How to Safely Update Your WordPress Plugins Every Time

Posted on May 30, 2017 by in Tips & Tricks | 30 comments

How to Safely Update Your WordPress Plugins Every Time

Plugins are one of WordPress’ most useful aspects. After all, you can use them to add all manner of new features and functionality to your website. However, if you don’t update WordPress plugins properly you may experience errors and software conflicts – and you might even compromise your site’s security.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to keep your plugins up-to-date, and this article will explain how to do so safely in three easy steps. However before that, we’ll talk about why you should update your plugins, and provide some key tips to help you streamline the process. Let’s take a look!

Why It’s Crucial to Keep Your Plugins Updated

A list of plugins that need to be updated.

You can view the plugins that need updating from your site’s dashboard.

Plugins are an inherent feature of WordPress, and it’s simple to find and install the ones you want. However, that doesn’t mean you should forget about them after activation. Many plugins receive regular updates, and you’ll want to be sure you have the latest versions installed if you want to keep your site running smoothly.

Here are just a few of the reasons it’s important to update WordPress plugins:

Of course, your plugins won’t update themselves unless you tell them to (we’ll discuss whether or not you should do this in a moment). Fortunately, checking for updates and installing them is relatively simple. However, before you begin there are a few general tips you’ll want to keep in mind.

What to Consider Before Updating Your Plugins

The UpdraftPlus backup plugin.

It’s a smart idea to back up your site with a tool such as UpdraftPlus before you update WordPress plugins.

Just because it’s easy to update WordPress plugins doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong during the process. If you want to protect your site and ensure that everything goes smoothly, you’ll need to follow some general guidelines.

Simply follow these best practices to ensure your updates don’t cause any issues:

  • Back up your site before you begin. A new update may be coded poorly, or cause conflicts with WordPress’ core, plugins, and themes. The risk of an update error is fairly low, but you’ll still want to have a backup in place so you can revert to the old version if necessary.
  • Update one plugin at a time. If you have a lot of plugins, it can be tempting to update them all at once. WordPress enables you to do this, and we’ll explain how in the next section. However, unless you’re confident in your plugins’ reliability, it’s best to update them individually. That way, if something goes awry you’ll know which plugin caused the issue.
  • Test updates on a staging site first. If you don’t already have a local testing or staging site, now is a good time to set one up. This way, you can make sure the updates will work properly before you install them on your live site.
  • Think carefully before setting plugins to auto-update. Enabling your plugins to auto-update saves you some time, but you’ll only want to do this for reliable and dependable plugins.
  • Perform updates at off-peak times. In case your updates do end up causing an issue, it’s best to schedule them for a time when your site traffic is low. This way, you will impact as few visitors as possible.
  • Consider waiting to install new updates. Some bugs and conflicts only become apparent once an update is released to the public. You might want to wait a week or so to install non-priority updates, until the developers have had time to work out all of the kinks. Keep an eye on the plugin’s forum if possible to see if other users are having issues with the new version. However, if it’s a security update, you’re probably better off installing it immediately.

Finally, this is a good time to note that you’ll want to keep an eye on how often your key plugins are updated. If you’re using plugins that haven’t been touched by the developers in a long time, the chances are higher that they’ll cause conflicts or become vulnerable to security threats. Contacting the developer to ascertain whether an update is on the horizon is a good first step. However, you may also need to look for a replacement.

How to Safely Update WordPress Plugins

Now you know how to prepare beforehand, let’s walk through the process of actually performing a plugin update. At first, you’ll want to make sure WordPress itself is fully updated, since most developers design their updates to work best with the latest version of the platform.

Next, it’s time to check whether there are any plugins to update. If there are, you should see a red notification next to the Dashboard > Updates and/or Plugins tabs:

Update notifications in the WordPress back end.

