup for the site, test the updates and then decide whether we want to roll out the update on the live site.
Once we decide that an update is functioning fine, we can’t just go ahead and update other websites without testing. This could cause problems if the other website is using completely different themes and plugins. Just because the update worked fine with the themes and plugins of one website, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have compatibility issues with some others.
If websites are similar in terms of themes and plugins, then updates might become easier. We could install the updates for one site first, check if it works. Then we can rest assured it will work on the other sites. Though this seems easier, it’s recommended to still test every update for different sites.
But if each website is different, they would have a variety of plugins and themes that require updates from time to time. Since there is no set schedule of update releases when it comes to plugins and themes, this would need to be constantly monitored.
If we’ve installed themes or plugins from marketplaces or vendors that are not listed in the WordPress repository, then we might not get notifications for the updates. We would have to visit the respective websites or follow them on social media to know when an update is available.
Updating multiple websites in this manner might be time-consuming but still feasible for a small number of sites. But what happens when the number crosses 5, 10, 50, 100 sites? Now you might realize it’s just mentally and physically exhausting to update them all.
To solve the problems of updating multiple websites, many solutions have emerged. These plugins help manage multiple websites from a single dashboard. They also give you a bird’s eye view of the websites that need updates. You then have options to update all at once or even schedule updates.
Let’s take a look at some of the popular plugins that help you manage updating multiple websites:There are many solutions gives you a bird’s eye view of the websites that need updates from a single dashboard. 🧐 Click To Tweet
BlogVault is a great solution for updating multiple websites. You can manage multiple sites from one dashboard.
You can choose to install updates only for a single site. Also, you can choose which updates you want.
There is also an option to issue bulk updates to all the websites you’ve connected to BlogVault.
The best part is that you can take a backup, stage a site, test and finally roll out your updates all from one panel.
The plugin has different pricing plans, so you can choose one according to the number of websites you want to handle. It is a reliable backup solution, so in case your updates cause problems, you have a backup that’s extremely easy to restore!
This WordPress management software lets you manage unlimited websites for free. But if you want premium features, then there is a pricing plan.
It takes a few minutes to set up and add your first site. After that, things flow smoothly. You can automate a number of tasks including updates. You can perform bulk updates on your websites.
And you can monitor your websites easily and see all the updates that are available on one dashboard. You can perform updates to the core, plugins and themes.
The best part is that it safely creates a restore point for you. You can use this to compare the website before and after an update. In case anything goes wrong, you can restore your site to this point.
This plugin allows you to connect an unlimited number of sites to your MainWP dashboard. You can then manage all of them from a centralized location.
You have the option to update plugins and themes to all your sites. They also offer multiple backup solutions.
One thing to bear in mind is that this is a self-hosted plugin. So the load of managing multiple sites and taking a backup before updates will fall on your server. While this may have its own advantages, you should be prepared to handle the load.
These tools work great when you have to manage multiple websites that are all quite different from each other. But if your sites are within the same network, bearing similar themes and plugins, then there is another option. WordPress recognised the need to manage multiple sites within a network and came up with a solution called Multisite.
29. WordPress Multisite
There was a feature called WordPress MU that allowed users to create multiple blogs on a WordPress site. WordPress mashed that feature into its core and expanded it in June 2010 with the release of Version 3.0. Basically, this feature allows you to create a network of sites.
So you might be wondering what is the difference between multiple websites and multisite? Though multisite and multiple sites are used interchangeably, there is a vast difference between the two. The biggest one being that multisites comprises a network of sites that all run on the same WordPress installation files. Whereas with multiple websites, each site can have its own WordPress installation.
How is Multisite different from Multiple Websites?
A good analogy to help you understand the difference is to picture an apartment. All the rooms in one apartment can be considered a multisite network. They have one main door and all the rooms follow a similar design and layout. The tenants are all from one family.
Now every apartment has different tenants who are not related to each other. Each apartment is customised to the respective tenant and has a separate main door. So each apartment becomes a separate website and the apartment complex houses multiple websites.
So a multisite network runs on the same core files and pretty much has the same style, themes and plugins. The people running the multisite network belong to one business or are closely related to each other.
Whereas, with multiple sites, each one has a different set up with its own WordPress core installation. The themes, layout, design and functionality can be vastly different from each other. One may be a complex WooCommerce site, whereas another one can be a simple blog.
A great example of a multisite network is BBC America. This cable and satellite channel airs some of the most popular shows on TV. Its main website runs a multisite install. Each show on the channel has its own website. The smaller sites all use a child theme and are powered by the main framework.
Process of updating WordPress Multisite
You can install updates to all your websites from the admin panel in a few clicks. You can also access the backend files and manually install updates using FTP.
Updating multisites is a bit different from multiple sites. It can be done only if you are the superadmin of the network. You need to login to your WordPress admin, and if an update is available, click on ‘Update Now’.
After the update is complete, there is one more step to complete. WordPress issues the following prompt “Thank you for Updating! Please visit the Upgrade Network page to update all your sites.” You’ll see this prompt only if you’re the superadmin.
Simply click on ‘Upgrade Network’ and the new update will be pushed to your entire network of sites. This process might take several minutes to complete, especially if you have a large network. The upgrade is rolled out 5 sites at a time and each site will get the database changes.
