Are you afraid of WordPress updates?

Are you afraid of updating your WordPress site? Really, with a few easy steps, you shouldn’t be.

One of the more famous quotes from President Franklin D. Roosevelt originates from his inaugural address.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

He goes on to say that fear is a “nameless, unreasoning, [and] unjustified terror.” He could easily be speaking at the State of the Word. Seriously. As a new-to-WordPress-person, I am approached by others whose objections boil down to one thing: fear.

It’s amazing how paralyzing fear can be. None of us likes to believe that we’re fearful, yet we are. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t see me bungee jump anytime soon, but the first step in progress is recognizing and understanding those things that hold us back.

For any complex issue, breaking it down into smaller parts helps overcome fear. Updates are simple and they come in three forms: core updates, theme updates, and plugin updates.

Core Updates

WordPress comes out with three to four updates a year. There are major updates and minor updates. This is no different than your computer’s operating system or even your mobile phone’s operating system. Major and minor software updates are part of our computer-driven lives.

The major updates (4.4 for example) are named after famous people in the jazz genre. 4.3 was Billie for Billie Holiday and 4.4 is Clifford for Clifford Brown. Major updates have feature updates. 4.4, for example, adds oEmbed support for feature-rich linking – sharing is more beautiful. Minor updates 4.3.1, 4.3.2, etc. address bug fixes, security updates, etc.

If a Core update rolls out which patches a security vulnerability and your site breaks because of that, it’s not WordPress’ fault; it’s the Theme or Plugin that caused it. Also, do yourself a favor and disable all your plugins before updating Core. Then re-activate each plugin one by one. That way at least you’ll know which plugin caused the issue.

You definitely want to run your core updates.

This is a simple task. No coding is required. Log into your WordPress site, navigate to updates, and follow the instructions.

The codex says,

“You should always update WordPress to the latest version. When a new version of WordPress is available you will receive an update message in your WordPress Admin Screens. To update WordPress, click the link in this message.”

Even better, I recently started using ManageWP. All three of the websites I personally manage are here. It has a free trial but even for three sites I only pay $2.50 a month. That’s not even a latte.

I have a routine of logging on to ManageWP on Monday mornings. It will ask me to sync all of my sites and then tells me which updates (core, themes, and plugins) are available. Press update. Easy.

Many WordPress hosts will automatically update core for you. Check with your host.

Theme Updates

When you search the WordPress repository for a theme you will be able to see the last time it was updated, how many active installs it has, and the types and numbers of reviews.

In her presentation at WordCamp San Diego in 2015, Heather Steele from Blue Steele Solutions recommended looking for highly-rated themes that have recently been updated. This is a best practice for new users, for certain.

You can filter theme choices by feature (colors, number of columns, etc.) but keep in mind that the more feature-rich the theme is, the more likely it is to be affected by updates.

In her presentation at WordCamp Los Angeles, Sé Reed recommends leaving the design choices to the theme and the function to plugins. This is good advice in light of feeling secure about updates.

Plugin Updates

If you’re using a plugin from a reputable source, 9.9 times out of ten you’ll be perfectly fine just hitting the update button.

A good plugin developer tests their plugins in multiple environments and on various devices. They keep track of core update schedules and beta test their plugins in staging and local environments. This information helps them make updates and ensure you’re good to go.

They’ll update their plugin to comply with core updates and, most likely, email you — sometimes before the core update is available to the public. You signed up for your developer’s email updates, right?

WordPress is stable. It’s not the Princess and the Pea. She can handle a big workload.

Plugins will not break her. WordPress is capable of supporting many plugins on a site. In fact, just to test this out, Bob Dunn put 100 plugins on two different test sites and updated core to 4.0.

Guess what?

Nothing broke. The internet is still working.

The world is still spinning.

It’s okay.


When should you update?

Should you update right away?

You’re site is backed up, right? Everyone has their favorite backups so we won’t got into that here. The point is that you should ensure you have a backup (that you can restore from) available before you update. This is a good practice across the board for any kind of software update. I do this with my iPhone. You can, too.

Dustin Meza of WP Engine gave a detailed presentation at WordCamp Los Angeles last September addressing the anxiety that commonly surrounds updates. He has a five-step process for ensuring you’re okay to go live. Don’t worry, it’s simpler than you think.

The slides for his talk “WordPress Upgrade Anxiety – 5 Steps to Having a No Surprise Upgrade” are a good resource to bookmark.

His five tips are as follows:

  • Step 1: Get to Know Your Site
  • Step 2: Get to Know Your Devs
  • Step 3: Get to Know the Future
  • Step 4: It’s Go Time
  • Step 5: Worry Free Upgrade

Watch his presentation here:

What if something really does go wrong?

Although not as common as an Abominable Snowman sighting, things can and do go sideways. There are a few recommendations:

Firstly, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that this is the reason we created WP Rollback. You can easily travel backward in time and change the version you’re using.

Narrow down the suspects.

If you believe it’s your theme, change your theme to one of the Twenty* themes: Twenty Fifteen or Twenty Sixteen. These are stable and reliable themes. Jason Tucker of WPMediaPro recommends keeping these themes in your dashboard for this exact reason.

If you suspect the problem is due to a plugin, deactivate your plugins. One by one, activate them. This will help you find the culprit. If the offender performs a low-priority function, like adding butterflies to the mouse pointer, then the answer is simple: deactivate it and remove it.

If the plugin performs a critical function, perhaps a friendly email or support ticket to the plugin author is in order. Remember, we know you’re super frustrated, but being nice helps win the heart of the support guru behind the screen. You want help. They want to help you.

So, what’s stopping you?

There is a reason why 25% of the internet is backed by WordPress. Not only that but WordPress is backed by a world-wide crew of uber-smart, passionate volunteers.

Don’t let updates stop you from using WordPress to spread your million dollar idea, change the world, and write that pulitzer-winning piece.