So, let’s assume that you login to your WordPress Dashboard after December 5th (the target date for the release of WordPress version 3.5), and you see the message, “WordPress version 3.5 is now available”. Should you simply click on the “Update to WordPress 3.5 now” button and do the deed? Ah, no, hold on a second…
A Safer, Better Way to Upgrade
While WordPress makes it so easy to upgrade, it’s a very good idea to take some precautions to minimize the possibility of suffering unwanted side effects from conflicts that can arise between the core software and the theme and plugins you have installed.
Below is the approach I recommend you take when upgrading your site to either a major or feature release of WordPress.
1) Wait for the next WordPress bug fix and security update
2) Upgrade your themes and plugins before you upgrade WordPress
The biggest risk you run with a WordPress upgrade isn’t from the new WordPress software itself — it is the potential fallout from conflicts between the new version of WordPress and the themes and plugins you are using. If a plugin or theme isn’t v3-5-compatible, a useful feature on your site could be neutralized, the appearance of your site could be compromised, or, worst case, you site even could become completely unusable. Selecting and properly managing your themes and plugins is a whole topic until itself — I won’t try to cover it all here. But suffice to say that before you apply a WordPress upgrade, make sure you have first brought your theme and plugins up-to-date with the latest versions of their releases. Once you apply those updates, review and test your site first — especially an update you have applied is anything other than a simple bug fix release.
3) Test on a test bed before you upgrade your “live” site
Did you know that you can quite easily create a WordPress test bed environment on your laptop or desktop that mirrors your production site, with all the same versions of software and configuration settings? Well, you can. Again, this is a whole ‘nother topic for another post. But for now, trust me: you can do it. So, where does this fit into the WordPress upgrade process? Simple: if you have such a test bed (with the latest versions of your theme and plugins installed, of course) you can install and test the new version of WordPress to your heart’s content before you drop the new stuff into production. There are a few things you won’t be able to test in this environment — like using a contact form to send an e-mail — but almost anything else you can think of will be fair game for kickin’ the tires. If you don’t already have a test bed, get one. It’s so useful for so many other reasons, too, like trying out new themes and plugins before exposing them on your production site.
4) Take a full backup of your WordPress files and database
5) Pull the trigger (finally!) – and then test some more
Okay, you’re ready to upgrade. By taking the steps above you have minimized the risk of introducing any ill side effects from the upgrade, and you have given yourself a “plan b” you can fall back to in case something bad happens in the end. Go ahead: be bold and click that “Update to WordPress 3.5” button on your production site Dashboard! And after you do, go back and thoroughly review and test the site right away. Assuming you don’t discover any problems — and by this point you really shouldn’t — you can relax, pat yourself on the back, and take a few minutes to smell the roses. Of course, keep that full backup of your site handy just in case something untoward crops up later.
So, that’s the process. Truth be told: even if you don’t follow these recommendations, there’s a fair chance you won’t ever experience a major problem when you install a WordPress upgrade. But why take the chance?
I will admit this: for WordPress bug fix and security releases (e.g., moving from v3.4.1 to v3.4.2) I may relax these guidelines a bit and skip testing the upgrade on a test bed before applying it to production. But at the very least, it’s never a bad idea to take that backup and store it offline before applying any kind of upgrade. It’s a nice feeling to always have that safety net available.
You may be wondering: so, what if I do find a conflict between my theme or one of my plugins and the new version of WordPress. As someone once said — you know what’s coming here — “That will have to be another topic for another post.”
Stay tuned, and….