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Mastering WordPress Updates: A Comprehensive Guide for Plugins, Themes, and Core Updates

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Greetings! In this guide, we’re delving into the world of WordPress updates, breaking down each step in a simple and clear manner. Whether you’re new to WordPress or an experienced user, this comprehensive handbook will walk you through the process of keeping your website up to date. From creating backups to navigating WordPress plugin and theme updates, we’ve got you covered. Join us on this journey to understand the ins and outs of seamless updates, avoiding potential challenges along the way. Let’s ensure your website stands out in the digital realm. It’s time to master the art of WordPress updates!

Part One – Backup and Cloning of WordPress

Backup Your Website

Before starting any updates, create a full backup of your WordPress site. Use a reliable backup plugin or your hosting provider’s backup tools.

Tip: Beginners have the tendency to underestimate the complexity of a minor plugin update and skip backup considering it will not affect the website but they can be very wrong. Please do yourself a favor and backup first no matter what.

Create a clone if possible

The safest way to update a WordPress website is by creating a clone. Doing the updates there and then migrating the changes will help you to make sure not to break the live website and lose visitors.

Deactivate Caching

Temporarily deactivate any caching plugins or server-side caching to prevent conflicts during the update process. This ensures that you see the changes immediately.

Part Two – Updating WordPress plugins one by one

This part should be repeated for each individual plugin update.

Check for WordPress Plugin Dependencies

Before initiating any plugin updates, it’s essential to consider dependencies between plugins. When a plugin relies on another for its functionality, updating the dependent plugin before the one it relies on is a best practice. Let’s delve into why this sequence matters:

Developers meticulously design their plugins to work seamlessly within the WordPress ecosystem. When a plugin is dependent on another, developers often prioritize backward compatibility to ensure smooth integration with older versions. By updating the dependent plugin first, you’re aligning your site with the latest improvements and enhancements while minimizing the risk of compatibility issues.

Take, for example, a scenario where WooCommerce and its Stripe Payment Gateway extension are installed. The Stripe Payment Gateway is dependent on WooCommerce. Updating the Stripe Payment Gateway before WooCommerce ensures that any adjustments made to accommodate changes in WooCommerce are accounted for, maintaining a harmonious interplay between the two plugins.

This strategic approach minimizes the chances of breaking critical functionalities on your website. It allows you to leverage the improvements made in the dependent plugin while safeguarding the overall stability of your site. By adopting this sequence of updates, you’re effectively following the intended flow designed by developers, reducing the likelihood of encountering conflicts and ensuring a smoother, error-free update process for your WordPress website.

Check WordPress Plugin Compatibility:

Verify that the plugins you are updating are compatible with your WordPress version. Some plugins may require a specific version of WordPress to function properly.

Review WordPress Plugin Release Notes (changelog):

1. Go to plugins
2. Click on View Details

wordpres plugin view details screenshot

3. Click on “Changelog” tab:

wordpress plugin changelog location

Read the release notes for each plugin update. Understand the changes, bug fixes, and new features introduced in the latest version. This information helps you anticipate any adjustments needed after the update and also helps you to know what to test updates faster.

Update One WordPress plugin at a Time:

Update plugins one at a time rather than all at once. This allows you to identify any issues that may arise from specific plugin updates. If the one-click upgrade doesn’t work for you, don’t panic! Just try a manual update.

Tip: Failed Updates
If you see a “failed update” nag message, delete the file .maintenance from your WordPress directory using FTP. This will remove the “failed update” nag message.

Verify your WordPress Plugin Settings:

Some updates may reset plugin settings or add new setting. Double-check the settings of each updated plugin to ensure they align with your website requirements.

Tip: Stay Informed About Changes
Regularly reviewing and understanding the changes in plugin settings not only helps maintain optimal functionality but also keeps you informed about new features or adjustments. This knowledge empowers you to make informed recommendations to your clients, ensuring that the website continues to meet evolving needs. It’s a proactive approach to staying abreast of updates and leveraging them to enhance overall site performance.

Test Updates:

After each update, thoroughly check your website’s functionality. Check key features, forms, and user interactions to ensure everything is working as expected.

Tip: Check the plugin updates on a cloned environment before applying them to the live site. This helps identify potential issues before they impact your users.

