Updating your WordPress website is good for its security, content and data integrity and also for good user experience. Each time your website goes down, is suspended, hacked, defaced, exploited and slowed down, it comes with an unpredictable but definitely unfavorable cost - users hate it. Sometimes, it makes your users frightened and they never want to visit again. This underscores the very essence of tight security for every website. Failing to keep your WordPress website updated exposes it a security loophole.
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In this post, we focus on WordPress updates and strategies you need to adopt to keep your WordPress installation up-to-date.
1. How to identify an outdated WordPress plugin
You can manually scan your WordPress website to identify outdated plugins. The second way to identify an outdated plugin is to run the No Longer in Directory plugin.
2. How to Manually Scan WordPress for Outdated Plugin
WordPress has built-in plugins and also uses some third party plugins to add functionality to the site. To know when an update is available for a plugin, you need to monitor your website.
For WordPress core, if a new version of WordPress is available, you can't miss it, as you will see a message at the top of almost every page of your administration panel. You will even see another message at the bottom of these pages!.
For plugins and themes, it is different, but if they are available on WordPress.org, then the CMS can tell you if a new version is released. All you have to do is visit the Updates section of the WordPress dashboard.
You will see right next to this entry in the menu, how many updates are available. This number also appears in the bar at the top of your screen on all the pages of your website when you are logged in. If this number doesn't appear, good news: WordPress and all your plugins and themes are up to date!
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3. Find Updates with No Longer in Directory Plugin
The No Longer in Directory plugin is an excellent tool for maintaining the plugins in your WordPress site. It performs two checks:
- Has the plugin been removed from the WordPress.org plugin directory?
- If the plugin is in the directory, is it outdated (not been updated in over two years)?
The plugin will check the plugins on your site and list those that match either of those criteria. It only scans plugins that are listed in the WordPress.org, so it won't scan premium (purchased) plugins. You should manually check to make sure those are still maintained by visiting the plugin author&'s site.
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3.1 How to use the No Longer in Directory Plugin
Install and activate it.
In the WordPress admin menu, under Plugins, click No Longer in Directory. No Longer in Directory only runs when you manually run it; it doesn't automatically run in the background. So, as a site owner, you should manually run it every time you want to check for updates (unless you're covered by our WordPress Maintenance Service).
4. What to Do With Outdated Plugins
If you detect an outdated plugin, you can take the following action to address the problem:
- If you don't need the functionality that the plugin provides, delete it.
- If you need the functionality that the plugin provides, replace it with an actively maintained alternative.
Hopefully you can find an alternative in the directory. If not, you'll need to consider having a developer create and maintain one.
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5. Why is Plugin Maintenance So Important?
We have in the introductory section tired to explain this point. Plugins that aren't actively maintained can cause security vulnerabilities and compatibility issues, which could break your site.
6. Updating WordPress with a Single Click
Since WordPress version 2.7, it is possible to update WordPress quickly and easily with one click method. This method is preferred, as WordPress will automatically download and replace the right files by itself. That way, you avoid errors and save a lot of time.
To update WordPress in one click, go in the Updates entry of the Dashboard menu. If you don't have the latest available version of WordPress, you will see the message An updated version of WordPress is available before two buttons.
By clicking on the second button, you will download a ZIP archive containing the latest version of WordPress. You will then be able to create a new installation of WordPress or manually update your current installation.
The first button is the one click method. If you click on the Update Now button, WordPress will lead you to another page which will inform you of the progress: automatically, it will download the latest version, deactivate your plugins, replace the right files and reactivate your plugins. All you have to do is wait just a few seconds or minutes.
7. WordPress Automatic Updates
Beginning with version 3.7, WordPress introduced automatic updates. With this feature, your WordPress installation checks everyday if a new minor version of WordPress is available. If that is the case, it will download and install it alone, without you having to do anything, not even a click.
By default, if the latest available version is a major version, you will still have to update by yourself, in one click or manually, but you can be sure to always have the latest stable subversion of WordPress.
For example, if you use WordPress 4.0 and a version 4.0.1 is available, WordPress will install it automatically. But if the new version is something like 4.1, it won't and you have to manually run the update.
Automatic updates are enabled by default. But if you want to disable them, it is still possible to by adding a new constant in your wp-config.php file at the root of your WordPress installation.
Defining another constant, you can even enable the automatic method for major updates. Still in the wp-config.php file, adding the following line:
It will automatically update WordPress when a new release is available, whether minor or major. If you use a development version of WordPress, development updates will also be automatic with this constant.
This constant can take three different values: true, to enable automatic minor, major and development updates, false, to disable all of them, or to only enable automatic minor updates (which is the default behavior).
