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Update WordPress Core & Its Plugins

Typewriter with "update" typed on a piece of paper

Why you shouldn’t make your own WordPress updates

Before explaining how to update your WordPress plugins, we’ll explain why you may want to think twice before doing it on your own. At Corporate Zen, we strongly recommend that you hire a developer to handle updating your WordPress website and plugins. Doing the updating is usually very easy and goes smoothly. However, if there’s an issue, you could end up with a broken site (hopefully you’ll have a backup allowing you to restore it). To make sure you don’t find yourself with a broken site, we think it’s best to have a developer do the updating. Using a developer will save you time and reduce your stress. But, we know not everyone will listen or can afford to hire a developer. If you want to do updates on your own, here are some tips we suggest when you update WordPress and its plugins.

1. Before starting your WordPress updates, make sure you have a backup

Make sure your entire site is fully backed up with all the edits you’ve made. If something goes wrong during the updates, having a backup will allow you to quickly revert to a working version of your site. Good hosting providers include backup options that you can easily revert to should something go wrong. Before getting any further in this list, check with your provider and make sure (a) you have the most recent version of your site backed up and (b) know how to revert to it quickly.

2. Check when the plugin was last updated

Unless the update is for a critical security issue, you might want to wait a week or so after the update launches. Often, updated plugins have bugs that were missed in pre-launch testing. Users will typically find and bring bugs to developers’ attention so they can address them in the next update. Good plugin developers will fix critical bugs quickly (see the screenshot below showing 2 updates in the same day). By waiting a week or so after the plugin update, you’ll reduce the risk of installing a buggy plugin.

Screenshot of plugin with two releases in same day.

Note that this plugin had 2 releases in the same day. The second was to revert to the prior version because of bugs discovered after the earlier update. This is a great example of why it can pay to wait a few days to complete non-security related updates.

To see when a plugin released its last update:

(a) Navigate to Dashboard > Updates. Or Plugins > Installed Plugins.

(b) Click “view version [number] details” next to the plugin.

screenshot showing where to view plugin update details.

(c) In the popup, note the release date.

screenshot showing plugin release date.

3. Carefully review your site

Before updating your plugins or WordPress version, make sure to carefully check and test your website. If you skip this step, you won’t know if the WordPress or plugin updates caused an issue or if one already existed. Not knowing the source of bugs makes them much harder to fix. By confirming your site works before making any updates, you’ll be able to find the source of any bugs more easily.

4. Update WordPress and plugins one at a time, testing after each update

At this point, you’ve carefully reviewed your site, have backups ready to go in case of an issue, and have confirmed that the updates either have critical security fixes or have been out for a week or so. You’re ready to start the updates now. When making updates, we recommend starting with any WordPress core update and then your plugins one at a time. After each update, review the site to make sure the plugin or WordPress core update didn’t introduce any bugs. For plugins, focus on the plugin’s features — i.e. for a contact plugin, make sure to test your contact form after the update.

To make updates you can:

(a) Navigate to Dashboard > Updates > click the appropriate link or button to update.

screenshot showing WordPress and plugin update buttons

Note that if you have an update available for WordPress, the WordPress button will say “install,” not “re-install.”

(b) If you are only updating plugins, you can also navigate to Plugins > Installed Plugins > click the “update now” link next to the appropriate plugin.

screenshot showing update now plugin link

5. Make a note of when you did each update

After you finish your updates, make a note of what you updated and when you completed the update. Sometimes you won’t notice bugs until well after the update. Having information on when you made updates can help you and/or your team of developers find the root cause of any future issues.

If you would like more information on making WordPress updates, check out WordPress’ documentation and/or this beginner’s guide.

Updating plugins on your own isn’t something we recommend, but these tips should reduce the risks. Let us know if you have questions or would like help updating your WordPress website. We currently maintain several WordPress websites and offer a range of WordPress related services. And, if you know of a tip we missed, put it in the comments.

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