WordPress 4.2 is scheduled for release on April 22, 2015, so what do you do when it comes time to update WordPress?
It may seem as if Wordpress updates are as simple as a click of a button, but sometimes they can be a tricky business. For anyone who’s witnessed the white screen of death or found themselves locked in maintenance mode, you’ve probably experienced that feeling of dread that comes right before you press an update button in WordPress.
But the worst thing you can do is let fear prevent you from keeping your website up-to-date. WordPress is open source software — its code is freely available to everyone, and therefore, a prime target for hackers. Having outdated software and plugins just leaves the door wide open for a malicious attack.
However, when the 4.2 update (or any other update) pops up and says it’s ready on your site, no matter how much it begs and pleads for you to go ahead and press the update button, resist that temptation. Instead you should…
Backup Your WordPress Site!
Unless you want to pay a developer to rebuild your site, make a backup of your site’s database and files before you update anything. There are plenty of backup plugins available, and I’ve used UpdraftPlus for a number of years on the sites I’ve built. Or if you use a managed WordPress hosting service like Flywheel (my recommended choice), they will backup your site daily and let you perform one-click backups from your hosting dashboard.
So don’t update until you backup. Doing so won’t prevent conflicts or errors, but it will give you some peace of mind.
This may sound harsh, but if you don’t know how to access your files from your hosting server via FTP using a tool such as FileZilla, you shouldn’t be doing your website updates yourself. One of the most basic reasons for this is that a common WordPress error people run into after an update comes as a result of a “maintenance” file the software inserts in the root directory of your site (“.maintenance”). You’ll get that white screen of death along with a message that says:
If you have access to FTP, you can simply delete this file and get your site back.
Having access to FTP will also give you the power to disable plugins without accessing the admin area of your website. If I suspect a particular plugin to the root of my troubles, I will simply access the plugin’s folder in FileZilla and rename it by placing an “x-” before the existing folder name. This deactivates the plugin.
This is a larger topic for another post and there are plenty of other articles out there on how to migrate your website to a local development server or vice versa, but just to give you some insight into how I work, I always perform core updates like the upcoming 4.2 WordPress update on my own machine first. I’ve used XAMPP for years to set up my development server and the free plugin WP Migrate DB to help me move my database from my live (“production”) site to my local setup. It might seem like an extra step, and if you’re new to web development (and WordPress), it comes with a bit of a learning curve, but the last thing I want is my live site to go down. So I always do a test run on my local machine to weed out any potential conflicts or problems. Again, not a required practice, but if you’re getting a lot of regular traffic to your website, I’d highly recommend it.
Before you run that WordPress Core update, be sure to deactivate all of your plugins. Doing so will help you avoid conflicts and allow you to reboot the plugins one-by-one. If a plugin wants to be a troublemaker, you’ll know which one it is.
To deactivate your plugins, go to your list of install plugins (Plugins -> Installed Plugins), and click on the bulk edit checkbox in the top left corner of the table. Then, from the dropdown menu just above it, select “Deactivate.” Click on the “Apply” button, and that should do it.
Now the moment we’ve been waiting for…we can finally give in to the pestering update message at the top your admin area dashboard by clicking the link within the update message itself or by going to “Update” under “Dashboard” in the left menu. WordPress offers you a “manual” alternative to updating its software, but if you’re still relatively new to WordPress and not comfortable using FTP to add and delete files, then I would avoid this approach.
Once you click that update link or button, the software will automatically kick your site into maintenance mode while it downloads the latest software, decompresses it, and performs the new installation. Once complete, your admin area will load a splash screen that introduces this latest version of WordPress and its new features.
Update and Reactivate Plugins
Below the Core area on the Updates page is a list of plugins that need updating as well. WordPress tells you here not only which plugins are out of date, but also how compatible each one is with the latest version of the core software. I recommend updating each plugin one at a time even though WordPress makes it easy for you to do it all at once. After each update, visit the front area of your site and kick the tires a bit. If nothing seems wonky, go back to the Updates page and proceed with the next one.
And finally, don’t forget to reactivate your plugins. You can do this one at a time, too.
What We’re Expecting from WordPress 4.2
Feature-wise, I’m not seeing anything spectacular for this latest WordPress update. But here’s some of what’s to come:
- Installing plugins will get a little easier. Now you won’t have to leave the plugins list page to add a new one.
- Switch themes in the customizer. Want to test drive and modify a new theme before you go live? Now you’ll be able to this in the handy WordPress customizer (located under “Appearance” in the left menu).
- Express yourself with emojis in posts. If you feel like your writing could benefit from some winking yellow smiley faces, well you’re in luck with this next release!
The most important thing to remember is that when it’s time to update WordPress, don’t put it off. When the FBI is warning website owners about potential ISIS attacks on their sites, it’s probably a good idea to carve out a few minutes to make sure you’re not leaving the door open to unwanted visitors.