If you don't want to edit the wp-config.php file for some reason, you can also enable or disable automatic updates with filters.
For example, the AUTOMATIC_UPDATER_DISABLED constant seen above can be replaced by adding the following line in the functions.php file of your theme, or in a plugin:
This will disable automatic updates.
Other filters can enable or disable specific automatic updates. For each filter, your function must return true if you want to enable the corresponding type of update, or false to keep it disabled.
Disable automatic minor updates
Enable automatic major updates
Enable development updates
Note: To be sure that a plugin won't cause a bug during the update, deactivate all the plugins you use. You can do this quickly thanks to the option; Deactivate in the drop down list that you can use after selecting all of your plugins.
Now you have to replace the right files. In your current installation, delete the wp-includes and wp-admin folders. Then upload the new ones.
Upload the content of the new wp-content folder into the old one. Overwriting the existing files, you will update the old official themes and plugins. Don't worry, the other plugins and themes will stay the same, and your media files won't be affected.
Do the same with the files in the root directory: replace them all with the new ones by uploading all of them. The only file you need to worry about is wp-config.php but it won't be overwritten as it does not exist in the new version: in the archives you download, wp-wonfig.php is named wp-config-sample.php. You now have to compare that file with your wp-config.php to be sure that a new line has not been added: if that is the case, copy and paste the new lines from wp-config-sample.php to your old wp-config.php.
Sometimes, an automatic update can fail and a .maintenance file gets added into your installation. If you manually update to fix the problem, you need to delete this maintenance file.
Your database may also need to be updated. Visit your administration panel to see if that is the case: if it is, a message will appear, containing a link. Click on it, and your database will be updated.
The update itself is finished. All you have to do now is reactivate the plugins you use
8. Updating Your Plugins and Themes
Updating core WordPress is important, but it is also important to update the themes and plugins you use, as a bug in one of these can affect your whole installation.
Updating in One Click
Like WordPress itself, you can update plugins and themes with a one click method. To do that, go to the Updates section of your administration panel.
If there are some plugins or themes that can be updated, they will show up here, right below the part which tells you if a new version of WordPress is available or not.
To update your plugins, select them and click on the Update Plugins button. The same can be done with themes: select them and click Update Themes..
Whether for plugins or for themes, you will be led to another page which will inform you about the progress of the update, just as it does with the WordPress update.
Note that for plugins, another section will also allow you to update in one click: the Installed Plugins section in the Dashboard. If a plugin can be updated, a message will appear right below it, with a link to update it automatically. You can even select all of your plugins and chose Update in the drop down list to bulk update the ones that need it.
9. Automatic Updates
We saw above that WordPress itself can be automatically updated, without you needing to do anything. It's very practical and if you are a fan of automatic updates, you will be happy to know that WordPress can also automatically update your plugins and themes.
Automatic updates for plugins and themes are disabled by default. To enable them, you can add a filter into the functions.php file of your theme or in a plugin, just like you can for WordPress core updates.
Enable automatic updates for plugins
Enable automatic updates for themes
However, contrary to WordPress itself, you can't enable automatic updates for plugins and themes with a constant in the wp-config.php file: with plugins or themes, you have no choice and you must use filters.
10. How to Manually Updating Plugins and Themes
Like WordPress, updating plugins and themes with the one click method is preferred. But you can also manually update them. In some cases, you will have no choice: for example, if a plugin is not available on WordPress.org, WordPress can not give you access to the one click method.
To manually update a plugin, begin by downloading its new version on WordPress.org or on its official web page if there is one. In most of the cases, you will get an archive, so unpack it. Then, deactivate the plugin to prevent eventual bugs.
If the plugin is a single file, replace it by uploading the new one directly into the plugins subdirectory of wp-content. But most plugins are stored in a folder and, if that is the case, uploading the content of the new version into the old folder, overwriting the existing files. Then, reactivate the plugin.
Manually updating a theme is similar so, as we did with plugins, begin by downloading the new version and unpack the archive.
If you currently use the theme you want to update, you should now deactivate it by activating another one. Then upload the content of the new version into the old one, replacing the old files. Now, you can reactivate this theme.
11. What You Know About the One Click Method and Automatic Updates
WordPress cannot check if a new version is available for all the plugins and themes you use. Everyday, it checks if that is the case for the ones that are available on WordPress.org.
If a plugin or a theme is not on this platform, WordPress cannot suggest to you the one click method, and the automatic update won't work for such.
But even if you have access to the one click or automatic update, it may not work, especially if you try to update a local installation on your computer.
To be able to update WordPress, a plugin or a theme automatically, the CMS must have the right to write files. In other words, WordPress files must be owned by the web server user, or this same user must have the right to write this files.