Having and maintaining a WordPress site means that you will need to check periodically to see if you WordPress software and plugins are up to date. Running outdated versions of WordPress or plugins can pose possible compatibility and/or security issues for your site. So it’s always a good idea to update your version of WordPress and your plugins when updates become available.
Update WordPress automatically
WordPress is exciting software to use, because it is being updated and improved all the time. However, as a result, occasionally having to upgrade your WordPress version will be something you’ll need to get used to as the owner of a self-hosted WordPress blog.
First, before you upgrade your installation, you should always get a full backup of your site’s files and database, just in case anything goes wrong. We have a great backup guide that explains how to do all of that. Once you’ve backed up your site, then you’re ready to upgrade WordPress.
How will I know if there is a new version available?
Your WordPress admin area will display a small notice in the top of your screen when there is an upgrade ready.
How to upgrade automatically
After you’ve backed up your site, first try to use WordPress’ built-in automatic upgrader by going to “Dashboard” => “Updates”. Follow the on-screen instructions, and you should be updated within 2 minutes.
Can’t upgrade automatically?
If your automatic upgrade fails for some reason, then you’ll have to upgrade your installation manually. See the section below for instructions on how to do that.
Update WordPress manually
This section of the guide explains how to do a manual upgrade of WordPress. A manual upgrade may be necessary if the automatic upgrade option described above doesn’t work for you.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing the following steps on your own, and would rather just have someone else do the upgrade for you, we recommend contacting a company called NetCrafted. When you contact them, let them know we sent you. They do great work for a reasonable fee.
Step 1: Backup your Site
The first step in manually upgrading your site is to make a complete backup first. It is also without a doubt the most important step. If you have a good backup, then you’re safe even if you totally mess things up. Do not skip this step, really. Backing up your site means making a copy of your site files AND backing up your database.
Step 2: Deactivate your Plugins
After you’ve backed up your blog, you’re next going to deactivate any active plugins you’re using.
To do this, just go to “Plugins” => “Installed” in your WP Admin area. Then, click on the “Active” link near the top of the page to view just your active plugins. Next, set the ‘bulk actions’ dropdown to “deactivate” and click apply. This will deactivate all of your currently running plugins, making your upgrade process easier.
Step 3: Delete old core WordPress files
This next section may seem scary or confusing, but if you read it through carefullyit’s actually pretty easy. And, since you backed up, you can always recover if you make a mistake. So relax!
The next step is to use an FTP program or your host’s File Manager application to delete most of your old WordPress core files. (A core file is everything WordPress uses to run itelf, except theme, plugin, and uploaded files.)
Using your FTP program/File Manager application, navigate to the folder where WordPress is installed and select the correct files to delete. This is almost always all of the files in your site’s installation folder EXCEPT for one special file and one whole folder. The file is called “wp-config.php” and the folder is called “wp-content“. DO NOT DELETE THOSE TWO THINGS. The former contains custom connection information from your blog files to your database, and the latter holds all your uploaded images.
Also, don’t delete any other folders or files that you have put into the WordPress installation folder that are not WordPress files or folders.
So, to review:
DO delete only two folders — “wp-admin” and “wp-includes”. DO NOT delete any other folders, especially “wp-content”.
DO delete all individual files that start with “wp-” EXCEPT “wp-config.php”. Also delete index.php, license.txt, and readme.html.
Step 4: Get the newest version of WordPress
The next step is to get the new WordPress core files to replace the ones you just deleted. To do that, go to the WordPress download page, and download the newest version of WordPress.
After you download, you’ll have a zipped file called “wordpress.zip“. Unzip that file (it might already be unzipped if you use Safari on a Mac) and you’ll have a folder called “wordpress“.
Step 5: Dummy-proof yourself
Once you’ve got your new zipped file with the latest version of WordPress, unzip it and dig around inside it until you find the “wp-content” folder. Since we left our copy of this on the server in step 3, we want to delete this folder so that we don’t upload and accidentally overwrite our themes, plugins, and uploaded pictures. Delete that folder.
Step 6: Upload the new core files
Next, we’re going to use our FTP program/File Manager Application to upload the new version to our server. To do this, grab all the file and folders INSIDE the unzipped WordPress folder (which now should be missing the “wp-content” folder) and upload them into the main directory where your site lives on your server.
DO NOT upload the whole folder you downloaded from WordPress, called “wordpress” as a unit. You want to upload the files inside of that folder into the same directory where you just deleted your core files. Uploading can take a as much as 10-15 minutes, so be patient. There are lots of little files to upload.
Step 7: Upgrade your database
Most, but not all, WordPress upgrades also do a little tweaking of your database. To upgrade your database, all you have to do is try to login to your site’s admin area after completing steps 1-6. If a database upgrade is required, you will be prompted to click a link saying “Upgrade WordPress Database”. Go ahead and click to let it upgrade, safe in the confidence that even if something went terribly wrong, you have already backed up your database.
When it finishes, you’re all set, except for one last step:
Step 8: Reactivate Plugins
This is basically just step 2 in reverse. Just go to “Plugins” => “Installed”, and reactivate the plugins you were using previously.
Step 9: Celebrate
You’ve done it! You’ve backed up your blog and successfully upgraded our WordPress installation manually!
Whenever one or more of your WordPress plugins is in need of an update, it will be indicated by a little red bubble next to the “Plugins” option in the WordPress admin sidebar.
To update the plugins, go to the “Plugins” => “Installed” area and click the “Update available” link at the top of the screen. Then, check the select all box, and choose Update from the Bulk Actions dropdown. Click the “Apply” button, and then all of the plugins should begin to update automatically.
Once they are done updating, that’s it, you’re done!