The WordPress Updates screen
To get to the WordPress Updates screen, navigate to the “dashboard” section of the WordPress administration menu and press enter on “Updates”. The first heading on this screen is WordPress updates. navigate to that, because once you’ve landed on this screen, the administration menu won’t be important again until you’re done updating.
Last checked on
WordPress will let you know when it last checked for updates. There are two occasions when it will do this: when you first load this screen, and, in the background, twice a day.
After WordPress tells you the last time it checked for updates, you have the opportunity to manually check again. Most of the time, this isn’t necessary, but if you have a lot of themes and plugins installed, or you’re running a huge multisite network, or you haven’t made it a point to update in a long time, you may need to do this. Either way, checking again won’t hurt.
If you haven’t updated in a while, don’t feel bad
While I’m on the subject of site owners who haven’t updated in a while, I want to pause to let you know that you shouldn’t feel bad for doing this. At least not in the sense that you might be the only one putting off updating. Roughly thirty-six percent of sites running WordPress are running the latest version as of this writing. The statistics for popular plugins are worse. Sites running the latest version of Jetpack come in at almost forty percent of the total.
I’m by no means saying that this is a good thing. I am saying that you shouldn’t beat yourself up necessarily because you’re not updating regularly. I will caution, however, that you should make this a regular practice. It’s part of running any website, (powered by WordPress or not), and out-of-date themes and plugins account for just over fifty percent of hacked WordPress sites.
So if you’ve been putting off your WordPress updates, don’t beat yourself up for doing that. Start updating instead.
Getting back to the technical part of the update process, the next thing you’ll see, wrapped in a level-two heading, is a very short status report on your current version of WordPress. WordPress will either tell you you have the latest version installed, or that there is a new version available. Under this heading, wrapped in a list element, you have two options depending on whether or not you have the latest version already installed, or need to install it.
If you have the latest version installed, you have the opportunity to redownload WordPress either automatically or manually. You can either press the “Redownload WordPress” button, or press enter on the link to download the latest zip. If you don’t have the latest version installed, the “Redownload WordPress” button is instead a “Download now” button, and doesn’t say anything about the version number.
The next section on this screen is the “Plugins” section. It contains two “Update plugins” buttons, and a table that contains a checkbox for each plugin that has an update, as well as a “select all” checkbox. Although you can check the “select all” box and update all plugins at once, best practice is to update them one at a time. this is so that, if anything goes wrong during the update process, you can remove the plugin that caused the problem and continue updating the rest. While WordPress will do its best to make sure that a broken plugin doesn’t break your site by deactivating it when it fails, it’s best to get in the habit of updating plugins one at a time, because you’ll definitely want to do this for themes.
Once you start the update process, WordPress will output status messages within a frame. It will tell you that the update process is starting, and, if you haven’t activated the “show details” link, will give you an overview of how things are going: either the update succeeds or fails.
First, WordPress will enable maintenance mode. Maintenance Mode is a WordPress core feature that suspends access and functions during updates and installations. These updates require some backend processes to stop for a short period of time (usually seconds), so the first thing WordPress does when starting the update process is put your site in maintenance mode by creating a file, .maintenance, to alert front end users and administrators who are not already logged into the install that updates are happening. During the WordPress update process, if everything goes smoothly, the file is deleted and the site goes back to normal.
The next part of the status message lets you know which plugin is being updated, which number it is among the plugins that are being updated, and whether or not the update was successful. Once the update is complete, you’ll see a message letting you know the update completed successfully, and you’ll then be presented with a choice: Go to the “plugins” section of your administration screens or return to the WordPress updates screen and continue installing updates.
I usually never go to the “Plugins” screen when I’m updating because there are almost always more updates to install. So I’ll return to the WordPress updates screen instead. But nothing’s wrong with going to the plugins screen if you want to check on things.
A detailed look at a plugin update
If you activate the “Show Details” link within this frame, you’ll see how a plugin update happens. First, WordPress downloads the latest zipped copy of the plugin from the plugins repository. It then unpacks the update and installs the latest version. Next, it removes the old version of the plugin, and, if everything completes successfully, it finally lets you know the update completed successfully and gives you the choice to go to the “Plugins” screen or to return to the WordPress updates screen.
Rinse and repeat
To update the rest of the plugins you have installed, simply repeat these steps. Make sure to update all the plugins you have installed, not just the active ones. Better yet, delete the plugins you’re not using. By doing this, you can ensure that you have less updates to install, and you decrease the risk of your site being hacked.
Updating themes works pretty much the same way updating plugins does, complete with the same section layout, information within a frame, maintenance mode, ETC. When you’re updating your themes, run each update one at a time. For inactive themes you can get away with running them all at once, but for the active theme, if something goes wrong with the update, you will bring upon yourself the”White Screen of Death”. This is fixable, but if you update all your themes at once, and if you have a lot of them installed, (yes, it happens), and further if you don’t remember which theme you have active, finding the problem theme can become a real chore.
In this tutorial, I’ve shown you around the WordPress Updates screen, and I’ve walked you through the WordPress updates process. By following this tutorial step by step, keeping your WordPress site up-to-date should be a more familiar process. The next time you need to update WordPress and your plugins and themes, feel free to have this handy for reference.