This is easier than you may think. Now, please keep in mind that these tips are for site administrators who are not heavily dependent on custom-written code. If your site has several pages, plugins or themes written from the ground up by a non-Wordpress associated developer it is best to have a test environment to try these updates on before even looking at production.
If however, your site is mostly using themes and plugins created by WordPress or developers who create content specifically for WordPress, this advice should be helpful.
WordPress Automatic Updates: Friend or Foe?
WordPress and several common plugins provide an option to allow “automatic updates”. For those of us who are not diligent about checking in on our small blog environment or a simple info page, this feature can be fantastic. The server will download and install the latest and greatest WordPress installation with 0 downtimes to your website! Why wouldn’t everyone use this? Because fire and doom, that’s why.
Keeping plugins and WordPress itself up to date is extremely important but an auto-update can break your whole environment IF you are using a Theme and/or plugins not created by WordPress. For those of us with custom environments, it is better to keep an eye out for “New WordPress Updates Available” emails or to check your environment on a bi-weekly basis and update manually as needed. Make sure to create a backup or inform your hosting provider of this planned update to ensure a backup is available if things go south.
Here are the steps I will cover for manual updates:
- Disable Plugins
- Update WordPress
- Update any out of date Themes
- Update Plugins
- Enable Plugins
- Check your Work
Step 1: Disable Plugins
Plugins are simultaneously the best and worst thing about WordPress. With them, you can make your website do almost anything. They are normally easy to install, easy to use and if you dislike them, easy to remove.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. A single plugin can contain security vulnerabilities, creating a backdoor that hackers can easily enter. They can also contain code causing RAM leaks that consume valuable server resources or just simply be terrible in every way. This is why I recommend you do some quick research on any plugin you find an interest in installing. A simple Google search can save hours of headaches.
Now that we have covered how important plugins are, it is easy to see why these must be disabled before performing a WordPress update. Go to the Plugins tab in the Admin panel, select all and do a Bulk Action → Disable.
Step 2: Update WordPress
This part is fairly straight forward. Most hosting providers will have your instance set up to allow automatic installs. Just go to Dashboard → Updates and WordPress Updates.
Note: If you would like to allow your WordPress instance to update through the Administrator panel but are unsure how. I have provided a file permissions guide below to get you started. You will need FTP or SSH access to the server. Due to the broad range of web servers and products hosting services provide, I cannot delve into specifics. Just know that if you host WordPress through Prominic.NET, this feature will be set up for you automatically.
Step 3: Update Out of Date Themes
This part can be tricky if you remember my disclaimer in the first few paragraphs. Custom build themes should always be tested in a development environment before updating in production (or if your pockets are not that deep, make a backup). If you are using a theme built by WordPress developers, it is a safe bet the upgrade will go smoothly but never assume. If your site is going to break to the point of needing a backup, this is that time.
Step 4: Update Plugins
This step is important and needs to be done in the correct sequence:
First, update all plugins.
Once all plugins have been updated successfully, you may enable them.
Why is this so important? Because I have “white screened” (The blue screen of death but for WordPress) a few of my personal sites several times by not doing these steps in the proper order. Plugins, especially those that come with a Theme can cause major issues if not updated to match the WordPress or Theme update.
Step 5: Enable Plugins
The easiest but most nerve-wracking of all the steps. Once this is done, your site should work perfectly or suddenly burst into flames. Either way, select all Plugins and hit that Bulk Action → Enable.
Step 6: Check your Work
Browse through your site, check all buttons and important customer features to ensure everything works as expected. If all goes well, congratulations! You have made it through manually updating your website. Take the moment in, pat yourself on the back and indulge in the snack drawer you hide from your colleagues. We did it, you’re awesome.