Have you ever done a major WordPress update, refreshed your site, and realized with horror that some critical piece of functionality has broken? When an application is as frequently updated and modular as WordPress, something is going to break at some point. It’s often plugins that cause problems; sometimes they’re just not ready for new versions: APIs occasionally change, and new features in WordPress Core can pull the rug out from under even the best-developed plugins.
This can make WordPress users scared to update at all. While understandable, remaining on an older version is a terrible idea. WordPress is a secure platform, but every piece of software that does something more complicated than print “Hello World!” is going to develop bugs, and those bugs are occasionally exploitable by hackers and other malicious parties. The more out of date an installation is, the more likely it is that someone will have found a way to exploit it. Sticking with an older version just because it works fine creates a potential open door to having your site hacked, and is one of the reasons so many WordPress sites are serving malware.
If updating can break a site and not updating isn’t an option, the obvious solution is testing. WordPress makes is very easy to test upcoming versions while they are still at the beta phase. Beta’s should absolutely never be deployed on production servers, that’s even more likely to break a site than a major update, but setting up a testing environment that’s more or less identical to the production environment isn’t difficult.
Testing the WordPress beta’s before they are released has three main advantages.
You Get To Test Against Your Plugins - While betas aren’t the final product, and a beta not breaking a plugin doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in the final release, testing the beta should give you some idea of what to expect. Once you’ve got a testing environment set up, you can track the beta through to release candidates and final release, so you’ll have no surprises when the time comes to update the site itself.
See New Features First - Having a beta installation lets you see all the good stuff that WordPress will be delivering in the next release. You can prepare for any site changes that need to be made, plan for taking advantage of new features, and develop ways to include administration improvements into your workflow.
Play Your Part In Reporting Bugs - All open source software relies on its users reporting bugs during the development phase. Testing the betas and reporting bugs to the WordPress Trac is an excellent way to give something back to the community that develops this awesome free resource and will help make sure that the final release is as bug-free as possible.
The next release of WordPress will be version 3.6, which contains a number of great additions, including the ability to embed tracks from Rdio and Spotify, better revision comparisons, and improvements to the image Post Format features.
There are two ways to test it.
Download The Zip - Just as you would when you are doing a new WordPress install.
The WordPress Beta Tester Plugin - This is the method we recommend. The plugin will let you switch an existing installation (not your production installation!) to the beta track, and it will update as new betas are released. If you’re particularly brave or want to help with bug reporting, you can enable the “bleeding edge” feature, which will update the WordPress installation to the version that’s currently being worked on every night, rather than the development releases (things will break).
Whichever way you choose to do it, testing the betas is the best way to keep abreast of new features and make sure you’re prepared for when the final release comes.
About Graeme Caldwell -- Graeme works as an inbound marketer for Nexcess, a leading provider of Magento and WordPress hosting. Follow Nexcess on Twitter at @nexcess, Like them on Facebook and check out their tech/hosting blog, http://blog.nexcess.net