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How to Update WordPress Safely: Manually or Automatically

By: Kevin

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Updating your WordPress website is a key task for website owners to keep their sites secure and functioning optimally. The process entails backing up data, ensuring compatibility of themes and plugins, and executing the update via the WordPress dashboard. Careful execution and post-update checks are essential to maintain site stability. This guide outlines the necessary steps in a clear and accessible manner, aimed at empowering users with varying levels of technical skill to confidently update their WordPress sites.

Why Update WordPress?

Keeping your website updated to the latest version of WordPress is critical for several reasons:

  1. Security: WordPress core updates often address vulnerabilities. With each release, patches to security gaps are rolled out, which is crucial given that outdated WordPress sites are frequent targets for malware and hacking attempts.
  2. Performance: Updates can optimize WordPress to run more efficiently, contributing to better site speed and user experience.
  3. Compatibility: New releases ensure compatibility with the latest versions of plugins and themes, reducing the risk of conflicts that can break site functionality.
  4. Access to New Features: Each WordPress release can introduce new tools and features that can enhance the functionality of your website.
  5. Bug Fixes: Regular updates mean bugs are identified and fixed, leading to a more stable website.

Learn more about keeping your website healthy with our article Website Maintenance Cost in 2023.

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What to Do Before You Update WordPress?

Before proceeding with the update of WordPress to the latest version, it is essential to perform several preparatory steps to ensure a smooth transition:

  1. Check WordPress Version: Verify your current WordPress version to understand the changes the new version of WordPress will bring. Use a WordPress version checker tool if necessary.
  2. Plugin and Theme Compatibility: Ensure that your active plugins and themes are compatible with the new version. This can often be checked through their respective update logs or support forums.
  3. PHP Version: Confirm that your hosting environment’s PHP version meets the minimum requirement for the new WordPress version.
  4. Backup: Always back up your website. This includes your database, WordPress core files, plugins, and themes.

Creating an WordPress backup isn’t just about having a fallback. It allows you to test the WordPress update in an environment that mirrors the live site without affecting the user experience.

How to Update WordPress Automatically

In this section we’ll cover how to update automatically your website. WordPress offers an auto-update feature that can simplify the maintenance of your website. To enable automatic updates, follow these steps:

  1. Access the WP-Admin Dashboard: Log into your WordPress site’s admin area.
  2. Navigate to Updates: Go to the ‘Dashboard’ and then click on ‘Updates’.
  3. Select Update Preferences: Choose whether you want your site to automatically update for all new versions, including major releases, or limit it to minor releases and security updates.

By enabling automatic updates, you allow WordPress to automatically install any new version of the software as soon as it’s released. It’s a simple way to update that ensure your site always runs the latest code, which can be crucial for security and performance. However, It can be risky and could compromise the integrity of your website due to unforeseen bugs in the update. For instance, the core 6.4 update disrupted the cURL function, forcing the WordPress core to be updated manually.

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Update WordPress Manually from the WP-Admin Dashboard

Updating WordPress from the WP-Admin Dashboard is a straightforward process if you follow these steps and precautions:

  1. Prepare Your Site: Ensure you have completed the pre-update checklist, including backing up your site.
  2. Access WP-Admin: Log in to your WP-Admin dashboard and navigate to the updates section.
  3. Manual Update: Click the button to manually update WordPress. If an update is available, you will see a notification to update to the latest version.
  4. Monitor the Update: Watch the progress of the update on your dashboard; do not close your browser while the update is running.
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Update WordPress Manually via FTP

For those who prefer or need to update WordPress manually using FTP, the process is more technical:

  1. Download WordPress: Get the latest WordPress version from the official download site.
  2. Unzip Files: Extract the files to a designated folder on your computer.
  3. FTP Client: Open your FTP client and connect to your web hosting account.
  4. Upload Files: Navigate to your WordPress directory and upload the new WordPress files, overwriting the old files. Be careful not to overwrite your wp-config.php file and the wp-content directory.
  5. Update Database: After the files are uploaded, access your WP-Admin to trigger the database update script.
  6. Review Website: Check your website for any errors and ensure that everything is functioning as expected.

Performing manual updates allows for more control over the process and is a recommended approach for those with custom configurations or when auto-updates fail. However, it requires a higher level of technical knowledge. For businesses that need assistance, WP Expert provides the expertise to handle manual WordPress updates, ensuring the integrity of the website is maintained throughout the process. Take a look at our Maintenance Services.

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What to Do After You Update WordPress Manually?

Once you have updated WordPress manually, it’s crucial to perform a series of checks to ensure that the update has been successful and that your website remains functional.

Post-update Checklist

  • Clear Cache: Clear your site’s cache to prevent old, cached data from conflicting with the new WordPress installation.
  • Verify Update: Confirm that the WordPress version displayed in the dashboard matches the version you intended to install.
  • Check Site Functionality: Navigate through your site to ensure all pages load and no errors are present.
  • Plugin Functionality: Reactivate your plugins one by one and verify they work correctly with the new WordPress version.
  • Theme Check: Ensure your theme is displaying as intended and that all customizations remain intact.
  • Test Forms and Transactions: If you have contact forms, e-commerce capabilities, or other interactive elements, test them to confirm they are functioning correctly.

