Screenshot of dashboard showing available update.

How to Update WordPress, Plugins and Themes: An All-in-One Guide

Many people wonder if it is really so important to keep WordPress up-to-date. ‘The old version seems to work fine,’ they say. Well, stop wondering and update WordPress right now. Bugs, security issues, incompatibility, limited features, the list of plagues you have been suffering by sticking to an old WordPress version is limitless. But, worry not, here is a simple guide on how to update WordPress as well as its plugins and themes.

Do I Really Need to Update WordPress?

Yes! Here’s why.

Security

 

Many updates in WordPress core, themes and plugins patch up underlying security vulnerabilities and introduce improved security features. With every new version, come the release notes which reveal all the vulnerabilities present in the older versions that have now been fixed. Before a hacker uses this information to attack your site, better update! Ergo, this is one of the most important steps involved in enhancing WordPress security.

Bug Fixes

Just like security vulnerabilities, each new version of WordPress, plugins and themes, fixes some bugs present in the previous version. So, for a more robust WordPress site, keep it updated.

New Features

Often, WordPress, plugins and themes bring some added features and functionality with new updates. Hence, to get the best out of your website, it is indispensable to update it to the latest release.

Some Prep Steps

Before you learn how to update WordPress, you need to know how to be ready for it. Keeping that in mind, here are some precautions you should follow without fail. However, the easiest way to steer clear of risks and carry out updates smoothly, I suggest, is hiring an experienced WordPress professional to take care of it.

Backup!

In case something goes wrong while you update WordPress, you need to have your original site safely backed up. Two things that you should back up are:

Back up the Database

You can do this either with PHPMyAdmin or any backup tool provided by your hosting service provider.

Back up Files, Themes and Plugins

Use FTP or a backup plugin to keep your website’s files, themes and plugins ready to restore if the update leads to an unexpected blunder.

Stop Caching

Turn off any caching plugins that you have installed on your website before you start updating it. By doing this, you prevent your maintenance pages from being cached and interfering with the updates.

Update Plugins and Themes

Plugin- and theme-developers often know in advance about the upcoming WordPress releases, and release their own updates to ensure compatibility with the latest WordPress. So, checking themes and plugins for updates and updating if required is a good idea. You shall find a step-by-step manual for updating plugins and themes in this article.

How to Update WordPress Core

Update WordPress from the Admin Dashboard

When an update is available on WordPress, you see a notice on the top of your Dashboard on WordPress admin panel.

  1. Open your WordPress admin panel and browse to Dashboard >> Updates from the left sidebar.
  2. If an updated version of WordPress is available, you will find an Update Now button on this page. However, if you do not see such a button, you can click on Check Again to see if there is a release.
  3. Click on Update Now, and then sit back and relax while your WordPress is automatically updated.
  4. After the update is complete, a welcome message shall appear on the screen. It is good practice to surf through your admin dashboard and website to ensure that everything is working correctly.

Update WordPress Manually Using FTP

As admitted in WordPress documentation, the one-click updates may not work in occasional cases, and you will have to try the manual method. Now, you need to be especially careful while updating WordPress via FTP so as not to accidentally tamper with or delete plugin or theme files. Therefore, if you feel like this is a necessary choice and you’re not technically a pro, you’d be better off asking an expert to update your WordPress instead of diving into it yourself. Whichever the case, here are the steps:

  1. Download the .zip file of the latest WordPress release from WordPress’ official Download page.
  2. Unzip/extract this .zip file on your computer. As a result, you shall end up with a folder called WordPress.
  3. Browse to Plugins >> Installed Plugins on your WordPress admin, and deactivate all plugins by clicking on the Deactivate link for each. Don’t worry; deactivating a plugin does not delete it.
  4. Connect to your WordPress site via FTP, and except for the wp-content folder and wp-config.php file, overwrite all folders with the files extracted from your downloaded .zip file.
  5. Open the wp-content­ folder in your downloaded and extracted WordPress folder. Upload files from this folder individually to your web host. You shall overwrite existing files and add any new files, but remember not to tamper with your theme and plugin folders.
  6. Open the wp-config-sample.php in your downloaded folder, and compare it with the wp-config.php file in your web host. This way, you can add any newly introduced functionality if you want. Be careful not to delete or change any authentication keys or DB settings in your original file.
  7. Log on to your WordPress admin page. If prompted by WordPress to update your database, click on the appearing link and follow the instructions on the screen.

Update WordPress Automatically

Since WordPress 3.7, automatic updates are enabled by default for minor releases. Besides, your host may allow you to enable automatic update for major releases, for which you need to check with your WordPress hosting provider.

How to Update WordPress Plugins

Update WordPress Plugins from the Dashboard

  1. Log on to your WordPress admin and browse to Dashboard >> Updates from the left sidebar.
  2. If updates are available for any of your plugins, you shall see an Update Plugins button under Plugins on this screen. If not, you can click on Check Again.
  3. When you see an available update, you can select the plugins you want to update and then click on Update Plugins.
  4. Once the update is completed, remember to surf through the plugin features and configuration to make sure that everything works as expected.

Update WordPress Plugins Manually Through FTP

  1. Download the .zip file of the plugin which you intend to update.
  2. Extract the folder on your computer; a folder with the same name as the plugin will be created as a result.
  3. Connect to your site via FTP and browse to wp-content/plugins/.
  4. In this plugins folder, delete the directory of only the plugin that you want to update, and replace it by uploading the newly extracted plugin directory from your computer to the same location.
  5. Open your WordPress admin panel, browse to Plugins >> Installed Plugins and check if the plugin you replaced is now installed with the latest version.

Update WordPress Themes

How to Update WordPress Themes from the Dashboard

The process for updating themes from the WordPress dashboard is the same as that for updating plugins. The only difference is to repeat the same steps below the Themes heading instead of Plugins. You can use the Check Again button to make sure that no updates are missed out by WordPress.

How to Update WordPress Themes Manually Using FTP

If you have customized the WordPress theme, you should not update it from the Dashboard. Else your customization will be lost. Now, one way to steer clear of losing modifications is creating a child theme for customization. In case you’re new to theme customization, you can find a step-by-step guide for safe theme customization in one of the previous articles. Once your changes are safe in a child theme, you can follow the below steps on how to update WordPress theme manually.

  1. Download a .zip file of the theme you wish to upgrade.
  2. Unzip this .zip file on your local computer; you shall end up with a folder with the same name as the theme.
  3. Connect to your host on FTP and browse to wp-content/themes/.
  4. Delete the theme folder which you intend to upgrade and replace it by uploading the theme folder which you have unzipped on your computer to the same location.
  5. Log into your WordPress site’s admin panel, open Appearance >> Themes and verify that you are now running the latest version of the updated theme.

On a Parting Note

Easier than you thought, isn’t it? If you have been worried as to what your site’s visitors see when they open the pages, relax! Because WordPress automatically switches to maintenance mode while updating, showing a default maintenance message. Most importantly, never miss out on precautions while updating WordPress to prevent permanent loss.

Now that you know how to update WordPress and its plugins and themes, you can always stay up-to-date with the latest versions, and ward off bugs and security attacks before they harm your site and its data. Besides, if you consider any of this too much of hard work, you can always have a third party service handle your site‘s maintenance including updates, plugin installation, theme installation, customization and updates. Any questions? Ask in the comments!

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