WordPress core files and database, plugins and themes need to be regularly updated to ensure your website keeps working as it’s supposed to, but also to patch security vulnerabilities and avoid hackers and malware. Learn in this post how to update WordPress the easy way.
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How To Update WordPress: The Basics
In an ideal world you could create a WordPress website today, get in the next SpaceX flight to Mars, take some cool selfies, come back in 10 years and the website would still be working as in the first day. But this won’t happen as flights to Mars are not available yet and websites need to be taken care of. WordPress’ websites are a living breathing thing that need to be taken care of with regular updates.
Updates accomplish 4 key objectives:
1. Add features or correct bugs on the core WordPress files, a plugin or a theme.
2. Improve compatibility between any of the 3.
3. Patch known vulnerabilities and increase security.
4. Optimize the code for higher loading speed.
But all these amazing benefits have 2 big drawbacks:
1. It takes time to keep your site updated.
2. New updates can break your site.
The increasing dominance of WordPress in the CMS segment and global website market, already powering 30% of websites worldwide, makes it a prime target for hackers & malware creators, so updating your WordPress core files, theme and plugins is not optional, but a must.
You don’t want your beautiful site redirecting your clients to a fake Viagra store, do you?
So to prevent that, let’s start by learning how to update WordPress safely and afterwards we’ll learn how to troubleshoot the most common update related problems.
Before starting: 6 Key preparation steps
Don’t click the update button yet! There are 6 key preparation steps before you can start the WordPress update process:
1. Always create a backup before starting. I can’t stress this enough since if there’s any problem, you can easily restore your site and keep it live while sorting the problem.
2. Create a staging site to test the backups there before pushing them to the live site.
3. Read each update’s change log to understand what’s, how they will affect your website and if there’s any known incompatibilities.
4. Make sure your theme or plugins don’t have any custom features that can be lost when updating. If your theme was customized using a child theme you shouldn’t have any problem. For custom plugin features, you need to know what files were changed, copy them, update the plugin and then change those files again via FTP. Ideally ask your developer for documentation or help with the update.
5. Disable your cache plugin, and also your server and CDN cache if you’re using them.
How to update WordPress core files and database
The easiest way to update your WordPress core files and database is through your admin dashboard. You’ll see a notification on the upper left part, on the Updates panel.
Just click the Update button and it will automatically start. It shouldn’t take longer than a couple of minutes.
If everything works alright, WordPress will display a welcome screen with the details of the update you just installed.
And that’s how to update WordPress core files and database. Easy, isn’t it?
How to update your WordPress theme
If you’re using a free theme, or a purchased one properly activated with your purchase code, then you can update the theme from the admin dashboard. Just navigate to Updates > Themes and click on update.
Important: Please remember to check if your theme has any customizations, and if so, if they were done on a child theme.
How to update your WordPress plugins
Plugin updates are the trickiest part. Since you’re probably using a good amount of plugins and several of them will be needing updates, this is the step where with a bigger probability things can go wrong. Assuming you’ve followed the 6 key preparation steps, then start the plugin update process individually. You might be tempted to just update them all at once, but if there are problems it will make finding the individual plugin causing them more difficult.
So update each plugin individually and test your site to see if there’s trouble.
Troubleshooting your updates
Most of the time your update process will be a breeze and you’ll have 0 problems. But what happens if, after applying some update you see the white screen of death, you get a warning or error screen, some plugins or themes are incompatible or you’re unable to use the admin area.
Don’t panic yet. Or panic, but keep reading.
If you remember, 2 of the key preparation steps were having a backup of your site and applying your updates on a staging site. If you have problems on your live site, restore your backup first. If the problems are on your staging site, let’s find out what’s going on.
Restore your staging site to the backup you had created. Start by disabling your theme and all the plugins, and then update WordPress core files and database.
Afterwards activate your theme. If there are any problems at this stage, it can be a theme incompatibility with the latest WordPress version. If your theme has an update available (generally good themes have an excellent team of developers behind keeping the theme updated and compatible) apply it and see if it fixes the problem. Otherwise, your best options are contacting the theme support team on searching on forums for the solution.
If both WordPress and your theme are working fine, then let’s test the plugins. Activate each plugin individually and test the staging site. Once you find the problematic plugin, try to contact the plugin support team or find a solution for the problem on forums.
One last thing to take into account if you are on a shared hosting server is your server capabilities. Make sure that your PHP version is compatible with the latest WordPress version and also that you have enough memory and CPU to run your site. This shouldn’t be a problem on VPS or dedicated servers.
Summary: How To Update WordPress The Easy Way
Before starting, follow these 6 key steps.
1. Always create a backup
2. Apply the updates on a staging site
3. Read each update change log
4. Make sure your theme or plugins don’t have any custom features that can be lost.
5. Disable your cache plugin
6. Check specialized forums for known problems
Then proceed to update your WordPress core files and database via your dashboard, then your theme and finally each plugin individually.
Troubleshoot possible problems by restoring your staging site and then, disabling all your plugins and theme, updating WordPress, activating your theme and finally activating each plugin individually.