After updating, your browser should automatically redirect you to the next page. In case this doesn’t happen, once the upgrade is complete, you’ll see a button ‘Next Sites’. You can click on that and your upgrade will be successful.
You should see a message that says “All done!” which means your network is now running the latest version of WordPress.
Process of updating themes and plugins for Multisite
You can follow the same process for updating themes and plugins across a multisite network. If there is a notification on the dashboard that updates are available, you can just click on update. Once it’s updated for the main site, you can click on ‘Upgrade Network’ to roll out the update on all the other sites.
Since plugins and themes are installed at a network level most of the time, upgrading the whole multisite network becomes easier.
30. WooCommerce updates
WooCommerce is a whole different ball game. It is a free WordPress e-commerce plugin that you can embed directly on your WordPress site. You can then start selling products directly to customers. But now that you’re taking orders from people, there are more things to focus on like building your SEO, keeping track of orders and inventory, billing and receiving payments, packaging and shipping, to name a few.
With a WooCommerce site, there are so many other things that are prioritized that more often than not, updates take a backseat for a long time. But these updates can be so crucial to the success of your site.
There are so many reasons why updates are important for WooCommerce. The main reason being, you can’t afford to lose your customer’s data or mess up your website. For instance, say you’ve received an order for your product and the customer has made the payment. You then update your site but it caused glitches which resulted in the loss of that customer’s information. You’ve collected the money but have no idea who gave to you or any details about the order. Now, what do you do? You would have no idea who should get a refund? Something like this could even escalate into fraud. You realise you should’ve taken measures to keep that data safe.
So, on the one hand, if you do update, it can cause problems on your sites such as incompatibility of themes and plugins, glitches, malfunctions or site crashes.
But on the other hand, you can’t afford to not get the security fixes. Plus the longer you don’t update, the bigger your problems become.
You could leave your site vulnerable to hackers. If malicious code enters your site, your web host can suspend your account and Google can blacklist your site. This will affect your rankings, revenue and brand image! You can read more about the consequences of not updating your site.
Updating your WooCommerce website can be a daunting task but it’s not an impossible one. The pros of updating beat the cons by a mile! It’s extremely essential to update your site regularly but you need to do it in a way that doesn’t result in problems.
When to update a WooCommerce site?
When it comes to WooCommerce updates, it’s important to take into consideration your site’s traffic patterns. Before you install an update, whether you’ve backed up your site and tested the update or not, you need to study when your site receives high traffic. You can do this using simple tools like Google Analytics.
It’s best to install updates when you have low traffic volumes. This is because before you update your core, you need to disable your plugins for a short time. Once the core is updated, you can re-enable your plugins.
There are safe practices that you can follow while updating your site so that you don’t face issues. Here’s how we would go about updating a WooCommerce site.
Backup is even more important for a WooCommerce site. We suggest having real-time backups. This ensures that every time someone places an order or a change is made to the website, it is backed up immediately. So there is absolutely no chance of losing any data at any time.
Even after an update, any new orders will be backed up. In case you realise much later that there are issues on the site, all current data is safely stored.
Having a working backup ready to be restored at any time ensures you have your site up and running before customers are the wiser.
This is extremely important for WooCommerce because you can’t afford to have any downtime. If your website doesn’t work even for a few minutes, it could mean a loss in revenue.
The best option is to create a clone site and test out updates before you implement them on your live site. You can tinker around without the fear of messing up something. Your live site will function as is.
Once you are happy with what you’ve done on your staging site, you don’t need to go back to your live site and recreate what you did. You can simply merge the changes with your live site. Also, you can choose which changes you want to merge.
Once you update your site, you need to run standard tests to ensure everything is functioning fine. Visit all critical URLs, the checkout and cart functions, and all other important pages. You can refer to the process we explained earlier.
Once you know you’ve taken all measures to ensure the update is not going to cause problems, you can go ahead and update your live site! If you spend a little time taking these steps, you’ll save yourself from a lot of stress later.
31. How a WordPress maintenance agency keeps your site updated
They’re popular for a reason, WordPress maintenance agencies help a ton of websites with complete end-to-end management services.
Back in the 1990s, websites were much simpler. People were not concerned about constant security measures, staying updated, improving speed, and so on. It was more a “set and forget” mantra.
We saw how tedious a single update process can be, let alone the entire list of WordPress maintenance chores that need to get done.
When you run a business, maintaining the website could take up a large portion of your time, leaving you with very little time to actually do business! For this reason, WordPress maintenance agencies have flourished.
Most agencies over support round the clock, grant access to premium plugins and have dedicated staff to manage websites.
Some of the popular agencies include:
- WP Curve
- WP Copilot
- WP Site Care
- iWitness Design
There are, however, many many more!
When you avail their services, among a list of other things, they take care of WordPress updates for you. Not just the one-click update method, but they will take the time to do a safe update. After all the success of your website determines their success as well!
32. Finding the best way to update WordPress
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.
No matter what type of website you own, or whether you do it yourself or through an agency, remember, to get the right tools in place and then always backup – stage – update – test.
Wrapping Up WordPress Updates
By following this method, you should have a seamless way of ensuring you keep your site updated. We should also point out that you need to keep security measures in place at all times regardless of whether you choose to update or not.
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!