You can visit the Plugins tab to see a list of potential updates. Here you’ll see their names, and other pertinent information relating to the update. Before performing the updates, it’s a smart idea to click on View version details next to each plugin and review the changelog. This way, you’ll know exactly what the developers fixed or changed, and get a heads-up about any potential conflicts:

A plugin update changelog.At this point, you’re finally ready to perform your updates! Simply click Update Now next to each plugin, and wait a few moments for WordPress to install the new version. Once the install is complete, you should see a green notification letting you know that the plugin updated successfully. Alternately, you can check the boxes next to each plugin, and select the Activate option in the drop-down at the top of the screen to update more than one at a time.

Your newly updated plugins are now ready to go! However, if anything went wrong during the process (or if you run into further trouble), keep reading to find out how to address the problem.

What to Do If an Update Doesn’t Go Smoothly

If you update WordPress plugins and find yourself facing an error, compatibility issue, or something else, try conducting a Google search or posting in the developers’ forum. There’s a decent chance someone else has encountered the same problem and can help you out.

However, if you can’t figure out what went wrong (or if there’s no way to resolve the issue to your satisfaction), your best bet is to ‘roll back’ the changes you made to the plugin. You’ll need to initially uninstall the updated version, then find and download the version you want to replace it with.

If the plugin is from WordPress.org, you should be able to find the previous version on the plugins’ directory page. (If not, you may need to visit the developers’ website instead.) Simply click on Advanced View and scroll to the bottom of the page, to the Previous Versions section:

A list of previous versions of a plugin.

The drop-down menu underneath will display all of the versions you can download. Make sure you choose the one right before the latest update. After you’ve downloaded the file, you’ll just need to install and activate it as you would with any plugin.

Of course, this method could be potentially unsafe if the new update provided crucial fixes or security patches. However, it’s an option to be aware of if you need to revert back to a previous plugin version.

Conclusion

Keeping your WordPress plugins updated is essential if you want to maximize your website’s speed, performance, and security. Developers release updates for a reason – whether that’s to include new features, fix bugs, or ensure compatibility with WordPress’ core – so this isn’t a task you want to neglect.

To safely update WordPress plugins, you’ll firstly want to keep in mind some key considerations. For example, you should back up your site before you begin, test your updates on a staging site, and only set plugins to auto-update if you know they’re trustworthy. After that, the actual process of updating your plugins is straightforward and can be done from your dashboard. If you run into trouble, you can always roll back changes by uninstalling the updates and replacing each with its previous version.

Do you have any questions about how to keep your plugins updated? Ask away in the comments section below!

Article thumbnail image by Tashatuvango / shutterstock.com.

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30 Comments

  1. Good advice on all accounts… however, for me, it is not practical to use a testing site or update one by one. I manage about 40+ sites. I use MainWP to auto update plugins I trust and then I manually update the few that may not be mainstream. I do maintain 2 separate backups of each site using 2 different backup programs and 2 different backup storage locations.

    If you only have one site, your advice is good. But if you have multiple sites with many plugins you may just need to make sure you have reliable backups and cross your fingers that nothing goes wrong.

    • I totally agree!

    • Hi Bob, thanks for your comment. You make some good points. 🙂

    • 100% agree with you

  2. Some wise advise, thanks. An additional suggestion in case anything goes wrong: I use the plugin WP Rollback to install any previous version of a plugin. Works like a charm!

    • Hi Emmy! That’s a useful tip. 🙂

    • Yeah, agreed Emmy – that plugin has saved my bacon a couple of times.

  3. Great stuff. Thanks for contributing.

    • Thanks Daniel! 🙂

  4. This was worth the last part alone. I recently had a plugin update break my site, and I had to remove it. But it was such a valuable plugin, my site just wasn’t the same. I just installed a previous version, which I didn’t know I could find so easily, and now everything is great again.

    • Hi Dawn, thanks for your comment! We’re glad everything worked out. 🙂

  5. Updraft Plus is okay and using ManageWP is better for multiple sites, but there is an amazing plugin called “WP Time Capsule”. It does incremental backups to your FTP, dropbox, Google drive or AWS and will let you restore just the changes you made, not the whole site. It’s free to use with 15 day restore points. The subscription is well worth it for those that do Managed WP services as it automates core, theme and plugin updates with restore points. It also has staging for complex sites using E commerce plugins. Using this tool lets you hit that update button with confidence.

