If you have a WordPress site, you have seen these words at the top of your dashboard many times:

WordPress X.X.X is available! Please update now.

This leads to these 3 questions…

1. Is it really that important to keep WordPress up to date?

2. How do I know when to update it?

3. Shall I just press the button?

And here are the answers…

1. Is it really that important to keep WordPress up to date?

Quite simply, yes, and here is why.

Security Updates

Because of its popularity and high volume of use, there are a lot of hackers working to find ways to break into WordPress websites. Gaining access to your site via these back doors allows them to inject malicious code into your site that can cause a wide variety of problems.  As these issues arise, WordPress developers patch the vulnerabilities and release new versions for users to update to. This ensures the security of their software does not continue to be compromised.

Bug Fixes

Bugs exist in all code, however minor they might be. Any time new features or functionality are added to a piece of software, the likelihood of bugs existing increase, simply because more code has been added. Developers are constantly working to fix issues that come up, priority being given to the most serious of problems. Every new software release will include fixes to bugs that have been found since the last version.

New Features & Functionality

As a piece of software grows, both in popularity and size, new features and functionality are added to improve the overall experience make the product better. Just because there is a new feature doesn’t mean you need to upgrade, as new new features can mean the potential for new bugs and new security issues. Don’t make this the only reason you run an update.

2. How do I know if I should update?

Before you do an update to your WordPress install, you should check out the WordPress Blog. Each time they post a release, they add a blog post explaining what was included. If you read it you’ll have a better idea of what is included in the latest update and whether or not it will positively effect your install. With regards to plugins, you can visit the homepage for each plugin. There, you will find a tool in the right hand sidebar that allows you to select the WordPress and plugin versions and it will tell you the compatibility. That should give you good information as to whether or not to update, and if so, to what version. Something else to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to update is to identify its release type, for example, a Major Release (3.8, 3.7, 3.6, etc…). Major releases tend to include new features and functionality that haven’t yet been released to the public, and as explained above, those releases may be more likely to include bugs and/or security flaws. Because of this, it may be beneficial to wait for the subsequent Maintenance Release, which tend to include bug fixes and security patches.

3. Shall I just press the button?

NO! Move your hands away from the keyboard! If you are going to do an update you need to make sure that you backup your site first, check that your current theme and plugins are all comparable with the new version of WordPress.

It might be important to think about if this is something you can do on your own or should you contact a developer to help with the process?  If your site is large, uptime is important, you have custom functionality, or anything else along those lines, you should seek some advise first before pressing the detonate button!

If you can avoid it, you should never update WordPress on a live install. If anything goes wrong, your users may not be able to properly access your site. And depending on the nature of your site, this could be detrimental to your business. So then, how should you handle performing an update?

  1. Install a version of your site on a development environment.
  2. Perform the WordPress update on the development environment.
  3. Perform any and all theme and plugin updates.
  4. Test the development version of your site thoroughly.
  5. Fix any issues that may have been caused by the updates.
  6. Backup your live site; code and database.
  7. Merge your fixes and the updates with those on your live site (possibly via a deployment process).

This may seem like a lot of work to update your WordPress sites, but to ensure that the everything goes as smoothly as possible and limit the site downtime, it is imperative to follow this process, or at least one similar to it.

To summarize, is it important to perform regular updates of your WordPress installs? To ensure you’re up to date with security updates and bug fixes, it certainly is important. But before you do your updates, check out the WordPress blog to ensure that the changes are worthwhile, and when you finally get to updating, make sure you follow the right steps to make it as safe and seamless as possible.

If updating yourself just seems too scary then just call me, it’s quick and simple and I’m happy to help – it really doesn’t matter if I built your site or not, I can still help you with an upgrade.