Remove Unused WordPress Plugins:

Take the opportunity to review installed WordPress plugins and remove any that are unnecessary or unused. This helps streamline your website and reduces potential security risks.

Here is a list of the most common locations to check after a WordPress plugin update:

  1. Forms:
    Verify the functionality and appearance of all forms on your website, including contact forms, subscription forms, and any other interactive elements. Ensure that form submissions are captured correctly and that validation messages are displayed appropriately.
  2. Adding to Cart:
    If your website involves e-commerce functionality, thoroughly test the process of adding items to the cart. Check the cart page, product pages, and the overall checkout process to confirm a seamless and error-free shopping experience for users.
  3. Purchase Funnel:
    For e-commerce websites, the purchase funnel is a critical area to scrutinize. Check every step of the purchasing process, from selecting items and entering shipping details to payment confirmation. Ensure that users can smoothly navigate through the funnel without encountering any glitches.
  4. Navigation Menus:
    Examine all navigation menus on your site, including header and footer menus. Confirm that menu items are displayed correctly, links lead to the intended pages, and any dropdowns or submenus function seamlessly across various screen sizes.
  5. Responsive Design:
    Test the responsiveness of your website across different devices, such as desktops, tablets, and smartphones. Ensure that the theme adapts appropriately to varying screen sizes, and that all content remains accessible and visually appealing.
  6. Custom Post Types:
    If your website utilizes custom post types, review their display and functionality. Check individual post pages, archive pages, and any unique templates associated with them to ensure consistency and proper rendering.
  7. Widgets and Sidebars:
    Inspect the placement and functionality of widgets and sidebars. Confirm that widgets display correctly in designated areas and that any dynamic content or calls to action within these areas function as intended.
  8. Typography and Styling:
    Pay close attention to typography and styling elements. Check that font styles, sizes, and colors remain consistent throughout your website. Confirm that any custom styling or design choices are preserved after the theme update.
  9. Image Display:
    Ensure that all images on your website, including featured images and galleries, are displayed correctly. Check for any distortion, misalignment, or issues with image loading that may arise from the theme update.

Part Three – Update WordPress Themes

Update Inactive Themes First:

If your theme has updates available, update it before the active theme.

view themes details in wordpress screenshot
view theme changelog in wordpress

Update the Active WordPress theme

Check the theme’s changelog to understand the changes, bug fixes, and new features introduced in the latest version. This information helps you anticipate any adjustments needed after the update.

Attention! Caution with Customizations:
Exercise caution when updating the active theme, especially if you’ve made customizations directly within the theme code. Unlike plugins, themes don’t always preserve customizations during updates, potentially leading to the loss of tailored design elements or functionalities.

Tip: Consider a Child Theme:
It’s a best practice to use a child theme if you plan to add customizations directly to your theme’s code. Unfortunately, this practice is not always followed, leaving themes vulnerable to potential disruptions during updates.

Test Updates

Testing your WordPress theme after an update is a critical step to ensure the continued smooth operation and visual integrity of your website. Post-update testing involves examining various aspects, including the functionality of essential features, responsiveness across different devices, and the overall user experience. It’s essential to scrutinize each element of your site thoroughly, from forms and navigation menus to page layouts and custom post types. Additionally, perform cross-browser testing to confirm compatibility across various web browsers. This rigorous testing process helps identify any discrepancies or issues introduced by the theme update, allowing you to address them promptly and maintain a seamless and visually appealing website for your audience.

Tip: Remember, a comprehensive testing routine is key to catching potential problems early on and ensuring that your WordPress theme continues to meet both functional and aesthetic expectations.

Part Four – Update WordPress Core

Updating the WordPress core is essential for maintaining a secure and optimized website. The core updates include crucial improvements, security patches, and bug fixes that enhance the overall stability and performance of your WordPress installation. Regularly updating the core ensures that your site remains resilient against potential security threats and stays compatible with the latest web technologies. It is recommended to back up your website before initiating core updates and to check the compatibility of installed plugins and themes. Keeping the WordPress core up to date not only ensures a secure environment but also allows you to access the latest features and improvements, contributing to a smoother and more reliable user experience.

Check Front-End Functionality:

Thoroughly test the front-end functionality of your website. This includes navigating through pages, testing contact forms, submitting comments, and interacting with any custom features or functionalities.

