It’s a question I get from clients all the time, and it’s a legitimate one. Most of the time, they want to avoid breaking things. We’ve all been there.
I used to answer this by saying, “yes, you should”. Now I say, “yes, but it depends”. Depends on what? On whether or not you have a backups solution in place just in case that one-click update goes all wrong.
When it comes to most of the things on your computer that you update, be it new versions of Safari, or Mac OS, or even your iPhone (can you tell I’m an iJunkie?), all the software for those applications are the most part self-contained and built from software that came from an agreed upon code of standards. This means that those updates have a much more likely chance of going smoothly. With WordPress, the core is built and maintained by a group of brilliant minds, the theme is built by another author, and the plugins are most likely built by someone else. All these different sources have their own methods for creating code that “works”. The problem is they may work in different ways, and this is where the clash happens.
Installing a new version of WordPress may cause a plugin to break (to stop running normally). It could even cause your layout to look funky if the code is dated enough. What do you do when this happens? You can’t go backwards — you’ve just overwritten the old with the new. That is, unless you’ve incorporated a backups solution.
Turn Back Time with Backups
If you realize something is amiss with your newly updated plugin or website, and you have backups, it’s usually a quick process to revert back. We highly recommend using VaultPress for your backup solution. They have a number of great options ranging from daily to realtime backups for fairly cheap. They’re probably the best when it comes to backups for WordPress.
Once you’ve reverted to the backup, you can do a few things to handle a faulty plugin or theme:
- Wait for the faulty plugin or theme to come out with a compatible update before updating WordPress.
- Disable the plugin or find a new one.
Again, if your plugin is incompatible with a new version of WordPress, it’s a good indicator that you should get rid of it, since this means it’s using very old code that WordPress no longer supports. WordPress gives more than adequate notice before totally dropping support for any functionality, so it’s logical to assume this plugin’s author doesn’t keep the code remotely up to date — a security threat for you.
Theme updates tend to be released much less frequently. The idea behind them is more of an “as-is” item, while with a plugin its expected to see feature enhancements and improvements. Still, this is reason to suspect possible security threats from old code. It’s more likely that you’ll need a developer to update any theme incompatibilities.
Overall, if you have backups, go ahead and update. If you don’t, you will be taking a small risk. You can always have your site updates done professionally. It’s a process where we back up your site before updating, and any minor inconsistencies will included in the service. Cheaper than backups, but ideally, it should not be your first option.