Safe Practices for Installing WordPress Plugin, Theme and Core Updates to Your Website

by | Jun 5, 2022 | Technical Help, WordPress

Since I started CharlesWorks in 1998, it has been abundantly clear as a web developer that there are two types of web clients when it comes to site maintenance:

  • Those who want us to do any maintenance needed as they need it
  • Those who want to try to maintain their sites on their own as much as possible

Background

For many, many years now we at CharlesWorks have been building sites using WordPress. It is my recommended website platform. At the time of this writing, about 40% of all websites – over 455,000,000 sites – yes, that’s 455 million sites – on the planet are using WordPress. It has been considered to be the most popular CMS (Content Management System – a type of website in which the user can manage the content) since about 2016.

If you have a WordPress website and want to perform certain maintenance functions – as well as the updating of your website’s content yourself – CharlesWorks can make it possible for you to accomplish these on your own.

We can even provide personalized training for you at our standard webwork pricing rate. Bear in mind that when we are training you, we are not working performing webwork on other websites that is billable time. Also bear in mind that we can’t make you into an expert web developer in an hour or two. But you can certainly learn how to manage your site and save development and maintenance dollars – especially if you do it regularly. There is a learning curve and we’ve seen many who just don’t get in to the WordPress dashboard enough to get good at it.

WordPress Updates

One of the questions we are often asked is how to get in the WordPress dashboard (where you end up when you first log into the back end of the WordPress site) to even know whether there are updates needing to be done. If you have forgotten how to get in the dashboard, please check out our Basic WordPress Login Instructions first.

Once logged into te Dashboard, mousing over the word Dashboard will display Home and Updates in the relatively up to date versions of WordPress. Usually, if there are theme, plugin or WordPress core updates needed, there will usually be an indication of the cumulative number of them there, Clicking on Updates will bring you to the relatively self-explanatory updates dashboard page.

A WordPress site may have both active and inactive plugins and themes. ALL of the site’s plugins, its themes, and its WordPress core itself should be kept up to date. Each can present website security issues as hacker entry points are discovered. Therefore, all updatable plugins, themes and the core should be kept updated.

Removing unused themes or plugins is also the best security policy as well. Such unused items use up your website’s hosting space, cause backups to take longer, and still present security risks simply being there. However, be careful when removing themes to not remove the parent theme if you are using a child theme. And WordPress likes to have one of its basic themes present in case of an issue with the current parent theme.

To see the state of the site there is a built in function called Site Health. You can see that in the WordPress dashboard by navigating to Options > Site Health. If you have inactive themes or plugins, the WordPress Site Health page will tell you so.

When to Update

Most of the time, people go into the WordPress Dashboard because they wanted to make a content change to their site. Then when logged into the Dashboard they notice the updates. So, hopefully you understand now to just update everything that needs updating. This will greatly reduce your chances of getting hacked.

Another important thing to understand that I highly recommend is that you perform the updates FIRST. Do your updating BEFORE you start making any modifications or changes to the site.

The safest way is to do updates is individually (meaning one plugin or theme at a time). It can reduce troubleshooting time to perform the update on each item needing an update one at a time as opposed to updating several all at once if several need updating. That way, if something goes wrong (which is actually extremely rare) and the site goes away or doesn’t seem to work properly and needs to be restored, you will have a better idea of (and can just tell us) what you think blew it up so we can restore it to its working state before you started doing updates. Plus, you won’t have lost any of webwork this way.

As a side note, you must always bear in mind that many thousands of developers work on integrating plugins and themes with the WordPress core. Plugins and themes have to play well not only with WordPress but with each other. In those rare instances where an update caused an issue, in some cases I was able to get updates installed by changing the order in which I applied them. It doesn’t always work, but worth the security peace of mind by trying – especially if you have a backup of the site.

Once your updates are all installed and the site appears to be working you can proceed to make the edits or changes you intended to.

Closing

While it seems like a lot of steps in this article, the entire process of updating your site really takes little time to accomplish. Believe me when I tell you that you want to avoid having to recover or clean up a hacked site – and updating is great preventative maintenance!

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