If you own a house, or a car, you expect to have to maintain it. You make sure that it continues to run well and that nobody can break in. Similarly, if you have a website, you must be prepared to look after it, or to have it looked after by a professional. There are a number of tools in your toolbox, and one of the best ones is keeping your website software up to date.
WordPress is a content management system that has three parts:
- Core WordPress files – these are the files created by the WordPress team themselves and provide the core functions.
- Themes – the look and feel of the WordPress site. This website makes use of the Generate Press theme.
- Plugins – third party files that provide extra functionality. On this website one of the main plugins I use is Elementor Pro.
You can take one of two approaches to updating your files:
- Press the update button, cross your fingers and hope for the best.
- Do a little bit of work before you update to make sure that, if the update fails, you can recover your site.
You can minimize the risk in many ways.
- Pick a theme and stick with it (in my case GeneratePress, but Astra, OceanWP are also recommended by many people). That way you get to know how it works and can ‘get inside it’.
- Never be the first to update your plugin to the next version. Look around for reviews of the update before you start. Many plugins have Facebook support groups – consider joining them.
- Learn how backups work with your hosting provider. Also, learn how you would restore your site if there was an issue. If your host don’t do backups and/or don’t allow you access to them, move to a new hosting provider.
- Grab a backup plugin and make sure you know how it works.
The Update Process
- Make sure that your website has a recent back up.
- Make your own backup using a backup plugin as extra insurance.
- Start your update. Stay with your computer while the updates are taking place.
- When the updates are complete, check every part of your website. Is everything working properly?
If everything has gone wrong in a major way, you can either downgrade to the previous version of the plugin you just upgraded, or restore from the backup you made.
I manage a number of websites to make sure that they are kept up to date. If you are fairly new to this, or more risk averse like me, don’t update all of your plugins at once, because if you do, and one causes a problem, you won’t know which one did it.
Major software updates can be more risky. Take the upcoming WordPress 5.0 update for example. This new version will be introducing a whole raft of new features including a new way of creating content called Gutenberg. Such a huge change increases the likelihood of programming errors and compatibility problems, and this can be seen in Gutenberg articles and videos. As the release date for WordPress 5 gets closer, many of these problems will be rectified, but some will still make it into the final version.
With major updates, you need to do more due diligence than for minor updates. Really look into the problems that others are having. Also, if you have access to a test environment, make sure that you install the update on test first so that you can catch and analyse any issues you can find. If there are issues, then consider holding off for the follow-on minor update(s).
Making Life Easier for Yourself
Personally, I use ManageWP to administer the websites that I manage. One tool they have is safe updates that might be worth looking at. They also have a group like this on Facebook. I am not affiliated with them in any way.