• Tue. Apr 13th, 2021

To Update WordPress or not to Update WordPress?

Wordpress Updates Image

So after a while of inactively on any WordPress blog you might expect sever issue to arise. If you are not expecting to have to fix or at least update a few things then you have better get used to it.

Every so often the update process of the many plugins, the WordPress core files or even the PHP version that your webhost is using will make this process pretty much mandatory.

The longer the amount of time you spend away for the duties of maintaining your blog will dictate just how much of a process this is going to be.

Lets give an example of how this presently look for this blog.


How Old Is Your WordPress Site?

The majority of this site was built in the later part of 2016. That means that all the themes, plugins and associates files can be as much as 3 or 4 years old (assuming they were all up to date at the time of installations).

After taking time off, you can read why here: Welcome Back, The Hiatus Is Over!, this first login to the sites administration panel inundates me with a dozens of new update messages.

The WordPress current version upon login was listed as Version 4.7. There are currently 44 different plugins that need to be updated, as well as the theme.

In addition to the updates directly listed I have at least two messages from plugins that state “there will be some error that will cause it to stop working in future versions of PHP”. Yay. That is always great to see.

So this not only means that updates again are needed, but I may have to actually spend time troubleshooting those plugins in the event I do not make any updates.


Is Updating WordPress Mandatory?

There is the age old debate about what updates are “needed” or “recommended”. This became quite popular with MS Windows. But lets take a moment to look at the updating concept as a whole.

As a software developer I make updates to programs almost daily. Hell, I even make updates to this post before publishing it. So why do we need to make updates in the first place?

Quite simply enough, we are human and we make errors.

Really. The more content you type out, the greater the likelihood of there being some stupid, simple, spelling or typographical error that you completely missed.

I know it sounds so stupid. No one reading a book is truly going to care if you accidently placed a comma at the end of a sentence instead of a period.

But software programming languages care very much.


Programming Languages are Different

While not all programming languages care, many of them do care about the fact that a comma and a period, or a colon (:) and a semi-colon (;), are in fact much different animals.

Many programming languages go through a series of evolutions. They are created by their authors, much like this post is being written by me, and often times include tens of thousands of lines of code within them.

Each year those authors, along with potentially thousands of helpful supporters, scour through the code in order to make improvements. These improvements often begin as some simple error that was unnoticed for years.

In addition to these type of simple fixes, they are often updating the software they originally wrote to allow for changes they may not have thought of at the time it was originally created.

A put example of this might be UPPER and lower case letters. If a programmer forgot to account for UPPERCASE lettering in his language, then using uppercase might literally cause the program to crash.

This is because the computer sees each letter, both the A and the a, as different codes within the computer itself.


As the Internet Grows

As the Internet itself has gotten bigger and more complex each day, those teams of authors have has to spend countless hours rewriting and recreating code that has become more effective, efficient, and faster to implement for the computer.

These changes can often have little or no impact, such as a simple typo in an online instruction manual, to having massive impact because your banking software had the decimal point in the wrong place. Yes, that has happened in the past.

Anyone born prior to the year 1990, should be old enough to remember the issues surrounding the Y2K bug, in which many computers were not created to use a 4 year date format. Software developers and computer manufacturers worded tirelessly to fix that issue for fear of global issues.


Back to Upgrading WordPress…

Now as we already know I have roughly 50 items to update on this WordPress blog. So do I need to update them or not?

Well, no I do not “NEED” to.

It all depends on what the changes really are, and whether or not they affect this site. As I suggest in the previous section, if the issue was a simple error correction that does not impact a plugin or theme that I am using, then no.

If however there are significant security issues, then I would be very smart to take the time and make the upgrades. But this is where to problem itself becomes tricky.

WordPress makes upgrading easy. After all, the only thing I need to do is click a button that say “upgrade”, right???

Well…. sort of…. maybe… NO…..


Upgrading WordPress is not hard… If

If you have an idea of what you are doing, have some patience, and take a few key steps first.

