Several times a year we receive frantic emails from clients whose sites have crashed or have been hacked because they failed to keep their site updated. Such situations can be easly avoided just by keeping everything up to date. In this post, I will show you how to update WordPress and keep it safe & clean!
Responsibilities of WordPress owner
Having a self-hosted WordPress site means that it’s yours. You own it. You and you alone are responsible for running it and keeping it updated. It’s very much like owning a car. In order to keep a car running in tip-top condition, you have to perform regular maintenance on it like changing the oil, checking the tire pressure, using the proper type of gas, etc. A self-hosted WordPress site must be maintained on a regular basis in much the same way. Your themes, plugins, and WordPress version should always be functioning with the most recent updates to keep your site running at its prime.
Updates can be a little scary because on rare occasions they will cause a problem with your site. Sometimes a plugin you update may not be compatible with an existing plugin on your site and it can cause issues. Because there is always a small risk of updates creating problems, it’s important to make sure you always have a backup of your database saved before you do any updates just in case something should go wrong.
If you ever run into issues after performing an update, contact your hosting provider and they can help you restore your most recent backup (if they offer such a service). Keep in mind that issues caused by updates are very rare, so please don’t let the fear of this prevent you from backing up your site.
Why updates are so important
WordPress is always working to improve its software. Each update they release is packed with security fixes, bug fixes, and new features. Here’s a look at why these updates are so important:
1. Security Fixes
According to WPBeginner, 83% of hacked WordPress blogs have not been updated. Hackers are always on the hunt for sites to destroy. Hackers watch the release notes for updates and as soon as they learn of a vulnerability they start their attacks on sites that haven’t been updated. When you keep your site updated, the updates patch up those vulnerabilities which strengthen your site against malicious attacks. Updating your site as soon as an update becomes available will reduce the time that your site is vulnerable.
2. Bug Fixes
Software bugs can come in many shapes and sizes. Some bugs cause minor mechanical issues after an update. For example, a recent update we did on our site, caused our sidebar to completely disappear! We notified Genesis of the “bug” we experienced with that particular update and within just a few hours, they pushed out an update that fixed the bug and resolved the issue. Other bugs can be more serious and can cause major security holes leaving you vulnerable to attacks.
Fortunately, the amazing team at WordPress and most plugin developers are quick to act against security threats and often push out an update before you even realize there has been a problem. Performing updates as soon as they become available ensures you will have the most secure and stable versions of WordPress, plugins, and themes possible. Unstable versions can crash your site or leave you prone to being hacked.
3. Adds Features and Functionality
Ever since its initial release in 2003, WordPress has been working hard to continually improve the platform. With each update they’ve pushed out since inception, WordPress refines itself and becomes more and more functional. Theme and plugin developers continually work in the same way to provide the best products possible. Keeping your site running on the most recent updates will allow you access to the key features and improved functionalities contained within each update.
How to Know if You Need to Update
WordPress makes it easy to know when updates are available. When logged into your dashboard, you’ll see notifications appear at the top menu bar as well as on your “Updates” tab whenever updates are available. By clicking on either option, you’ll be taken to the “WordPress Updates” page where you can perform the updates. You can also visit your “Plugins” tab and the update notifications will appear under any plugins with available updates.
How to Update WordPress
Before attempting any updates, remember to backup your database. It’s also wise to plan to do your updates at a time when your traffic is at its lowest because your site may appear in maintenance mode for a few seconds during the updates.
When you are ready, visit your “WordPress Updates” page to perform your updates.
Once here, just click on any items listed here and click the update button.
Before you update anything else, make sure you have the latest version of WordPress running. The latest versions of WordPress include an auto update system, which will automatically update your WordPress version with new point releases, so you most likely will already have the latest version of WordPress running. If not, click the update button to perform the update.
Next, in the plugins section you’ll see a list of plugins with updates available. Be sure to double check that the new updates will be compatible with the version of WordPress you are currently running before doing the updates. Select the plugins you wish to update or check “Select All” to update them all at once and then click on the “Update Plugins” button. Again, your site may appear in maintenance mode for just a few seconds during the updates.
I recommend updating each plugin individually. Review your site between each update to make sure no errors have occurred. If an error occurs on your site after an individual update, it makes it easy to pin point which plugin update caused the issue. You can then report the error to the developer of that plugin so they can work to include a fix for the error in their next update.
If you are using one of our designs, you will occasionally see a Genesis Framework update. You might also see on occasion updates for themes that aren’t even activated on your site. That’s okay! Still perform any updates you receive notifications for. If you are using one of our designs, updating the Genesis Framework will not disrupt your design in any way.
Are there any other questions you have about WordPress updates that weren’t covered in this post? If so, please share them as a comment and we’ll do our best to answer them. We can also help you with the updates. Contact us to get more information about that.
Hi Erin, great post!
Most plug-ins show 100% compatible according to author.
However, every once in a while a plug-in will note that the compatibility is “unknown”. Is it still safe to update a plug if the compatibility is not known? Seems like that would it would be risky to update anything without knowledge of 100% compatibility.
What are your thoughts on this? Thanks.
Great question Lisa. Yes, I agree that it’s risky to update plugins with an unknown compatibility. I hold off updating plugins until the compatibility is 100% certain to avoid running into issues. Thanks for your comment.
Hi, great information here!
I have 29 updates that need approval! But many of my plugins are not compatible with the latest version of word-press offered (4.4.2) so I can’t update my site to 4.4.2, as per your suggestion, before updating the plugins. Some of the plugins do however say that I can update them to a number that is smaller than 4.4.2 – for example it reads: “You have version 3.1.7 installed. Update to 3.1.8.” Is it OK to update to a number that is smaller than my current version? (I think my current version is 4.1.10, but how do I tell?)
In your case since your plugins are so outdated, you’ll need to update the plugins first. Once they have been updated to a version more compatible with the current version of WordPress, then it should allow you to perform the WordPress update. As always, please remember to back up your site before performing any updates! Good luck!
Thanks for the feedback, Erin! And about backing up the site, is it as simple as uploading the WP-DBManager plugin that you recommended?
Designer Blogs says
Yes, install the WP-DBManager plugin and then go to its settings to find the button to back it up. It will then backup your site and that backup will be stored on your hosting account.
YES! This post contains some great information! It is so important to update! Along with a backup of the entire site I would also include adding a child theme! Losing all your styling changes is a PAIN!
Thank you for making it so clear why we all need to update our WordPress sites!
I didn’t keep my plug-ins updated while I was taking a short break from blogging in January and my site was hacked. They came in through one of the plug-ins. The folks at Blue-Host were awesome and managed to track down where the hack came from. I still changed platforms in the end, but it sure impressed upon me the importance of updating plug-ins ASAP! Great article and even better advise.
Thanks for sharing your story! It shows how important is keeping everything updated.