You’ve finished your WordPress website (or your webdev has handed it over to you) so now you can get on with writing and sharing your blog posts and updating the content now and again and that’s it, right?
Unfortunately, as with all your tech, a WordPress website is just like any other and regular maintenance is needed to keep it all running smoothly and, importantly, securely too.
But where to start?
What do I need to update?
Generally there are three main areas of your site that need to be kept up-to-date. These are:
- The WordPress “core”
- Your theme
- Plugins that are used on your site
Those are the three building blocks, if you like, of your site. In order for the site to function all three need to be kept in sync, which is generally why there are always updates.
In addition, very occasionally there is the need to update the PHP version the site run on. This is basically the programming language that WordPress uses to “talk” to the database that stores all the content for your site. As with any language, it evolves, so sometimes changes are needed in order to keep everything in sync.
None of these jobs is beyond the abilities of all but the biggest technophobe but, because sometimes things go wrong there are “safe” and “risky” ways to go about it.
So, now you now what you need to update, let’s find out why it’s necessary – and get a taste of what can go wrong.
Why are updates needed?
One of the main reasons for updates is to fix security flaws. These are usually issues that don’t affect the performance of your site (as it in it still works) but plugs any gaps – “vulnerabilities” – that would enable a hacker to access your site. If you don’t want to risk losing your site, these updates are on the critical list!
But many updates are a result of improvements to the software, trying to reduce “bloat” (which is tech talk for tidying up the code) or implement new features.
As an example, WordPress recently issued a major update, going from version 5.4.x to 5.5.0. In software terms a major update is a Big Deal, which is why there was a Mexican wave of screams on developer forums, because the update changed something quite significant in the way WordPress works and consequently loads of plugins stopped working! Obviously then the knock-on of this is that lots of plugin updates were rolled out. Actually, these are still coming out, because as the updates are released new bugs are found (they had to react fast to try and fit in with WP 5.0.x, which is never a good place for a software developer to be!)
Likewise the changes impacted themes, which are built around the WordPress “core” software. Furthermore, some themes are designed and tested to work with certain plugins, so you can see how the whole things is interconnected and faults in one will impact another.
How do I know what needs to be updated?
The caveat with all this is that you have to have Admin level access to be able to keep on top of this, so if you have an account you use for site updates and another for full access to the Dashboard, you need to login as an Admin from time-to-time to see whether there’s anything do.
Likewise, if you don’t have an admin level account, you should (must) ask the person who created your site to either create one for you OR to create a new account for you. As the owner of the site, you really should have full access to it.
Once you’re logged in as an Admin you can check for updates and start to apply them. You can find the list of everything that needs updating in the Updates list, under Dashboard.
I don’t know where to start. What’s next?
There’s no magic to updating a WordPress site and – usually – it’s fairly straight forward. As with anything tech-related, before making any changes you should make sure you have a full backup. There are various ways to do this, and I’ll explain one or two in future posts.
When was the last time you updated your site? Did you run into any issues with the major WordPress update that was rolled out?
In my next post I’ll describe how to check your site so you can see whether updates are needed. Then we’ll look at doing the updates themselves.