WordPress, like other software programs, is continually changing. Some updates are to fix bugs or security leaks. Others are enhancements that users have requested. But unlike Windows updates, WordPress updates don’t automatically happen and you’re not prompted by a pop-up window. The only way you know if an update is available is to login to your WordPress dashboard.
While WordPress will normally work fine without updating, there are drawbacks to not updating. Updates that contain security patches are important to keep your site safe. Older releases of WordPress (pre 3.4 versions) had memory limits that won’t run some of the newer plugins.
Here are 5 things to consider when updating your WordPress site:
1. Start with a backup of your site. There are several good WordPress Backup plugins you can use, but the easiest way is export your site. From your Dashboard, go to Tools, Export and choose all content. This will download a backup copy to your computer.
2. Don’t skip releases. While it’s possible to skip a minor release, never skip major releases. For example, you are running WordPress 3.5. A minor update, 3.5.3 is released, then a few months later major release 3.6, followed by another major release, 3.7. You could skip directly to the 3.6 but if you tried to go from 3.5 to 3.7, there’s a good chance your site will become locked.
3. Download the server files. Use an FTP program and download the files from the server to your local computer. That way, if the update goes south, you can reload the original files and be back up and running.
4. Updating Themes and Plugins – Themes are what control the look and layout of your WP site and plugins add functionality to your site. Like the WordPress platform files, themes and plugins will often be updated for the same reasons WP files are. If the theme or plugin was updated to plug security holes, then it’s important to perform the update. The Updates tab on the dashboard will show you what plugins and themes have available updates. If you go to the Installed Plugins page and visit the site for the theme or plugin, often you will find the release notes to see what was covered by the update. Use this to determine if you need to apply the update.
4. Don’t overwrite the theme files. Theme files can be used as is, modified within the theme control panel in the dashboard or actually add to or modify the code. If you have done the later and your theme has an update, you may want to manually apply it. The automatic update (clicking the update button in the Updates tab) will simply replace all the files with the new ones. If you modified a page by adding something like a slideshow to the code, the changes will be overwritten and lost. With the backup files you downloaded in step 3 above, you can easily replace the one or 2 files you changed.
5. Help, I updated and now I can’t get into my dashboard (or site). If you happened to skip a release and now your site doesn’t work, you have a couple of options. Using an FTP program or the File Manager from your website’s CPanel, remove the directories WP-Includes and WP-Admin and all the files inside, plus all the WP files in the main WP directory. Then upload your old files via FTP. Login to your dashboard and it will update the database and your site should be back up.
To update, you will need to add the skipped releases one by one, starting with the oldest first. You can download the older versions by going to http://wordpress.org/download/release-archive/ .
Bottom line – with the popularity and prominence of WordPress today comes the increased attention from hackers. While it can be a pain in the behind to update, it’s going to be better than having your site compromised or defaced by hackers.
Gary Wagnon is the chief Ninja Marketing Officer for 800biz Ninja Marketing Solutions and the creator of the Ninja Marketing Dojo. The Dojo teaches business owners and marketers online strategies that increase traffic to their site, improve search engine rankings and converts browsers into buyers.