Let’s face it… The most annoying part of running a WordPress website are those pesky updates. And from my experience, most webmasters delay updates as much as possible! I mean, why update something when it works, right? Just like Windows updates…! 🙂
In this article, I will show you how to manually update a WordPress website. A task, often performed when debugging and fixing WordPress issues. And at the end, bonus material, I will show you how you can automate updates and put your site on autopilot!
Why You Should Update your Website
To keep our introduction short, updates are a good thing! Listed below are a few reasons why should dedicate 5 minutes, every month, to your website’s good health.
We know that WordPress powers around 32% of the internet. Because of the CMS’s popularity, it’s a prime target for hackers.
Now, I’m not implying that WordPress is unsafe. On the contrary, it’s one of the safest platforms to build a website on. Most security breaches can be traced back to human error and outdated plugins.
Therefore, as a webmaster, to ensure that your website is updated with the latest security batches – it’s essential that your site runs the latest install of WP core, themes, and plugins.
In some cases, updates mess things up a little! But, generally, updates make old things work better and add new features and functionality. WordPress is no different, in every update the team improves something on the platform. For instance, the Gutenberg editor which is scheduled to be released in 5.0 is simply a feature you can’t ignore. The same can be said for your site’s themes and plugins.
Old and outdated websites have a tendency to run slowly. Seriously, who wants a slow website?
Technology is always on the move, continuously changing. To match the latest developments, the community behind WordPress works relentlessly on releasing updating.
From my experience as a “website mechanic”, I had quite a few customers who had issues with their hosting provider. Simply because they were running on an outdated version of WordPress while their hosting provider upgraded PHP to 7.2.
Now that we have outlined why it’s so important to upgrade your site’s software, it’s time to take into account two more considerations – before updating.
Back up your website!
If you’re not already backing up your website on a regular basis, then you’re seriously putting all your hard work at risk.
There are plenty of great backup plugins, and installing one won’t take longer than 5 minutes.
At Fixmysite.com, we use UpdraftPlus. We use the plugin to migrate sites but also to back up our own site remotely.
Making a back up of the site is as simple as pressing 1 button. After installing the plugin, open the settings tab and click on UpdraftPlus Backups.
Once the back up is ready you can download your themes, plugins, uploads, database as well as any folder in your wp-content directory.
Since we are here, I will show you how you can schedule your backups. Put the task on autopilot, and sleep sound and safe knowing that you have a clean copy of your site on hand. Open the settings tab, select how frequently you would like to back up your site and pick a remote destination to send the files to. Since Fixmysite.com is not a very “active” website, I have set it to weekly backups and I send the file to DropBox.
Hands down, the fastest way to speed up and fix a slow WordPress site is to enable caching. Most business websites have some sort of cache mechanism installed. If your website isn’t cached, consider reviewing our list of the best cache plugins for WordPress.
Because caching modifies the way your website works on the backend, it’s best practice to disable it while undergoing a major upgrade.
Manually Update Your Website
Now that we have a backup of our website and disabled cache, it’s time to proceed with the upgrade. I would only recommend manually updating WordPress when the default option is not available. For instance, when debugging a faulty plugin or removing malware from a hacked site.
- Deactivate all of the plugins on your WordPress site.
- The next step is to access your file system. You can use FTP or the file manager from your hosting control panel. Personally, I like working with cPanel’s file manager.
- In the root directory of your WordPress installation, select every folder and file except “wp-content”, “wp-config.php” and any “hidden files”. The “wp-content” folder contains all your images, themes, and plugins while the “wp-config.php” connects your site to the database. Whatever you do, don’t delete them!
- Deleted the selected files.
- Create a new directory, called “wp”, and upload a fresh copy of WordPress. You can use this link to get the latest iteration of WordPress. Once uploaded, extract the files.
- Select every folder and file except the wp-content folder and move them to the root directory of your WordPress installation.
- Re-enable your plugins which you disabled earlier.
- Congratulations! You just updated WordPress’s core files.
- Start by downloading a ZIP file of the plugin you would like to upgrade. Most plugins are available on the plugin repository, while premium plugins are directly available from the vendor.
- Upload the ZIP file to the plugins directory.
- Rename the currently active plugin. When debugging a plugin, a common naming convention is the following “plugin-name-old”. Renaming a plugin will automatically deactivate it.
- Extract the recently uploaded ZIP file containing the latest version of the plugin.
- Sign in to your WordPress site, and verify that the latest version of the plugin is working correctly.
- If everything is in order, delete the ZIP file and the old version of the plugin.
- Congrats, you just manually updated a plugin!
Important! If you have customized your theme, you will lose all your customizations when you update your theme.
This method is recommended for webmasters who have not changed or modified their theme files. For instance, developers who built their site with a page builder like Elementor or Visual Composer.
It’s a big no-no to customize a theme without creating a child theme!
The process is very similar to updating a plugin.
- Download a ZIP file of the theme you would like to upgrade.
- Upload the ZIP file into the “themes” folder located in the “wp-content” directory.
- Rename the active theme using the same naming convention we used with the plugins. Renaming the theme will deactivate it.
- Extract the theme.
- Sign into your WordPress admin area. Verify that you have the latest version installed by visiting Appearance > Themes. Then check the front end of the site.
- If everything is working correctly, delete the old theme and the ZIP files from your themes folder.
- Congrats! Just updated your theme 🙂
Automatic Updates (Bonus Tip!)
Okay, I have said it before. Updating a website is boring and time-consuming. But what if I told you there is another way to logging into the WordPress admin area every month? Sounds too good to be true, right?
Introducing Easy Updates Manager. EUM keeps your site automatically up to date.
Installing the plugin is super easy.
With the click of a button, you can ensure that WordPress and all your themes and plugins are kept up to date.
Worried about a plugin breaking your site when it upgrades? No problem! The plugin allows you to block updates for individual plugins and themes.
There you have it! If you are too busy or just can’t be bothered to log into your site, simply put your updates on autopilot!
When Updates Go Wrong 🙁
Sometimes updates can go wrong and break your site. But not to worry, now you know how to update the WP core, themes, and plugins. In the event of a conflict, WP_DEBUG your website, locate the culprit and replace it with a clean version.
And if you are stuck, you can always get in touch with us to fix your site!
Did you manage to manually update your WordPress website? Please share your experience in the comment section below!