WordPress_updatingUpdating WordPress is important, but it can be an intimidating and somewhat risky process. Is it really necessary to keep your WordPress installation up-to-date?

The WordPress Dashboard Keeps Prompting Me To Update. Is It Really Necessary?

Any software that is actively used on a modern computer system – whether it’s the web server that hosts your website or blog, your PC or Mac laptop, your smartphone or even your family’s video game console at home – should be updated in a relatively timely manner when a new version of an operating system or application is released. The WordPress installation that powers your website or blog is no exception.

Why Software Updates Are Important

Software updates are important for a number of reasons. First, software updates often fix security vulnerabilities in software with “patches”. Software applications and systems are incredible complex; WordPress is composed of over 200,000 lines of code. It is nearly impossible to write a modern piece of software that is completely secure, therefore many security vulnerabilities are discovered long after the software is released to the public. Unpatched vulnerabilities can be exploited by a criminal or an automated program who can then gain control of your blog or website and engage in a number of illegitimate activities, such as posting spam, infecting visitors to your website or blog or even deleting it.

Fixing Bugs

Software updates can also fix existing “bugs” in the software and can provide new features and components. Both of these actions can increase the performance of your website or blog and the usefulness and convenience of the software installation itself. Many users happily discover that problems they were previously experiencing with the software are automatically fixed after an update. They may also discover new features that make interacting with the system more efficient and enjoyable.

But There Can Be Problems

There are potential downsides to updating software installations. First and foremost, the possibility exists that customizations you have made to the software and third-party addons – including plugins, widgets and themes – may not work properly with the updated software or may even be accidentally overwritten or deleted during the update process. If you work for a large company or organization, you may have noticed that your work computer uses an older operating system or web browser – this is often due to incompatibilities between older, or “legacy”, applications that are still used by members of your company or organization that are incompatible with a newer operating system or web browser. It is also possible that the updated software may contain new bugs or software vulnerabilities that are unknown to the developers. These bugs or software vulnerabilities may cause your website or blog to crash or become temporarily unusable.

When Should I Update WordPress?

The answer depends on a number of factors. If a critical vulnerability or bug has been discovered, it is important to update your installation as quickly as possible. These critical vulnerabilities are often exploited by third-parties in as little as a few hours, leaving your website or blog vulnerable to attacks. Barring that situation, it is important to consider how many customizations you have made to your website and blog and how damaging potential downtime could be to your company or organization if a problem with the update does occur. If you have a “vanilla” installation, or one that has few to no customizations, it is safer to proceed with a timely update than if you have made major customizations or an excessive number of customizations.

Downtime Time

Next, it is important to consider the effects of site downtime would be to your company or organization. If you have a website or blog that receives relatively few visitors, or one with mostly visitors in the same time zone, it would be less damaging to experience downtime in the middle of the night than if you operated an online store with customers all over the country, or a popular forum with many users from around the world interacting with your site at all hours; even a relatively short period of downtime in either of these scenarios could result in lost sales or disgruntled visitors

Balanced Approach

Many administrators of both personal and professional software installations believe that a balanced approach to updating software is necessary. They will not update software immediately due to the risk of undiscovered vulnerabilities and bugs, but instead will often wait at least a few weeks to a few months – depending on the frequency of software releases – so that these potential problems will hopefully be discovered and fixed. This approach maximizes the timely usefulness of updating while minimizing the risks inherent in early adoption.

Play It Safe

If you are concerned about any potential problems stemming from a WordPress update, or if you are uncomfortable with administering software installations in general, it is important to seek the guidance and support of a professional. If you do decide to upgrade your WordPress installation yourself, it is extremely important to first create a backup of your website or blog – in the event of a problem, you will be able to fully restore your website or blog to its previous state in a relatively short amount of time. It is a good practice to create backups of your website or blog on a regular basis in case the installation is compromised or the servers hosting your site crash. Next, it is important to do some research online by visiting the developer or product homepages of the themes, plugins and widgets you have installed. If these components are being actively maintained, the developers should verify that they are compatible with the updated version of WordPress. If one of these components is no longer being maintained, there is a greater risk of incompatibility with the newer WordPress version.

Two Methods

WordPress offers two methods of updating – an automatic method and a manual method. The automatic method is faster, easier and requires less technical knowledge; however, it can cause problems for WordPress websites and blogs that have customized a theme or have altered the file permissions of the previous or original installation. The manual method requires a bit more work and technical knowledge, but you will often proactively skip serious problems that an automatic installation may cause. If you have chosen to complete the update yourself, it is important to consult the online support resources available from the WordPress developers and community.