How to Manually or Automatically Update WordPress Plugins

How to Safely Update Your WordPress Plugins (Manually or Automatically)

Final: How to Update a WordPress Plugin

One of the things that makes WordPress so popular is its ease of use and flexibility. Thanks to the wide range of plugins available, WordPress users can extend the functionality of their site to suit their specific needs.

However, as with any software, it’s important to keep your WordPress plugins up to date. Outdated plugins can be a security risk and cause compatibility issues with other parts of your website.

In this article, we’ll explore why and when to update plugins, and we’ll take you through a step-by-step guide on how to safely update your WordPress plugins both manually and automatically.

*If you already have enough background knowledge about WordPress plugins, feel free to skip straight to the section on how to update plugins.


Key Takeaways

  1. Updating WordPress plugins enhances the security, compatibility and performance of your website.
  2. When not appropriately done, updating plugins can lead to broken sites, security vulnerabilities, and a slowed-down site.
  3. Before updating plugins, backup your site, check for compatibility, and deactivate older versions of the plugins.
  4. You can update plugins either manually or automatically.
  5. Automatic updates can be done using the built-in WordPress updater or a plugin like Jetpack.
  6. Manual updates can be done on the WordPress dashboard via SFTP/FTP or using WP-CLI.


What are Plugins?

Plugins are software programs that extend the functionality of your website. They can be used to add new features to WordPress, such as contact forms, galleries, and e-commerce shopping carts, or to modify existing ones.

There are thousands of WordPress plugins available, which can be installed directly from the WordPress plugin repository. Read more about what are WordPress plugins and how to manage them.


Finding and Installing Plugins

There are three main ways to find WordPress plugins.

  1. The WordPress plugin directory, accessible from within your WordPress admin panel.
  2. Third-party directories like CodeCanyon
  3. Search online using search engines like Google.

Once you find the plugin you want to install, you can do so directly from your WordPress admin panel by navigating to “Plugins>Add New” and then follow the instructions on the screen.

Sometimes, you may need to upload the plugin files to your server via SFTP before installing them. Read more about How to find (and install) WordPress Plugins.


Why WordPress Plugins Need to be Updated

If you’re a WordPress user, you’ve probably noticed that there are updates available for your plugins regularly. Here are the three main reasons why WordPress plugins need to be updated regularly:

  • Security: Security is always a top concern for website owners, as outdated software can make your site vulnerable to attack. Keeping your plugins up-to-date can help protect your site from potential security issues.
  • Performance: Outdated plugins can slow down your website and negatively impact your search engine rankings. Keeping your plugins updated can help ensure that your site runs smoothly and efficiently.
  • Compatibility: As WordPress is updated, older plugins may no longer be compatible with the latest version of WordPress. This can cause errors on your site and sometimes even prevent your site from loading. Updating your plugins can help avoid these compatibility issues.

Plugin Compatibility

Plugin compatibility is a critical issue to consider when updating your WordPress plugins. It’s important to ensure the plugins you’re using are compatible with each other.

This is because incompatible plugins can cause conflicts that result in errors, decreased performance, and even security vulnerabilities to your website.

  • Compatibility of new plugins

When you install a new plugin on your site, it’s important to check for compatibility with your existing plugins. Often, new plugins conflict with existing ones and cause errors or unexpected behavior on your site.

  • Compatibility of installed plugins

Like with new plugin installation, updates to existing plugins can sometimes cause conflict with other plugins or themes. If an updated plugin becomes incompatible with installed plugins, it can cause conflicts that result in errors, decreased performance, and even security vulnerabilities.


Why Updating Your Plugins Can Be Risky

While updating WordPress plugins is important for security purposes, it can be risky if not correctly done.

It’s, therefore, important to be aware of the risks involved before updating your plugins. Some of the risks involved include:

1. Broken site

One of the dangers of updating WordPress plugins is that it can break your website.