WordPress has the update function yes, but there a a key issue with that feature, and that is that it only works properly from each major version,

That update function will only work between two consecutive versions like updating from version 3.9 to 4.1.x. It will not work if you need to upgrade from let’s say version 2.6 to version 4.1.1
The technical reason for this is that with each major WordPress version there are also changes made in the database structure. Skipping these upgrades will leave you with incompatible database fields.

This basically means that if I am on version 4.7, I should be able to effectively click the button and upgrade to the present version, 5.3,


There are a few things that you need to have in place before you start the upgrades.


Don’t worry! Upgrading from the previous version is not hard! It just takes a little time and effort.
Make sure you have a good back-up of you files and database, especially the wp-content folder! That folder contains your media, plugins and theme files.
All the major previous WordPress versions starting from the next version after your current version.

So if your current version is WordPress 2.6 your first upgrade will be to WordPress 2.7.

Older version of WordPress can be downloaded from https://wordpress.org/download/release-archive/

  • Access to your website via FTP or Cpanel file manager. You need to be able to upload files from previous WordPress versions
  • A program to unzip the files from the downloaded .zip or .tar files like WinZip or 7-zip.
  • To upgrade from 2.6 to 4.1 you need to download all the major versions like 2.7, 2.8, 2.9, 3.0, etc.
  • You don’t need the minor updates, so you can skip versions like 3.0.5, 3.0.6 etc.
  • Once you downloaded those version you need carry out a series of smaller upgrade steps to upgrade – eg: 2.6 -> 2.7 -> 2.9 -> 3.0 -> 3.1 -> etc.
  • To find out your current version, log into you WordPress Dashboard and look for the version under “Right Now” or “At a Glance”.


For WordPress 3.7+, you don’t have to lift a finger to apply minor and security updates. Most sites are now able to automatically apply these updates in the background. If your site is capable of one-click updates without entering FTP credentials, then your site should be able to update from 3.7 to 3.7.1, 3.7.2, etc. (You’ll still need to click “Update Now” for major feature releases.)


WordPress lets you update with the click of a button. You can launch the update by clicking the link in the new version banner (if it’s there) or by going to the Dashboard > Updates screen. Once you are on the “Update WordPress” page, click the button “Update Now” to start the process off. You shouldn’t need to do anything else and, once it’s finished, you will be up-to-date.

One-click updates work on most servers. If you have any problems, it is probably related to permissions issues on the filesystem.


The Real Concern About Upgrading WordPress …. Is the???

Plugins. The plugins will be the hardest part of any WordPress updating process. This is going to be due to the fact that not all plugin authors have developed along side of the WordPress core team.

There are tons of examples of an awesome plugin being dropped from development due to all sorts of issues. Developers are people too and they have other jobs, some are in college, or just no longer have the interest to maintain a project for free.

This means that you will encounter a plugin that lags behind and is no longer being tested or updated for the current version of WordPress that you are updating too.

There have also been many issues when a developer does update their plugins, such as a database structure change, or the author changed other aspects of their plugin. This could mean the complete loss of all data related to that plugin. If you have been using such a plugin, such as Project Manager, then upgrading it from one older version to a newer version meant just that, a complete loss of data for those projects.

There is often little you can do except backup your content and decide if you can do without that information or not. If you can’t deal without the data then be prepared to edit it back into your WordPress site or let it go.

If this happens to you, and I suggest you plan for it too, then you can copy and paste into a document file (or a draft post) anything that you may need to re-add to your site once you have made the updates.

Even if you are adding it as a mass edit you at least can re-enter the needed information.

I always suggest updating your plugins one at a time, making sure that you read through the change logs, and checking to see if the author has tested it with the version of WordPress you plan on using.


In Conclusion…

Updating your WordPress site is best done often and early. Keeping up with it is a far better experience then leaving it to the last moments. Make sure you have backups, the ability to restore it, and a complete understanding that it can fail or cause you problems along the way. Being prepared for the worst case scenario is always the best way to approach updates. Good luck with your future WordPress updates.

Derek Wood

Derek is a Online Web Professional. He works with clients and customers in order to implement Web-Based solutions for businesses. These include websites, SEO, marketing, and company branding. His own company, Shadow Dragon Unlimited has been providing these services to local businesses in his Western Massachusetts area and online since 2003.