Update your WordPress plugins safely

Why all the updating?

You get all motivated and sign into the admin area of your WordPress website. It’s been a while, somehow you are always busy and although you know, the website really needs updating, even if you just update your portfolio and change some images, you never get round to doing it.

But today is the day! You’re in. ‘Welcome to WordPress’

Immediately you are asked whether you enjoy using that plugin, and of course there are notifications and the dreaded little bubble that tells you there are important updates available, sometimes you might even have to update the WordPress system itself.

What do you do now? Here is a safe way of updating your plugins and system, that won’t end up in tears.

1: Before updating

make sure you have a backup plugin installed, such as BackWPup. This is the one I mostly use, but there are many others out there. Get familiar with your back up plugin and go through all the settings. Most of them ask you where any backups should be saved to, some of them will also offer to email you the backup, but be careful these files are large.

So now you have run your backup (I would always include the WP database and plugins in the backup as well), you can start updating your plugins and system files.

2: Updating

I always update the plugins one by one and check the site after every update. That way, if one of the plugins causes a problem, you know immediately which one.

If the update seems to hang and the website suddenly has the maintenance message, then there was a hiccup somewhere. If you have access to your host or your ftp this is an easy fix. Simply find the .maintenance file in your root folder, delete it and everything goes back to normal.

Some plugins might not be able to update, because you got the plugin together with your theme, and the theme developers have not released their new version yet. If that is the case, don’t worry.

3: Errors

Sometimes you will get a string of code on your web pages after updating a plugin, this is most likely a php error, caused by a new bit of coding in the updated plugin. Your website might not be running on the latest version of php, and it might be time to update this as well. Some WordPress sites have php managers, such as SGOptimize, installed. This will test all your plugins and theme before updating the php version to check they are safe, or you can talk to your host provider or web developer to be safe.

Remember you can always re-instate your backed up version of the site, either through your plugin, or your host. I find the function on my host’s c-panel much easier than the plugin version. A good host should also be able to do this for you, FOC.

4: Updating your theme

If you are running a theme that has been customized in any way, and most themes will have, at least with your brand’s logo, colours and fonts, you are probably running a child theme. (more on this in a different blog post soon)

If you can see a child theme on your themes page, then you are pretty safe to go for the update (as long as you have made that backup). The child theme holds all the customization that have been made, but the main theme, the one you are about to update, holds all the coding and functions.

If you don’t have a child theme, it may be because your theme doesn’t support this, make the backup, click update and 90% of the time it will be fine.

Some themes have plugins, such as core functions, make sure you update these before updating the theme itself.

5: Updating WordPress

This is a big one, and the scariest of them all. Your host might do this for you, and your site might be set up to update WordPress automatically. I would turn this function off, if you can. This way at least you can control and monitor system updates, rather than finding a nasty surprise when checking your site.

To update WordPress go through the same motions as above, make sure all plugins and themes are updated first, then go for it.

Sometimes you will find that theme and plugin developers are a bit behind and so there might be a flurry of updates a few weeks after a new WordPress version has been released. Keep an eye on this, to ensure the correct functioning of your site.


It’s always a bit nerve-racking to press any update button, but as long as you have made a backup, or you are certain that your host takes daily backups, you can be sure to revert to a previous version if something goes wrong.


So now you’ve got the housekeeping done, have fun doing the more creative bits on your website.