ManageWP® Australia – Why Auto WordPress Updates Are Not Enough

WordPress core, themes and plugins all require updates on a regular basis.  Many now offer auto updates – the option to automatically update to the new version when an update is available.

While this seems to be a good idea and promises to make WordPress Management trouble free it can actually cause major problems.

I am sure our statement above will cause some confusion so we offer the following explanation to help site owners understand the site issues as compared to the individual components – WordPress core, themes, and each individual plugin.

The most severe outcome is the “WordPress white screen of death” where the site and admin login no longer function.

Updates are usually provided for one of three reasons:

  1. To add new or improved features
  2. In response to a discovered exploit
  3. In response to changes in the WordPress core code

WordPress has been developed to work on a large number of different server types and is expected to work with the configuration of each of those servers.  Server differ in their use – some are high performance dedicated machines while others are setup to offer shared hosting with limited performance.  Each will have a particular php and MySQL version with a large range of potential modules installed for different functions.  Memory allocated will vary as will disk space available.

Each theme and plugin also must work with the various server and hosting configurations, as well as the WordPress core installed, and each other.  In the normal life of a WordPress site there are usually many different plugins, some which are well maintained and regularly updated and others that may appear to be abandoned.  If you consider that the active theme may also be well maintained….or not, you can see the potential conflicts between the different plugins, themes, each with different versions, along with the WordPress Core, and the server variations, is very real.

In our experience conflicts will occur, with the probability proportional to the complexity of the site – and business sites tend to be much more complex than blogs or hobby sites.  The result of a conflict will vary from loss of functionality to loss of the web site.  The most severe outcome is the “WordPress white screen of death” where the site and admin login no longer function.

Our recommendations for an orderly and safe version management system:

  • Always backup your WordPress site to a remote location before updating
  • Scan regularly for malware and clean before updating if necessary
  • Ensure you have access to the underlying hosting account in case you need to rebuild the site
  • Understand the update before applying – what is the reason, what are the dependencies
  • Know the history of the existing plugins and themes – are there any that have not been updated for an extended period (abandoned).  Ideally these should be phased out for up to date versions.
  • Check the error logs prior to the update so that you are aware of any persistent errors in the system – rectify these first.
  • Update each item manually and check functionality before moving on to the next.
  • Scan the file system when complete to ensure that there is no malware and that the file versions match those in the depository.
  • Check the error log to ensure there is no underlying issues that may present in future.

WordPress is a powerful system for building easily maintainable web sites and applications and is in use by over 25% of all web sites.  The importance of these web sites, especially commercial sites, demands maximum performance, security, and up-time.

In closing consider this: a commercial driver may know how to change an oil filter and oil and yet he entrusts his vehicle service to an expert tradesman.  Why would you not do the same with the 24 hour online presence of your business?

About:  ManageWP® Australia provide WordPress Site Care and Server Management to site owners and designers.  We also provide secure hosting and relocation services if required.  We do not design web sites although we are happy to make changes to existing designs where appropriate.  We will NEVER approach you to redesign your site as our focus is security (server and site), recover-ability, monitoring, and restoration.  Please contact us if you would like an assessment of your current server or site security or need some assistance or advice with your site.