How to Update WordPress

How to update WordPress like a pro

6 min read
Clayton Johnson

WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems (CMS) because of its simplicity, history of support and because you can download it for free. Learning how to update WordPress lets you get the most out of this incredible CMS.

Over the years their user base has exploded, with millions of websites now using WordPress to either host their entire site or for managing the blog section of their website. This history of support includes regular updates that not only keep WordPress up-to-date with the latest technologies but also add new features and make it even better.

Why learn how to update WordPress?

The main reason why you should figure out how to update WordPress is to ensure that your website is protected from the latest hacks and exploits. It’s inevitable that hackers will eventually find a way to exploit an application, so updating can give you the fix before it’s too late.

WordPress is very good at supplying fixes to reported bugs or exploits, and by keeping up to date with the latest version of WordPress, you can reduce the chance of a hack.

Updating WordPress will also give you the latest features that they have decided to implement. These updates put more tools at your fingertips, making it easier for you to achieve the website of your dreams.

Let others go first

How To Update WordPress Wait

With any new technology, it’s sound advice to hold off until it has been reviewed and bugs have been identified. With a complex system like WordPress, it’s not unlikely bugs will slip through the cracks. By waiting patiently you can avoid the associated headaches.

Normally we would advise that you wait for one to two weeks before updating. This period is usually long enough for hotfixes to be pushed out and for reviewers to give their opinions on the new update.

By letting others go first you save yourself the time and pain that’s often associated with new software updates, plus, you don’t risk your security with software that hasn’t been tested.

Create a staging environment

Once you’ve decided to figure out how to update WordPress, create a staging environment where you go apply to update. The purpose of a staging environment is to make changes to your website without them being pushed to your visitors.

This is the equivalent of fixing a car in a closed garage, rather than in the middle of the race track.

It’s crucial you use a staging environment.

Otherwise, you risk breaking your website and experiencing huge amounts of downtime.

If you’re using a managed hosting account, then you’ll often be able to create a staging site with just a few clicks. If not, you’ll need to do it manually.

In most cases you can do this by creating a subdomain (or subdirectory) in your cPanel hosting account, uploading your WordPress files to this subdomain (or subdirectory), importing your database — and then linking it all up. You can make the update in your staging environment.

This can be relatively technical. If you’re not comfortable, check with your web host’s support team.

Check the front end

Once your staging server has been updated, look for any issues that the update might have caused. To start, go to the home page (on your staging subdomain) and start examining your content.

It’s unrealistic for some website owners to check every page. After all, many websites can include thousands of pages. However, it’s important that you check different page types. If you have unique pages — i.e. with forms, images or scripts — you must check these.

Hopefully, you’ll find that everything is as expected if not, you can look online to see if others have noticed the same problems.

Check the back end

Although most problems caused by WordPress updates will be obvious on the front end, some might directly impact your plugins and back-end tools. To check these, access the wp-admin page of your new subdomain, and then click through all your tools and plugins to look for errors and bugs.

Enable debugging

Once you’ve visually looked for errors, it’s always smart to check the debug report in case there is anything reported, but you are missing. To do this, you should:

  1. Log into your cPanel account.
  2. In the cPanel File Manager, open wp-config.php in your text editor.
  3. Add the following line of code: define('WP_DEBUG', true);
  4. Save the file and exit the text editor.

Create a Backup

If you’ve got this far and you haven’t run into any problems, then it’s time to move back over to your live site. The first step before you ever make any changes should always be to create a backup of your existing site just in case you need to restore it.

You can do this through your cPanel, and then download the files and database to your desktop.

Choosing the right time to update

Once you’ve downloaded your backup, you are ready to click that big Update button. But wait! Is this the right time? After all, if something goes wrong, you don’t want to ruin your visitors’ experiences.

In general, the best time to update your website is when the least people are using it.

For most websites, this is usually early in the morning or through the night. Wait until the right time, and then go ahead and update your WordPress installation.

Congratulations! You just discovered how to update WordPress!

Using a managed WordPress host

Phew, that took a while. Of course, there is an alternative, and that’s to use a managed WordPress host like GoDaddy. With Managed WordPress hosting, they handle all the dirty work for you.

There’s no need for you to worry about the technical side of things. They install WordPress for you and keep it updated so that it works as well as possible. Not only is it incredibly well priced, GoDaddy, for example, will also throw in a free domain with an annual plan and give you daily backups so that you can restore your site with just a single click.

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