Verify Back-End Functionality:

Log in to the WordPress admin dashboard and check the functionality of the back-end. Ensure that you can create, edit, and publish posts and pages. Test the functionality of plugins, themes, and any custom post types or taxonomies.

Part Five – migration, final testing and monitoring

Migrate WordPress from Staging to Live

You’ve done the hard work in the secret lab (staging), and now it’s showtime – moving your masterpiece to the main stage (live). Exciting, right? It’s like unveiling your creation to the world.

Enable Caching Again:

Once all updates are complete and you’ve verified that everything is working correctly, reactivate your caching mechanisms to enhance website performance.

Test and Retest

So, you’ve just moved your website from the testing ground (staging) to the big stage (live). Awesome! Now, let’s talk about testing – it’s like giving your site a final checkup. Just like a doctor making sure you’re all good, testing after migration makes sure your website is running smoothly. Think of it as your site’s personal health check! It’s not just about buttons working; it’s about everything – making sure your forms, links, and pictures are doing their job without any hiccups. Testing is like your website’s superhero cape – it ensures it’s ready to shine online without any glitches. So, don’t forget: Test and retest again – your website will thank you with smooth operations and happy users!

Tip: Check Website Performance Metrics
Utilize tools like Google PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix to assess your website’s performance after updates. Monitor key metrics such as page load times, server response times, and overall page optimization.

Ensure that your website functions correctly across various browsers. Check on popular browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge to guarantee a consistent and smooth user experience for visitors using different platforms.

Monitor for Issues:

Keep an eye on your website for a few days after updates to catch any issues that might have been missed during the initial checks.

Conclusion:

You’ve just navigated the WordPress galaxy, from backups to plugin acrobatics, and now your site is shining on the big stage. But, before you pop the celebration confetti, remember this final act: Testing, Testing, and more Testing! It’s like the superhero cape that ensures your website is in tip-top shape. Your forms, links, and images – they all need a final thumbs-up to perform without hiccups. So, here’s to smooth operations, happy users, and a website that’s ready to dazzle the digital world! Your website will thank you!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Your Ultimate WordPress Update Guide

Why is creating a backup before updating plugins crucial?

Creating a backup is your website’s safety net. Even minor plugin updates can throw unexpected surprises. A backup ensures you can revert to a stable version if anything goes awry during the update.

What’s the deal with creating a clone before updating my WordPress site?

Think of a clone (or staging) as your secret testing ground. Updating on a clone first ensures you catch any issues before they hit your live website. It’s like a dress rehearsal – smooth and glitch-free.

Why should I deactivate caching during the WordPress update process?

Turning off caching during updates is like putting on your detective hat. Caching stores website data to make it load faster, but during updates, it can get confused. Deactivating it is like clearing the fog, allowing you to see each update clearly without any hidden surprises.

What’s the buzz about checking plugin dependencies before updates?

Plugins often rely on each other. Updating the dependent one first ensures harmony. It’s like updating your playlist – you start with the base track before adding new beats.

Why update plugins one by one? Can’t I do a bulk update?

Updating one by one lets you spot issues easily. It’s like assembling a puzzle – you identify the rogue piece faster and keep the picture intact.

How do I handle failed WordPress updates?

If you see a “failed update” message, don’t panic! Delete the .maintenance file via FTP. If that doesn’t work, go manual – it’s like a tech wizard’s backup plan.

Why bother checking plugin settings after an update?

WordPress updates can be sneaky. They might reset or add settings. Double-checking ensures your plugins dance to your website’s tune. It’s like tuning your guitar before a gig – everything sounds better in harmony.

Any tips for testing updates post-migration?

Absolutely! Test everything – forms, e-commerce, menus. It’s like a chef tasting every dish before serving. Also, consider a staging environment for a sneak peek before the live show.

Should I update inactive themes before the active one?

Yup, it’s a good practice.

Why use a child theme?

Child themes keep your customizations safe during updates. It’s like having a sketchbook for your masterpieces – the original stays intact, and you experiment without worries.

What’s the deal with enabling caching after updates?

Once you’ve aced updates and confirmed all is well, reactivate caching. It’s like putting the final touch on your artwork – making sure it’s displayed in all its glory.

Why should I keep an eye on my website after updates?

Think of it like a new pet – you want to make sure it’s eating well and playing happily. Monitoring catches any post-update quirks and ensures your website stays top-notch.

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