Is it safe to press update?
[pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]We just pressed update and now the site won’t load. We’re getting a fatal error! Help![/pullquote]
No. There is a false sense of safety in logging in to a WordPress dashboard and seeing a seemingly innocent message that there are updates.
Let’s examine what really happens during the update process. With themes and plugins, it is literally a rip and replace. When one executes the WordPress update module for these items, first the existing version of the theme or plugin are deleted. Then the new files are downloaded from the source, copied to the correct location on the server and should ultimately be re-activated.
With WordPress core, the process is not quite the same. The update process starts with a list of files to be replaced, and those are what get deleted and replaced. But generally speaking, major version updates also involve a significant update of the MySQL database, too.
So, what can go wrong?
In the hands of someone who is skilled, hopefully not much. But even with all my expertise, things do go awry. There can be a problem with the host or a network connection, or the database server.
Worse yet, there can be a conflict or problem with the new version of the theme or plugin. Hence, why I never install blindly. Anyone who is worth their salt as a WordPress pro typically tests most new version plugins first on a development server – especially with a new version of WordPress to screen against problems. With very trusted theme and plugin developers, I may assume “acceptable risk”—as referenced by the Half-Elf on Tech.
My process always involves evaluating the Change logs to evaluate the criticality of the update and understand whether it’s a bug fix, security patch, or new feature. And especially for those “free” themes and plugins from the WordPress repository, I take a few moments to research the Support site and examine open vs closed tickets and search specifically for recent problems like reported conflicts or fatal errors. In such cases, I may defer the update indefinitely while continuing to monitor status. About the only time I will push an urgent update is when it’s a security issue. And if I see the fix is broken, I consider changing the plugin out and start my replacement plugin research post haste.
What appropriate safeguards are taken to prevent a complete disaster when something does ultimately go awry?
Backup. Backup. Backup.
For standard WordPress websites, I use BackupBuddy (iThemes) and schedule a full (complete) with remote delivery along with a standalone database backup. For Multisite, I use Updraft Plus with the multisite extension.
I often use the host backup tools, too and even login to phpMyAdmin to check the tables and export a copy.
Isn’t that redundant? Yes… But it is time well spent in the unlikely event there are any failures.
With due diligence, the update process can be safe and smooth. Proceed with appropriate cautions, and remember, pressing Update is NOT equivalent to WordPress Maintenance. It’s only one of many components.