When it comes to WordPress, I generally see two different kinds of site owners…
- The ones that never (ever) update their site. We’re not talking about updates like posts or pages, we’re talking about the updates to WordPress core, Themes and Plugins. I’ve logged into existing sites (not the ones I manage) that are so horribly out of date I’m afraid to touch them. Just back away slowly mike…
- And then there’s the sites where as soon as that little update bubble pops up, the site owners are click click clicking.
NOTE: If you are one of my “Managed” clients most everything in this post is of no worry to you.
Yeah, it’s in two places. On the sidebar and in the top bar of your dashboard.
Clicking on that will show you what updates you might have currently available.
These are going to include the core files of WordPress, your Theme files, or any of your Plugin files.
These are all snippets of code that when combined, add to the overall body of code that makes up your site.
WordPress makes it dead simple to update these too. All it takes is a few clicks and the updates magically happen. Until they don’t.
While Microsoft has the “Blue Screen of Death” that happens when things go bad, WordPress has it’s own version aptly called the “White Screen of Death” (original, eh?). This often happens while updating your site which is why everyone will tell you to first back up your entire website before you do anything else.
It’s easy to back up your site content (posts , pages and images) and a little harder to back up your existing core, theme and plugin files. Harder still, you’ll need to back up your database – and that might be the most important part.
Everything backed up? Click away!
But Why you ask?
Why do issues happen? Why are there updates to begin with? I was happy with my site.
Let’s answer that and see if this all makes more sense to you!
Updates (to the core, theme and plugins) come in two different flavors.
The “New Features” Updates: These are when the developer creates new bells and whistles – new cool things that the core, theme or plugin can do. Just update this bit of code and see the new magic happen. I’ve written extensively about a new feature coming in WordPress core called Gutenberg. That’s going to be a really cool feature once everybody get’s used to it. It’s also going to break a whole bunch of websites too. I’ll explain below.
The “Security / Patch” Update: I’ve said before that WordPress is Secure… until it isn’t. What I mean by that is that the bad guys are aways looking to break into your site. WordPress does a pretty good job of keeping them out if it’s fresh and properly set up. When there is a hole, the community is pretty good and fixing how the rats got in and making sure they don’t do that again. Until the next time.
You see, technology is constantly changing. New things are always being introduced. Those “shiny new features” that update just added… or that new plugin that everyone ‘has‘ to have might be cool but it might also be something that the bad guys can compromise. And that’s the reason for Security based updates to happen.
BUT WHY? IT’S ALL WORDPRESS – WHY DOES IT BREAK MY SITE?
One of the best things about WordPress is that it is open source. Anyone can take anything that’s been created, and make something that adds to it or make it better. That’s a very good thing.
Looking at the structure of it all. We have the WordPress Team (all volunteers) who create what is called the “core” files. Next we have a million theme developers who take the core files and add their own code to the pile. The Theme files create the general look and feel of your site. Next we have the gaggle of plugin developers that throw a bunch of code on to your site. The plugins might add features not included in the core or theme files. Most sites run 10 or so plugins but I have some sites that are running 20+ plugins.
Here’s why that update broke your site.
If everything is going well, there’s no conflicts and your site is beautiful. Yay! 🙂
But… And here’s where everything might have gone wrong. With all the different versions of WordPress core out there, and all of the amazing themes , and all the really crappily coded themes, and the nearly infinite number of plugins out there… There’s no way anyone could possibly test their code with all the possible combination of options available to site owners.
And that’s all you need. Have just one line of code that conflicts with another line of code and you have a WSOD on your hands. That’s how it all goes to hell.
SO, WHAT DO I DO?
- Always completely back up your site before doing anything. That’s the core files, the database, the theme and the plugins. Of course you’ll want to store them somewhere safe and away from your site should the unthinkable happen.
- If it’s a Security style update – update your site to keep the bad guys out. Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back for making the internet a better place.
- If it’s a Feature style of update – if you are not sure, what harm would their be in waiting? So you don’t get the coolest new thing today? I’ve seen it happen before where the new features break a whole lot of sites out there. When there’s a pattern and number of similar issues, the developers realize it (after the fact) and usually quickly issue yet another update that doesn’t break the same sites. Waiting a bit on some of these might make a huge difference – let other people be the guinea pig, right?
Remember: If I am managing your site you have nothing to worry about. I’ve backed up everything including your database and stored it safely way in an Amazon S3 server for safe keeping.