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Jaime!

  6. Don’t forget about two more situations:
    1) Re: the plugins that “come with your theme” if you’ve purchased a modern, robust theme that you’ll customize for a client. When you have to update the plugin directly on the server, and wait for it to complete before doing *anything* on the site–even creating a blog post or doing some editing on another page (otherwise you’ll get errors on the page or post and if your client is looking at the site, it will produce an error).

    2)Then there are the trouble-makers – the theme creators that add tons of great plug-ins, and when you go to purchase one of them for auto updates and support, you find that the plugin developer and the theme developer won’t work together–each blaming the other when your connection to the plugin gives you an error message (“Sorry, you are not allowed to access this page.”) and no-one will help you resolve it. 🙁

    • I’ve seen this so many times, and to make it worse, no child themes. For my clients, I design sites on DIVI for this specific reason. No need to worry about future versions not working, and using a child theme makes custom changes easy to deal with. Also, get in the habit of never modifying a plugin. CSS mods are welcome using a child theme, or in some cases, look if the plugin supports custom templates like woocommerce or giggpress does.

      If clients come in asking for mods on a flaky premium theme with no child theme, I simply ask that they contact the original designer or consider a site redo using a new theme. It’s not worth the hassle of being blamed for when things break.

      Finally, stay away from Envanto or Mojo themes. I still have nightmares from broken sites and hacked sites thanks to their license rules and lazy developers. None of those themes or plugins stand the test of time, and asking clients to buy credits just to be able to update their theme or plugin is simply BS. Revolution Slider – I’m looking in your direction

      Look at my reply above regarding WP time Capsule.

    • Hi Lori and Jaime, thanks for your input! You both make some good points. 🙂 It’s important to carefully vet any themes and plugins you use on your site.

  7. In other words use something like Squarespace unless your site requires the complexity of WordPress and you can budget for a WordPress developer to maintain your site!

  8. Actually Perfect Dashboard allows to back up your website and do automated integrity testing on a staging environment and then if you validate the plugin will be updated on your real website, and all these steps in just 2 clicks !

    I was a MainWP + ManageWP + Infinity WP user before I found this solution.

    • Thanks for the tip! 🙂

  9. Hi John,

    Great advice. Recently I faced a compatibility issue with a security plugin and it started showing error message on the top of my dashboard. Later I contacted the developer for the resolution and I had no other way to remove the plugin. They updated the plugin within a few days and the warning message has gone.

    After reading your post, I just recollected my experience. Your tips are really helpful and guide the WordPress users in the right way.

    Take care,

    Have a nice week ahead.

    • Hi Manoj! Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  10. It is a great plugin I’ve used in the past. Also, we can recommend another great plugin Backup Buddy. Backup Buddy is a great way to backup your website and moves it because it can create a complete database, backup files and it easily restores all of your data and files.

    • Hi Robert! We agree; BackupBuddy is a pretty useful tool. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Dominic!

  11. Thanks for sharing info about Updraft plugin. It’s one of the most recommended backup plugin available right now. Well, I am using Vaultpress for the backup purpose and always play with my site, and if something goes wrong, I will upload the backup available in the vaultpress.

    • You’re welcome! Thanks for your input. 🙂

  12. Although your advice are pretty much the standard traditional IT advice, IMO they just don’t work well anymore. We have seen it in operating systems and applications that the updates are so frequent that there is no way to have the time for special staging and test environments any more, other than in very specific situations. And the same thing is definitely happening with WP as well.

    A much more useful article would start from the point that you in practice need to make updates directly to the production environment in almost all cases, and then help out from that point. The comments were quite useful in that respect, but the article? Not so much I’m afraid.

  13. Thanks for interesting informations.

    Do you know why some of my websites don’t ask to update the Divi theme ?
    I have some who stay in 3.0.10, and in the same time some ask me to update from 3.0.49 to 3.0.51 ?

    • You’re welcome, Renaldo! It’s hard to say without knowing your exact setup. I’d recommend contacting us directly (https://www.elegantthemes.com/contact/), and we’ll do our best to help.

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