As part of a set of related articles on the subject of WordPress updates, and the importance of keeping WordPress updated, we wanted to address one of the most common and sometimes confusing questions we get regarding WordPress; whether order matters when performing updates.
A quick reminder before we begin - always back up your WordPress files and database before performing updates. Even with the most simple WordPress installation it is possible for data loss or corruption to occur during an update if a plugin or theme fails to updates properly, if the server runs out of memory during the update, or any number of other possibilities. So please, take a few minutes beforehand and make a backup first, just in case. If you need help doing so, check out our Backups 101 article or reach out our Support Team for guidance.
The Answer is Maybe
Okay - So at first glance you wouldn’t think that the order in which you perform WordPress updates should matter. After all, the WordPress Updates doesn’t require you to perform them in any order. In fact, WordPress provides single click “Update Now” buttons for WordPress core, plugins, and themes, right?
However, understanding how WordPress core, plugin, and theme compatibility all work together complicates things a bit, and simply clicking buttons in the order they appear on screen may cause compatibility issues, or even break portions of your site. Here are a few facts to consider:
- WordPress plugins are designed to extend the default functionality provided by WordPress. New or changed functionality in WordPress core can break both themes and plugins if it changes required functions.
- WordPress themes often include and/or require specific plugins. Many WordPress themes require specific versions of themes. Updating these plugins beyond the supported versions can break page elements, or even the entire site.
- Many WordPress core, plugin, and/or theme updates include (sometimes solely) security patches necessary to resolve an identified vulnerability. Some plugins rely on those vulnerabilities to function (although this was more common in older versions of WordPress).
- Not all plugins and themes are maintained forever - many end up being replaced or discontinued.
Taking all of the above into account, here is our recommendation for how to ensure your site stays up-to-date, stable, and secure.
- Always back up your files and database prior to performing updates.
(Yes, we’ve already said this at the top… we think it’s that important!)
- Routinely check your plugin and themes for signs of being abandoned. Abandoned themes or plugins should be replaced by your developer as soon as possible to prevent possible oversight of a vulnerability, and increased risk of compatibility issues.
Symptoms of to look out for are
- A lack of updates in several months, especially since the most recent major WordPress core version change
- Increasing number of comments or complaints regarding lack of communication from the developer, or issues with the plugin since updating WordPress
- Comments or sometimes even a blanket statement from a new author stating they’ve taken over development, or have “forked” the project into their own theme or plugin
- Check your active theme(s) first for specific update instructions regarding included plugins. Many times a theme update or options page will include instructions to not update specific plugins past a specific version, or a chart of compatible version numbers. Some of the more professional themes even include updating those required plugins as an option on the theme page, usually by uninstalling and reinstalling them, or overwriting the existing version with a set of provided files.
- Especially if your theme is one of the type described above that includes plugins, update themes first unless the theme instructions tell you to do otherwise.
- Next, update any theme-related plugins up to, but not beyond, any version specified by the theme author.
- After updating theme-related plugins, update all other plugins listed on the Active Plugins page.
Remember - if your theme advises you not to update any specific themes past a specific version, do so at your own risk and only if the update is related to a security vulnerability.
- Okay - so at this point your themes and plugins should be considered up-to-date with the currently installed version of WordPress core. Next you will want to update WordPress core itself to the latest available version.
- Here is the step most administrators and even developers miss. In steps three through six, you weren’t necessarily updating themes and plugins to their latest version, only the latest version compatible with your version of WordPress core at that time. Now that you’ve updated WordPress core, some themes and/or plugins will have additional updates available to you. So now, please repeat steps three through six once again, again making sure not to accidentally update plugins beyond what is compatible with your theme unless it is for a security-related update.
Note: You may need to leave and then return to the theme and/or plugin pages in order to see new available updates. Sometimes it’s simpler to clear your cache (assuming you’re using a WordPress caching plugin; if not, doing so is highly recommended) and log out of the WordPress Admin Dashboard and then logging back in again.
Okay, so that process, assuming the “worst case scenario” should be
- Back up files and database
- Check themes and plugins for being abandoned
- Check themes for special instructions
- Update themes
- Update theme-related plugins
- Update other plugins
- Update WordPress core
- Clear WordPress cache
- Log out of the WordPress Admin Dashboard
- Log back into the WordPress Admin Dashboard
- Update themes (if applicable)
- Update theme-related plugins (if applicable)
- Update other plugins (if applicable)
- Update WordPress core (if applicable)
Updating in Bulk is Okay Too
The process explained above is not the only way to perform updates, and there’s no guarantee that you’re going to experience issues if you simply click the update buttons in the order that they appear on the screen. We only provide these instructions because we have had customers that have had issues performing updates in that manner. These instructions are the culmination of years of feedback and discussion with WordPress users and developers, and are what seems to cause the fewest issues. If you have your WordPress installation configured to automatically update, that’s okay. If you prefer to use the default “Update Now” buttons, that’s okay too. Any method of updating WordPress, it’s plugins, or it’s themes is better than not updating them at all!
Thanks for taking the time to read our recommendations on the order in which WordPress should be updated. If you would like to read more on this subject, please consider the following companion articles to this one: