The Right Way of Updating to the Latest WordPress Release

WordPress release days are full of different emotions, expressions, labels, claims and blames. Being a core contributor, I always get excited whenever there is a new WordPress version release. But that’s not the case with a lot of WordPress users. More often than not, I come across one of the following complaints

  • New WordPress update broke my website
  • Could they at least let us know before screwing all our sites?
  • Can I roll back? The last version was running fine.
  • Should I update to WordPress X.X is it safe? Did anyone test it?

That’s why in this article I am going to walk you through the right way of updating your WordPress sites to the latest version, without screwing up anything. I will also talk about how you can keep yourself up to date, and how you can contribute or be part of the WP Release Day. Let’s get started.

Afraid to Update!

It looks like that the “Users” part of WordPress community is afraid to go through with the upgrade. Why is that? We are afraid of anything we don’t know. So, that would mean one thing. If you can keep up with the updates about next version, and know how many folks test it before pushing the “Go Live” button, you might feel safer to go through with the update.

Another reason why you are afraid is that you do not have time to deal with the mess if the latest update happens to break your site. What if there are ten sites? What if you are not a developer?

Well, to answer all of these questions, I’d like to quote one my developer friends Matt Cromwell — WordPress Support Professional — He wrote an interesting piece about WP Release Day;

All of these grievances are misguided and inaccurate. It really boils down to one simple thing.

If you are responsible for managing websites, either prepare for Release Days, or stop managing websites.

I hate to be so blunt, but it’s really the bottom line. Managing a website means exactly that: Manage it! If you aren’t prepared, then you can only blame yourself.

He’s right about that. Hosting your website with a self-hosted WordPress CMS can provide you with more control, but at the same time, you have more responsibility as well. Since you are managing your site, you are responsible for keeping it up to date. Otherwise, there’s a chance of an outdated WP version to get hacked. It’s really that simple.

So, what is the solution to all this? Well, either you manage your WordPress site on your own, or you want to hire someone to do it for you, in both the cases you need to have at least some level of knowledge about how WordPress updates work and what is a WordPress release day.

WordPress Release Day

WordPress Release Day is a term which as far as I know is also coined by Matt Cromwell. It means just that, the day when a new WordPress major version gets released. Before you know about the release day, you need to understand a few basic terms

  • Make Blog: There are many different ways of getting involved and contribute to WordPress, all of which are listed and maintained at the Make WP blog.
  • Trac: Trac is the place to follow along with the development of WordPress. It is where you will find all the bug reports in the form of tickets, where developers deal with issues and help build new features & enhancements.
  • Make WordPress Core: Core is basically everything that has to do with the WordPress code. The one which is used by 26% of the internet. New versions of WordPress are planned at this blog. You can subscribe to the blog updates or join the project meeting (at the time of writing) every Thursday, August 25, 2016, 1:00 AM GMT+5 in the #core channel on Slack. (Find out more about Slack.)
  • WordPress Release Day: If you look at the sidebar of Make WP Core blog you will find out there are three sections inside it. The first one is about the next major release of WordPress. Which enlists the targetted release schedule, feature plugins, and all post tagged for the next version. The release schedule can help you understand how far ahead is the next major update for WordPress.

While the release date is never final, on the other hand, the release schedule can definitely help you guess when would the next major update for WordPress be available. For example, the WordPress 4.7 is going to be released on Dec, 6/7th — later this year. The release lead for 4.7 is Helen Hou-Sandi, and she has already started gathering feedback about what should be included in the next release.

Getting Started!

Now you know enough about the next WordPress release; you need to get started with testing it on your local environment. To do that, you should wait for the beta release if you are an aspiring developer — or RC (Release Candidate) if you are a WordPress user. Once the beta or RC is out you can test it. Let’s see how.

Test the New WordPress Version

NEVER test a beta or an RC release on a live site. To test new version of WordPress, you have two options;

  • Set up a local WordPress environment: You can use what I use i.e. DesktopServer which is very beginner friendly (Bridget wrote a piece about setting up DesktopServer at WordImpress). If you are a developer, you can look into several options like VVV, Docker or currently one of my favorite solutions Pressmatic.
  • Set up a Staging environment: If your sites are hosted with SiteGround, WPEngine, and such other good quality hosting companies, then you already have an option of creating a staging environment for your WP site. A stage for your website is a copy of your current site where you can perform any experiments without disturbing the live version of your site.

After choosing any of the above options, you can install WordPress Beta Tester plugin which will allows you to upgrade easily to the latest Beta release.

The Right Way To Update!

Now that you know about the WP Release Day, you have already experimented with the beta tester plugin, and the new WordPress version has already been released — all you need to do is update your live website to the latest version. In my humble opinion, the right way to update is as follows

  • Backup: Always backup of your site before updating.
  • Stage: If your hosting supports a staging environment, always create a stage, update WordPress inside it, if everything looks OK, merge the stage with the live site.
  • Update Plugins/Themes: Make sure you have the latest versions of all the third party plugins and themes installed. If there are any plugin/theme updates, you need to update them before you update WordPress.
  • Deactivate: Yes, deactivate all third party plugins & themes. An outdated WordPress plugin/theme can break your website if it doesn’t support the latest version of WordPress.
  • Update: The best way to go ahead with the update is to deactivate all your plugins/themes and then update your WordPress site to the latest WordPress version available.
  • Recursively Reactivate: One by one re-activate your theme and all of the plugins. Make sure you activate one plugin at a time. This way, if something breaks, you would know which plugin has a bug that needs to be fixed. And you could easily remove that plugin from via FTP and move on with your WP website.

That’s about it. Take a backup, stage, deactivate every third party plugins/themes, update your WordPress and then reactivate all of them one by one. For those who do NOT want to manage WordPress, they can use good folks at WPSiteCare, Maintainn, Valet, or WPCurve to manage WP for them. Or if you administer a lot of websites, try out ManageWP Orion — believe me, you won’t regret it.

Finally, you can catch all of my articles on my profile page, and you can follow me or reach out at Twitter @mrahmadawais; where I write about development workflows in the context of WordPress. As usual, don’t hesitate to leave any questions or comments below, and I’ll aim to respond to each of them.

Ahmad Awais

Ahmad Awais

I am a senior Full Stack WordPress Developer, WP Core Contributor, Front-end Fanatic and an accidental writer. I love to write, talk, build, and share everything about WordPress. You can reach out to me at Twitter @MrAhmadAwais.

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2 thoughts on “The Right Way of Updating to the Latest WordPress Release”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out Ahmad. I definitely didn’t coin the term, though I’m not sure who did. Still, the more folks like yourself help educate users about properly updating their sites the better. Thanks for this!

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