WordPress 3.1 just came out. It adds some cool new features. As a general consideration many updates patch newly discovered security holes, so you’ll probably want to apply any new update with a critical security fix as soon as possible. The wonderful thing about a correctly configured WordPress install is that the upgrade can be achieved with the click of a button. But don’t click just yet! This post is written about WordPress, but the same principles apply to most content management systems.
WordPress makes the upgrade process as easy as possible for users, but the upgrade can go wrong. The main reason for upgrade problems is third party plugins.
They’ll be on the cutting edge of WordPress development, updating and testing their plugins with the WordPress release candidate (the version of WordPress that becomes the release version once testing has revealed all the critical bugs). This means that their plugin has been properly tested with the newest version of WordPress before it is released to the public.
Of course, we live in the real world. Some developers have a life. Some developers move onto other things, This means that a plugin may not be updated in time for a new release of WordPress. Much of the time this isn’t a problem, the plugin will continue to work just fine. Sometimes, however, the new version of WordPress will have changes that “break” the plugin.
A broken plugin may not be immediately obvious, or it may cause your website to look or behave strangely, or it may take down your entire website. It’s pretty trivial to neutralise the plugin – but what if the plugin performs some critical function on your website? Well, you roll back to the old version of WordPress and carry on. But wait – how do you rollback?
It turns out that downgrading WordPress is not a trivial operation. Your best bet is to backup your WordPress installation before you upgrade. This way, you can restore the site from a backup if the upgrade tanks and takes your website down. All of a sudden, the upgrade process is getting complex. But hey, this is your website – it pays to be a little paranoid.
Back It Up
A WordPress installation has a number of discrete components:
- The database that stores your pages and posts
- The core wordpress program and resource files that run wordpress
- Your uploaded media (pictures, movies, music, documents)
- Miscellaneous – e.g. language files, custom hacks to the WordPress core files, etc.
The database can be backed up with third party tools, or you can set up a plugin which will backup the database weekly and email the backup to you. The easiest way to backup the files is just to copy the entire wordpress installation via FTP to your local PC. It will be about 8 Mb for the core wordpress files plus whatever media files and plugins you’ve installed. Start the operation and forget about it – it should complete in about 10 minutes.
Another thing you’ll want to do before upgrading is to audit your collection of plugins and ensure that they all work in the new version of WordPress. Compile a list of your Plugins from the Plugins main screen. Then go to Plugins->Add New and search for each one. Find your plugin in the search results screen and click on details. Here you will see what version of WordPress the plugin is compatible with. Repeat this step for all of your plugins, and if any of the critical plugins is not yet compatible, you might want to defer your WordPress upgrade.
If there are no plugin compatibility issues, you can go about the upgrade, safe in the knowledge that you have a complete point-in-time backup if something goes horribly wrong. In the name of paranoia, we suggest that you disable all plugins before upgrading, and re-enable them one by one post-upgrade. This way if one of them misbehaves post-upgrade, you’ll be able to instantly identify the culprit.
So if you have a WordPress website, you’ll need to make some decisions:
- Do I update? (We strongly suggest you do for security reasons)
- Do I risk just clicking “Upgrade” and hope for the best? (If you’ve only got a few common plugins, you’ll probably have no trouble)
- Can I manage this whole backup business myself? (We’ll be happy to train you to do this, or to handle it for you, if you wish)