Quick Guide to Updating WordPress – Why and How to Update

We all know that WordPress is a popular Content Management System, that uses open source software to help users set up blogs and websites with ease. Just like any other software, it’s updated regularly to keep up with the growing needs of users. The team at WordPress constantly updates the core functions of WordPress, as well as regularly fixes bugs and releases security updates. And to keep your WordPress website in top gear, you too need to carry out these changes in your WordPress install.

This post is a quick guide to updating WordPress. We’ll explain exactly why and what you should be updating on the regular. Let’s get started!

Why Should You Update WordPress?

There are many reasons why you should update WordPress regularly,

1. New Features: If you want to include any new feature bundled in a revised WordPress version, you’ll need to update. For instance, the new default theme Twenty Seventeen introduced by WordPress version 4.7 “Vaughan” focuses on business, and can add featured images and video headers.

If you like these new features offered by Twenty Seventeen and want to add it to your WordPress, you’ll need to update.

2. Improves compatibility with plugins: Often it happens that many plugin authors check their work to see if the plugins remain compatible with the WordPress core after a major update. They update the plugins, whenever required. For these plugins to work without any conflict on your site, you may find it necessary to upgrade to a compatible WordPress version.

3. Fixing bugs: Many small glitches may become known after a major update. So WordPress releases minor updates to fix these bugs and you should make these changes too.

4. Improves Performance: An update can also add functions that tones up performance of WordPress. It can add capabilities and features that improve overall performance.

5. Security: With more than 25% of the websites powered by WordPress, it’s a tempting target for hackers. The team at WordPress and the WordPress community is alert to security vulnerabilities and addresses them quickly. To keep your website secure, you must be sure to carry out these updates on your site as well.

What Should You Update?

Here’s what you need to monitor and update,

  • WordPress core – major & minor
  • Themes
  • Plugins

At the same time, check for available updates to third party themes and plugins as well, if you’ve installed any.

How To Update WordPress – Overview

These simple steps will help you keep your WordPress install updated,

1. One important precaution before updating WordPress: Always back up your website before making major changes. I’ve updated my WordPress install many times without a hitch. However, mine is a real lean install with few themes and plugins. For a website with multiple themes and many plugins, updating can be risky if there is any incompatibility, so always back up.

2. Look up the changelog to understand what is being changed: If you don’t need a feature, you can choose not to update your WordPress.

3. Test the updates in a staging version of your site: This way, you’ll know if there’s any incompatibility between your WordPress install and the update you’re trying to effect. And if it so happens that anything breaks, you can get down to troubleshooting before going live with the changes.

The WP Staging plugin can create a staging version of your website. It creates a duplicate of your live website, including the entire database, in a sub folder of your current WordPress installation. You can test your update here, before repeating it on a live site. An added advantage is that it can help you avoid downtime during updating. However, at present, the plugin is not capable of pushing back the updated version to the live website.

4. Install the updates that you want: Keep in mind that when it comes to security updates, you do not have much of a choice and may have to install them anyway.

5. Review:  Review your website, particularly those features that have been updated.

Updating WordPress

You can set WordPress to update automatically using small bits of code or you can opt for one-click updates.

One-click Update

WordPress has an in-built system that’ll inform you every time an update is available. You’ll see it on your dashboard when you log into WordPress. Here’s a screenshot of the WordPress version 4.7 intimation.

Updating is simply a one-click process. After the update is complete, this is the screen that you’ll see.

If you’re not in the habit of logging into your site regularly, you may not even be aware of updates. To know when an update becomes available without logging into admin frequently, activate the WP Updates Notifier plugin. You can adjust the frequency of checking for updates in the plugin settings, and receive email alerts whenever an update is available.

Automatic Updates

WordPress is set by default to update minor changes automatically, and so you’ll not even know about them. But that’s not the case with major updates.

However, not everyone prefers automatic updates at all times. There’s always a risk that an update may not be compatible with any plugin or theme on your site. It’s also possible that you do not want to activate the feature being added by the update, or you may simply want more control over what’s in your install.

If that’s the case, you can enable / disable automatic updates, or tweak it to apply only to minor releases / major updates by making changes in the wp-config.php file.

To enable major automatic updates, add the following line,

define('WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', true);

To disable all automatic updates (including minor updates),

define( 'AUTOMATIC_UPDATER_DISABLED', true );

If for some reason, you do not want to tinker with the wp-config.php file, you can also manage updates by adding filters in the functions.php of your theme or plugin.

To disable automatic updates entirely,

add_filter('automatic_updater_disabled', '__return_true');

To disable automatic minor updates,

add_filter('allow_minor_auto_core_updates', '__return_false');

To enable automatic major updates

add_filter('allow_major_auto_core_updates', '__return_true');

Themes & Plugins

Just like you update WordPress, you can update the themes and plugins too. If updates are available, you’ll be notified in Dashboard > Updates. And you can update them using the one-click method.

Automatic updates to themes and plugins is disabled by default. To enable them, you can add filters in the functions.php file of the theme or plugin. Theme and plugin authors can also opt to push automatic updates.

To automatically update your themes and plugins, simply add this piece of code to your theme’s functions.php file or to the plugin.

add_filter( 'auto_update_plugin', '__return_true' );
add_filter( 'auto_update_theme', '__return_true' );

Updates to third party themes or plugins will most likely be provided in a folder that you’ll need to download. Deactivate the old version, upload the new version to the folder and then reactivate the plugin.

However, if you’re using premium themes or plugins from Themeforest or Codecanyon you can use the Envato Market plugin to automate your premium item updates as well. See our full Envato Market plugin guide for the details.

Some Points To Note

Child Themes: When you choose to update a theme, any customization that you may have made in the parent theme will be lost. This will not be the case if you’re using a child theme to carry out customization. However, if you’re using a child theme, you’ll need  to keep track of the updates being released for the theme and update manually.

To Check out a Plugin Update: In case you’re not sure about a plugin update, you can check it out with the WP Safe Updates plugin. Installing this plugin involves adding a fair bit of code to the wp-config.php. It adds a “Test Update” button whenever an update is available for any WordPress plugin. Clicking on it will create a sandbox, where the update can be tested before applying it to the live website.

This is a relatively new plugin with only about 100 active installs. Though it has received a good star rating, it’s best to make use of this plugin with caution and test it out for yourself, before relying on it entirely.

Automatic Updates Using Plugin: You can also turn on automatic updates for major updates to core, themes and plugins, using the Easy Update Manager plugin. This is risky, especially if you’re not good at troubleshooting. However, going by the number of active installs (100,000+) of the plugin, many WordPress users are choosing to go with the automatic update method.

This plugin overrides all settings related to updating. It allows you to manage all updates – major and minor updates to WordPress core, themes and plugins, development updates, translation updates and some third party plugins. It also hides your WordPress version in the footer.

To Conclude

Next time you see an update notification in your WordPress, be sure not to ignore it. Check out the changelog to understand what is being changed and ensure the safety and reliability of your website by updating WordPress.

Vishnu
Post Author: Vishnu

Freelance writer about all things WP | A mechanical engineer who creates awesome content for my clients to drive prospective leads to their business :)

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