When to Upgrade WordPress

First, unless you installed the blog yourself, step away from that “Please update now” link.

In general, upgrading is a pretty painless process in WordPress.  You click a few links, the program runs off to the servers, downloads several files and makes a few updates to the database.  But what about when things go wrong?  And what can you do to prevent things from going wrong?  In this post, I’ll try to outline the steps you should take in the caring and feeding of a growing blog, and what you should do when disaster strikes.

First things first: Backup, Backup, Backup

Maybe you don’t backup because you think, “it will never happen.”  Maybe you don’t backup because you haven’t found quite the right tool to do it.  Maybe you don’t backup because you just don’t think it’s necessary.

And truth be told, maybe nothing will ever happen to warrant the use of a backup.  Wordpress is a very stable, very reliable platform that is vetted by thousands of people before a new version is released to the public.  Most reputable plugins and themes follow the same development philosophy, and the chances that you’ll ever really need a backup are pretty slim.  Then again, chances are also very slim that you’ll be in a really bad car accident that will total your car.  But you still carry insurance don’t you?

A backup just gives you the peace of mind that you at least have your valuable content stored somewhere other than your main source. Therefore, should disaster strike, you have a starting point for getting yourself back up quickly.  There are several things that you can do to backup your site, but here are the three top things you can do to make sure your data is safe.:

  • Server Backups – Many service providers out there (ourselves included) perform regular backups of their servers and databases that can be restored pretty quickly when needed.  If your site is really important to you, be sure you check with yours about how often they back up and what the process is for restoring data.
  • Backups via Plugins – If you’re not sure about how backups are handled by your service provider, you can schedule backups of the most important component of your WordPress installation – your database – using one of a variety of plugins.  I’ve used WP-DBManager a lot, but there are plenty of others to choose from.  Pick the one that you think is best for you based on compatibility, features, ratings, and usability.
  • Backup Services – If you want to be completely hands off, or if your blog is REALLY important to your business and you can afford it, you can opt for an online service to backup and monitor your blog for you.  There’s a new one being released soon called VaultPress which we’re looking into as a new service for customers.  They’re still in beta but it looks like it could theoretically be an excellent option for heavy-duty bloggers to outsource their backup management.


Check, then upgrade your plugins

Before upgrading anything, look at your list of plugins and take the following 3 steps:

  1. Even if none of them require an update, go to and look up each of the plugins you have installed.
  2. Be sure your plugin is compatible with the version of WordPress to which you’ll be upgrading.  If not, you can either wait or identify it in a list of “risk plugins”.
  3. When you’re done with your list, look over your risks.  Are any of the “risk” plugins ones that you can’t live without?  If so, you probably want to hold off on the upgrade.  If not, you’ll know what you need to de-activate first should problems arise.

If any of your plugins do require an update, then upgrade those individually first.  Though the WordPress upgrade option allows you to do them all at once, doing them individually allows you to see if one plugin breaks anything.  If it does, you know exactly which one you need to deactivate.

Check your theme

Many WordPress themes are pretty flat themes that don’t require a ton of maintenance.  There are a few that are several years old but that still work on the current version of WordPress.  But if you have a complex theme, especially one that calls itself a “framework” (think “Thesis,” “Genesis,” or “Hybrid“) or one that you developed as a custom theme for your site, then you need to check and make sure it’s up to date and/or compatible with the latest version of WordPress. Your best bet in those cases is to either call your site designer or log into the “forums” area of your framework theme and look for support messages on the latest version.

Upgrade away!

Chances are good that you’ll never need to worry about anything that you’ve just done and the upgrade will go very smoothly.  Still, it’s important to have the peace-of-mind of a site that’s been backed up and properly checked to ensure you won’t hit any roadblocks along the way.  It’s easy to upgrade, but pretty time-consuming to downgrade or restore.  Doing what you can to mitigate that risk will make you and your blog feel better.

What do you do to prevent headaches during the upgrade process?  Do you fly by the seat of your pants, or do you have a plan in mind?  Share your experiences below!

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