This can happen if a plugin developer releases an update that contains a bug.

Therefore, it’s important to always create a backup of your website before updating any plugins. You can quickly restore your website from the backup if something goes wrong.

2. Security vulnerabilities

Updating WordPress plugins can also introduce security vulnerabilities to your website. New plugin updates can contain security holes that hackers can exploit to gain access to your website.

To avoid this risk, only update plugins from reputable sources. This will help to ensure that the plugin updates are safe and won’t pose any security threats.

3. Slow down performance

Updating WordPress plugins can also lead to performance issues. New plugin updates can sometimes bloat your website and make it slow down.

Expert tip: The best way to avoid plugin incompatibilities and other risks involved is to test the new plugin on a staging site so that any compatibility issues won’t affect your live site.


How do you know when to update a WordPress plugin?

To know when to update a WordPress plugin, check the plugin page for the plugin you’re using. You’ll find the details of the latest version and a change log that lists all the changes made in each update.

If a new version is available with significant changes, you’ll need to download and install it on your site.

You can also check the back end of your site for updates; most WordPress plugins will notify you of any available updates.


What to Do Before Updating Your WordPress Plugins

As mentioned, updating a plugin can sometimes mess with your site if not done correctly.

Therefore there are a few prerequisite actions you need to take before updating:

  1. Backup: Make sure you have a backup of your website. This will allow you to restore your website if something goes wrong during the update process.
  2. Check for compatibility: Check the plugin developer’s website for compatibility with the latest version of WordPress. Some plugins may not be compatible with the latest version of WordPress, and may affect its functionality.
  3. Deactivate older versions: Deactivate and delete any old versions of the plugin that you are no longer using. This will help to keep your WordPress site clean and free of unnecessary files.
  4. Test plugin: If possible, test the plugin on a staging server before updating it on your live site. This will allow you to see if there are any problems with the plugin before making it live on your site.


How to Choose Between Automatic and Manual Updates

When deciding whether to use an automatic or manual update for your plugins, there are a few things to consider.

  1. How often do you want to update your plugins? A manual process may be sufficient if you only need to update them occasionally. However, an automatic process is more convenient if you update your plugins more frequently.
  2. Consider the size of your plugin collection. If you only have a few plugins, a manual update process may be manageable. However, with many plugins, an automatic process may be less time-consuming.
  3. Think about your level of comfort with technology. If you are comfortable using FTP and working with code, then a manual update process may suit you. However, if you prefer not to deal with code, an automatic process may be more suitable.


How to Properly Update WordPress Plugins

Updating WordPress plugins is a relatively simple process. Once you back up your website, check for plugin compatibility, and deactivate the older versions, you can easily update your plugins with less hassle.

You can either update your plugins manually or automatically.

How to Update WordPress Plugins Automatically

There are two main ways to update your plugins automatically:

  • Using the built-in WordPress updater
  • Using a plugin like Jetpack.

To update using the built-in WordPress updater:

  1. Log in to your WordPress site and go to the dashboard.
  2. Go to Plugins>Installed plugins and select Enable auto-updates against the plugins you want to update automatically.
    Enable plugin auto-update

Once you’ve done this, WordPress will automatically update any plugins that have new versions available.

To update using Jetpack:

  1. Install and activate the Jetpack plugin on your WordPress site.
    Install and activate Jetpack plugin
  1. After activating, go to the ‘Settings page and select ‘Security.’
  2. Scroll down to the ‘Site Stats’ section and check the box next to ‘Automatically update plugins.’

Jetpack will automatically update any plugins that have new versions available.

Plugins and themes not available in repositories

Updates will not be automatically installed if you’re using a plugin that’s not available in the repository.

Sometimes a plugin may not be available on directories because it’s not compatible with the newest version of WordPress or has not been approved for downloading (it doesn’t meet guidelines).

