Close this search box.

How to Update WordPress Safely

All new site owners should know how to update WordPress safely. But it’s a maintenance step that worries a lot of novice webmasters as they’re afraid to break something. Still, most know that updated software is critical to keep a site secure and functional.

This guide walks you through the procedure in easy-to-follow steps.

Why WordPress Updates Are So Critical

Self-hosting WordPress has some critics despite its global popularity. You may have read that the platform is a magnet for hackers and suffers from security loopholes and bugs. These criticisms are only accurate to a degree and only tell half the story.

An estimated 85% of all hacked WP sites are a result of the following:

  1. Running old, outdated versions of WordPress
  2. Outdated plugins
  3. Outdated themes

The remaining 15% is down to an unreliable web host, bugs, and other problems.

It’s quite straightforward to keep a WordPress website safe, secure, and functional. You simply need to keep all the software updated, and host your files with a reputable hosting company.

Minor Vs. Major WordPress Updates

Volunteer developers from all around the world continue to maintain WordPress’s core files. They add exciting new features, bug fixes, and patches for security weaknesses. WordPress testers then check the modifications for accuracy before rolling out the update. Minor tweaks happen automatically, but webmasters are responsible for updating major releases.

Consider a WordPress managed hosting account if you don’t want the hassle of manual maintenance.

Managed WordPress hosting?

Managed WordPress hosting plans means the provider handles major updates. These services are dedicated to WordPress customers and offer more than just software updates.

Other areas of site maintenance WordPress managed hosting look after are:

  • No more backend headaches for site owners
  • WP installation and site migration
  • Website security, including malware scanning
  • Core WordPress updates
  • Guaranteed site speed and uptime
  • Scalability
  • Regular backups, typically daily
  • Improved user experience

WordPress-specific hosting costs more than the shared plans, and they’re not all equal. Always check that the plan offers what you need before committing.

New Version Email Notifications

Many WordPress sites get out of date by accident. For example, when the site’s admin doesn’t log in for a while. Outdated sites soon become hacker magnets.

The way around this is to have WordPress send you email notifications each time there’s a new release. You can use a WP plugin for this, like the WP Updates Notifier. These plugins can also send auto-reminders when themes and plugins have updates.

How to Run a Major WordPress Update

Millions of WordPress users still opt for cheaper, shared hosting plans. Running a major update is not a difficult or tricky process if you follow the simple steps below.

There are three parts to updating WordPress to the latest version:

  1. First, back up the entire site
  2. Run the Update
  3. Post update checks

The easiest part of all is running the update. The before and after procedures are also straightforward when you view them as a simple box-ticking exercise.

#1 Back up the entire site

WARNING! Always back up critical files before you update to the latest version of WordPress (see next section). If you don’t have time, then postpone the update until you do. Some users install plugins that automatically back the site up, and that’s a good thing. But you can never be too careful. Plus, you need the backup to be recent, as in the moment before the update.

A complete WP backup includes the following:

  • Your WordPress database
  • Every core WP file under the root directory aka the public.html folder
  • All media files and image uploads
  • All themes, plugins, PHP scripts, JavaScript’s, and other code files

Responsible site owners tend to keep three copies of their WP backups in different locations.

The backup protects you against a failed update. If there’s a problem—and you don’t have a recent backup—you won’t be able to restore the site to how it was prior to the update. You can use an older backup, but you will lose any web content between that and the last update.

How to back up WordPress?

Most decent hosting providers offer tools to back up websites. Plugins can also do the job for you. BackupBuddy is an excellent example, though there are others. Another way is to download the entire from the server to your local computer using FTP.  However, your database won't be in the folder with all the WordPress files, so you will need to use the phpAdmin tool to make a backup of the database as well, and download it to your computer. That option may take a while, depending on the size of the website.

#2 Run the update

You’re ready to run the update once the entire site has been successfully backed up. The easiest approach is to use the WordPress 1-click update button.

Login to your Dashboard and click the Updates link from the side menu.

Point to note: Software updates and procedures may change with versions. Be sure to read any on-screen instructions or tips about the update before proceeding (see yellow highlights below).

Only click the Update Now button after you’ve backed up the entire site (see previous section).

That’s all there is to it. WP fetches and installs the latest version for you. You will see a progress update on the screen. It will tell you once the update has been successfully installed. Likewise, this screen also notifies you with details if there were any problems running the update.

Note: WordPress goes into maintenance mode during an update, but it doesn’t affect the front-end. However, you can’t install, apply, or save changes to themes or plugins until it’s done.

A major update doesn’t usually take long. Once it’s complete, you’re taken to the WordPress Welcome Screen where you can read about ‘What’s New in WordPress Version X’

Our WordPress Updates screen now looks like this:

Post update checks

Most WordPress websites function perfectly well after a major new release. However, there’s always the potential for problems, though serious issues are rare. Navigate around—and interact with—your site after an update to check that it looks and functions normally.

Sometimes, a theme or plugin may be incompatible with the new version of WordPress. Plugins—especially neglected ones—are more likely to cause issues than templates. Most theme and plugin creators update their products around the same time as a new release.

Visit the themes and plugins screens in Dashboard if something doesn’t work or display properly.

Outdated plugins have highlighted text and include a link to update.

This Any outdated themes show a simple message like this one:

How to fix plugin and themes issues after an update

If a plugin causes issues—and there’s no new version available—then disable it until there is. Alternatively, look for a replacement that’s compatible with the latest WP release. If a regular (not custom) WP theme is the problem, the team will be quick to push out another update or patch to fix it. Until then, revert to a temporary compatible theme to keep the site live.

A custom theme may need a manual fix if it breaks after a major WP release. Updating the code shouldn’t take long for a qualified developer, especially if they’re the one who built it.

How to fix WP technical errors after an update

Visit the Common WordPress Errors page for support if your site displays technical errors after an update. It can tell you what the errors mean and how to fix them.

You will need to restore your broken site to the previous version if you can’t fix it. That’s why the pre-update backup is so critical. You can then seek expert guidance before you try again.

Remember, serious issues after WordPress core updates are rare. Please don’t let “potential” issues put you off updating.

Want to Learn WordPress?

WordPress is an amazing platform for building any type of website.   It’s used by large corporations and small mom & pop sites.

You may also like


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hello, I'm
Andy Williams!

You can get up to 90% off my Online Courses for webmasters, marketers & affiliates (plus a free course on Gutenberg).

Create your own WordPress Theme

It's built in to WordPress using Gutenberg, and my new course shows you how.