A brief guide to keeping your plugins up to date
What is a WordPress Plugin?
WordPress plugins are self-contained components that are plugged into a WordPress site in order to deliver a specific set of functionality. An example of this is the Yoast SEO plugin which manipulates the code that your site uses so that it is presented to search engines such as Google in a positive way. At Silverless, we use a handful of well-known and trusted plugins to help deliver rich and meaningful experiences.
Why Do WordPress Plugins Need to be Updated?
Plugins are routinely updated by the developers who create them. This maybe for a number of reasons, such as introducing a new feature or fixing a bug. Most frequently, the reason for plugins to be updated is due to a security vulnerability being identified. This may present a weakness in the overall security of the sites on which the plugin is installed and is therefore a key concern. Any vulnerabilities should be considered as a high priority for site owners, and keeping plugins up to date is a key facet of mitigating against risks presented by online attacks.
What Should I Do Before Updating My WordPress Plugins
Before updating WordPress plugins, it is highly recommended to make a full site backup. We suggest using a plugin such as UpdraftPlus to handle this; it’s a pretty painless process.
Once the site backup has been created and placed in a secure location, take a look at what plugins need updating – the list of plugins are shown in the admin area of your site. Plugins that need updating will be flagged as such, with a link that shows what has changed in the new version. Before actually updating the plugin, it is important to read these details. The developer (of the plugin) will provide a changelog, as well as any pertinent information about the update, such as new PHP requirements, any known issues with theme incompatibility or conflicts with other plugins. It is important to understand the impact of updating the plugin before going ahead.
Automatic and Manual Updates
WordPress provides the option to set plugins for automatic updates. Plugins set to automatically update will do so each time the developer releases a change. This may appear to be an attractive option, but unless the plugin is very well understood in terms of its function and reach across the site, it should be avoided. Automatically updated plugins can introduce changes to a site that cause issues, errors and in some cases complete failure. Recovery from this situation is possible, but it may incur significant work to do so.
How to Undo (or Rollback) a Plugin Update
Occasionally, updating a plugin will cause issues, no matter how careful the approach. In those cases, it’s good to have a backup plan so that your site can be restored as quickly as possible. The simplest way to do this is to go back to the previous version of the plugin. On every plugin page on the WordPress.org repository, you will see an Advanced View link. Scrolling to the very bottom of the Advanced View page will reveal an area where previous versions can be downloaded. Download the last safe version (most likely the latest one before the problem started), delete the version causing the issue and install this previous version in its place.
If that’s not an option (due to a complete failure, or other blocking issues) you will need to restore the full back up that was taken at the start of the process.
Updating WordPress plugins is one of the most important parts of WordPress site management and site security. Ensuring the plugins remain up to date reduces the risk of a security vulnerability and helps to maintain site performance. Our maintenance contracts are perfect for removing this overhead, ensuring your site stays as fresh as the day we built it while leaving you free to concentrate on your business. If you’d like to know more, please drop us a line.