WordPress is by far the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world. Free to install, easy to use and with a huge array of themes and plugins, it’s the first port of call for most businesses and individuals looking to set up a website. And in light of Google’s recent algorithm update, nicknamed ‘Mobilegeddon’, which prioritises mobile-friendly websites in the search engine rankings, WordPress’s dominance is likely to snowball even more quickly.
I’m a big fan of WordPress myself and have been using it on all my websites, and those of my clients, for several years. Like any technology, however, it isn’t without its faults, and for me one of the mild annoyances of WordPress is the number of updates – not just to WordPress itself, but also to the third-party plug-ins and themes that are available.
Of course, updates in general are a good thing – developers need to constantly improve their products’ functionality and reliability, and as the world’s most popular CMS, it is inevitable that WordPress websites are going to come under constant attack from hackers. If your website contains data relating to your company and customers, the prospect of a hacker or bot compromising your site is very scary, so it’s reassuring to receive regular security updates.
But while WordPress’s minor core updates happen automatically as standard, it’s cumbersome having to update plugins every few days, especially if you run several sites that each run numerous plugins – and what happens if you’re on holiday when a certain important update notification hits your inbox? In this modern age where we like to automate processes as often as possible, wouldn’t it be great if WordPress could auto-update all the third-party themes and plugins too? I suspect that one day WordPress will provide such a function, but until then help is thankfully at hand in the form of third-party plugins, ironically enough.
As I mentioned earlier, some updates are already automated by WordPress. When version 3.7 was released in 2013, WordPress introduced automatic minor core updates. This means that maintenance and security updates should be installing on your site automatically. However, for a multitude of reasons, such as a permissions issue on the server or a theme wp-config file overriding automatic update, this function may not be working for you; if you have any doubts, I recommend downloading the background update tester plugin which will run a diagnostics test and highlight any issues.
Once you’ve checked that your minor core updates are happening automatically, you may want to automate major core updates as well. To do this, simply install a third-party plugin such as WP Updates Settings, activate it and check the box marked ‘major core updates’ under Settings.
Updating WordPress themes and plugins
Many WordPress site owners use WordPress themes, of which there are thousands available. They are produced by different companies and individuals and vary in quality and price (with many being free), but whichever one you’ve installed, it’s essential that you keep them updated, as any outdated code in themes will leave your site vulnerable to attack. The same goes for any plugins that you’ve installed. Some theme developers provide plugins that automate their updates, but you can also achieve this with the aforementioned WP Updates Settings plugin. In the plugin’s settings, tick the boxes marked Plugin updates and Theme updates.
An important point to remember here is that any modifications you have made to your theme will be lost when you update it, unless you’re using a child theme (which you should be using anyway).
By following the above instructions, you will be able to streamline updates to your website(s) considerably, and you’ll be safe in the knowledge that your site is as secure as possible when you’re away from the computer for any length of time. The one thing to bear in mind is that updated plugins can, in rare cases, cause conflicts with other plugins or themes, so you check your website regularly and make sure everything looks right and functions as it should.