Verifying the Update

To ensure that the update has not introduced any new issues:

  1. Error Logs: Check error logs for any warning or error messages that may indicate underlying problems.
  2. Performance Monitoring: Use tools to monitor site performance, checking for any slowdowns that may have been caused by the update.
  3. User Feedback: Pay attention to user comments or reports; they can be the first to notice if something isn’t working correctly.
  4. Security Scans: Perform security scans to ensure that no vulnerabilities have been opened or left unpatched after the update.

By following these steps after a manual update, you can assure a seamless transition to the new WordPress version with minimal disruption to your website’s operation.

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Problems with Automatic or Manually Updating WordPress

Manually updating WordPress, while granting more control, can introduce several issues if not done correctly:

Common Issues Faced

  • Plugin and Theme Incompatibility: New WordPress versions may not always be compatible with existing plugins or themes, which can lead to website malfunctions.
  • Update Failures: Interruptions during the update process, such as server timeouts, can result in incomplete updates.
  • Broken Features: Some WordPress features may not work as expected after an update, especially if there are custom code snippets or child themes.
  • Website Downtime: A failed update can sometimes cause your site to be temporarily inaccessible.

How to Avoid Them

To prevent these common problems:

  1. Pre-Update Backup: Always back up your site before attempting an update. This ensures you can restore the previous state if needed.
  2. Staging Environment: Test the update in a staging environment, which is an exact replica of your live site.
  3. Plugin Audit: Update all plugins and themes before updating WordPress to avoid incompatibilities.
  4. Monitor the Process: Stay on the update page until the process is complete to avoid partial updates.
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Reverting WordPress to a Previous Version

If an update leads to unsolvable issues, reverting to a previous WordPress version might be necessary:

  1. Restore Backup: Utilize the backup created before the update to revert your site to its prior state.
  2. Manual Reversion: You can manually install the previous version of WordPress by downloading it from the official WordPress Release Archive and uploading it via FTP.
  3. Check Your Site: After the reversion, check your site thoroughly to ensure that all features and functions are working as expected.

In situations where manual updates or reversions become complex, professional support can be crucial. WP Expert offers specialized WordPress maintenance and support to navigate these challenges, minimizing the risk of downtime or feature loss for businesses relying on their WordPress sites.

Troubleshooting WordPress Update Issues

Common Problems and Their Solutions

Even with meticulous preparation, manual updates can sometimes lead to issues. Here are some common problems and how to resolve them:

  • White Screen of Death: This issue can be caused by PHP errors or memory limit exhaustion. To fix it, increase the memory limit in your wp-config.php file or deactivate themes and plugins to isolate the problem.
  • Login Problems: If you cannot log in to your dashboard, it may be due to cookie and cache issues. Clear your browser cache and cookies or update your site’s URL in the wp-config.php file.
  • Missing Buttons or Widgets: This typically occurs when JavaScript is not working. Check for JavaScript errors with your browser’s console and ensure all files were updated correctly.

When to Seek Expert Help

While many WordPress issues can be resolved with a bit of troubleshooting, there are times when it’s best to seek expert assistance:

  1. Persistent Errors: If errors persist despite your troubleshooting efforts, a professional can dive deeper to identify and solve the issue.
  2. Database Connection Issues: Problems connecting to the database can be complex and might require someone with technical expertise in WordPress and server management.
  3. Significant Downtime: If your site is down for an extended period, it’s crucial to get expert help to minimize the impact on your business.
  4. Lost Data: If you suspect that data has been lost during the update process, professionals can assist with data recovery efforts.

For those who face such challenges, WP Expert offers specialized web development and WordPress support services. We are equipped to handle a wide range of issues, ensuring that your manual update process is resolved efficiently and your WordPress site remains secure and operational.


How Often Should I Update WordPress?

WordPress should be updated as soon as new releases are available. Security updates are critical and should be applied immediately, while major releases, which are typically rolled out every few months, can be scheduled at your convenience. Consistently updating ensures your site remains secure and functions properly.

Is It Safe to Update WordPress Automatically?

Yes, it can be convenient and simple to do. However, It can be risky and could compromise the integrity of your website due to unforeseen bugs in the update. For instance, the core 6.4 update disrupted the cURL function, forcing the WordPress core to be updated manually.

What If My Site Breaks After an Update?

If your site experiences issues after an update:

1. Restore from a backup to return to the previous state.
2. Deactivate all plugins and switch to a default theme to rule out conflicts.
3. If the problem persists, consult with a WordPress expert to identify and fix the issue.

How Can I Ensure a Smooth Update Process?

To ensure a smooth update:

1. Backup your website fully before making any changes.
2. Update all plugins and themes before updating WordPress.
3. Conduct the update on a staging site first if possible.
4. Monitor the site after updating for any irregularities.

Updating WordPress: A Quick Recap and Next Steps

Maintaining an updated WordPress site is essential, not just for security, but also to harness the latest features and enhancements. Our guide has provided a clear pathway for manual and automatic updates, ensuring you can confidently keep your site at its best.

After updating, verify everything runs smoothly with our post-update checklist. Encounter an issue? Remember, expert help is just a call away at WP Expert for those trickier scenarios.

Keep your WordPress knowledge current by also understanding the building blocks of your site’s URL structure. Don’t miss our article on “What is a Permalink in WordPress?” to optimize your site’s links for better usability and SEO.