In such cases, you can search for the plugin from the developer’s directory and host it on your own server. That way, you can update the plugin whenever the developer releases a new version.

How to manually update a WordPress plugin in the dashboard

To manually update a plugin in the dashboard:

  1. Log into your WordPress dashboard and navigate to the “Updates” page.
  2. Select the plugins you want to update and click the “Update Plugins” button.
    Update plugins on dashboard
  3. You’ll also see a notification below every plugin that has a new version so you can update. Click the Update now button for the plugin to update.
    Plugins with new versions
  4. Once the update is complete, you will be prompted to activate the new version of the plugins.

How to manually update a WordPress plugin via SFTP or FTP

You can also update your plugins using FTP or SFTP.

  1. First, you’ll need to download the latest version of the plugin from the WordPress plugin directory or the developer’s website.
  2. Next, unzip the plugin file and upload it to the ‘/wp-content/plugins/’ directory on your server via an FTP or SFTP client (We always recommend FileZilla).
  3. Finally, activate the plugin from the WordPress administration panel.

How to manually update WordPress plugins via WP-CLI

A third way to update your plugins on WordPress is by using the WP-CLI command.

  1. First, you’ll need to SSH into your server and navigate to your WordPress installation directory.
  2. Next, run the following command to update your installed plugins: wp plugin update–all.
  3. If you only want to update a specific plugin, use the plugin name as follows:
    wp plugin update PLUGIN_NAME. Replace {plugin-name} with the name of the WordPress plugin you want to update.
  1. Once you run the command, WP-CLI will download the latest version of the WordPress plugin and update it on your WordPress site.


Tips to Manage WordPress Plugins More Efficiently

Managing WordPress plugins can be challenging, especially if you have many installed.

Here are a few tips to help you manage your WordPress plugins more efficiently:

  1. Keep your plugins up to date. Outdated plugins can be a security risk and can also cause compatibility issues.
  2. Create a backup before installing or updating any plugin. If something goes wrong, you can restore your website from the backup.
  3. Take advantage of automatic updates to save you time and hassle in the long run.
  4. Keep your plugin list short and install only the plugins you need. This will make it easier to keep track of updates and ensure that all of your plugins are compatible.
  5. Disable plugins temporarily before updating them on your site.


Related Steps

By now, you know how to update plugins on your WordPress website. Here are some steps you need to get conversant with as a WordPress user:


Final Thoughts

As a website owner, updating your WordPress plugins should be critical to your website maintenance activities.

Failing to update your plugins regularly may pose security threats, making you lose your site and data.

With this step-by-step guide, you can update your WordPress plugins safely for your website to function more effectively.

Read also: How to Update a WordPress Plugin Manually Using cPanel


Next Steps: What now?

Now that you know how to safely update your WordPress plugins, here are some practical steps you can take from this guide:

Further Reading

Here are some useful resources you can read to help you learn more about WordPress and plugins:

  1. What is WordPress? An Overview of the World’s Most Popular CMS
  2. How to install WordPress: Choose one of four methods
  3. How to use WordPress: A beginner’s guide to building a WordPress Website
  4. How to Install a WordPress Plugin Using cPanel
  5. How to Update a WordPress Plugin


1. Can I Install an Old Version of a Plugin or Theme?

No, we don’t recommend installing old versions of plugins or themes. Not only are they likely incompatible with the current version of WordPress, but they may also contain security vulnerabilities that have since been fixed in newer versions.

2. Do I need to update WordPress plugins?

Yes, it’s important to keep your WordPress plugins up to date. In addition to new features and bug fixes, plugin updates often include security fixes. Keeping your plugins up to date keeps your site secure from potential hackers.

3. How do I update a WordPress plugin without losing customization?

If you have made customizations to a plugin, you can use a child theme to preserve those changes when the plugin is updated. By creating a child theme, you can make changes to the parent theme without affecting the original theme’s code. That way, your customizations will remain intact when the parent theme is updated.

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