WordPress Blog Upgrades 101

WordPress makes a fantastic product. It is great for when you have a relatively simple website that the client wants to control the content. I like to consider it an entry level CMS.

Anyway, as with many 3rd party applications – it often times need to be updated. This could be due to new security issues, patches to old issues or just an update in functionality. Whatever the case, you need to know what is happening before you go and update blindly.

Typically with 3rd party apps there are three main areas of concern. Each of these areas must be reviewed and taken into consideration BEFORE the upgrade is applied. If something goes wrong, you will want to have a backup plan in place. With WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and other open source CMS’s there is a 4th.

The four areas that I consider for WordPress upgrades are:

  • Application Logic
  • Application Display
  • Data Storage
  • Plugins

1. Application Logic – This one sounds the most intimidating but is actually the least of your concerns as a user. Unless otherwise specified in the uprade notes the inputs and outputs of these files are going to be the same so for you as a website owner, there will be no changes to your code necessary. The application will just be performing better or new features will be added.

3. Application Display – Most 21st century application developers have grasped the concept of separating logic and display. In WordPress, all of the display templates are stored in your “themes” directory. So, check the documentation and see what, if anything, is going to change here. This will be more of an issue of you are using a default template as opposed to a custom template. But still, check it out.

4. Data Storage – This is the “meat and potatoes” of your blog. This is what you have been working so hard to create so you had better pay attention to this. Depending on what is happening with the upgrade and how many versions you are jumping, a database modification may be required. ANYTIME you are going to modify a database, please do yourself a favor and make a complete SQL dump before you do anything. This way if something goes wrong you can get the data back immediately instead of waiting for your hosting company to pull it off of the archive disks, etc. causing hours if not days of downtime (assuming your hosting company has the backups)

5. Plugins – These are all of the extras that are added to give your blog more features and functionality – photo gallery’s, SEO plugins, social bookmarking tools, database backups, etc. Make sure you check these to see if the plugins that you are using are supported in the new version. There are many threats with plugins:

  • They may not work with the new blog version
  • They may work but the display/functionality may hange based on the blog upgrade.
  • if you upgrade the plugin, it may update the styles/codebase which can cause more problems.

A side note – if your plugin hasn’t been updated in a year or more – you may want to look for another.

So what is a person to do? Upgrade, just be smart about it.

STEP 1: Backup your file system.
STEP 2: Backup your database.
STEP 3: Review your site real quick to refresh your mind of the look.*
STEP 4: Upgrade the blog.
STEP 5: Test the site (check posts, check display, everything).
STEP 6: Fix any issues.
STEP 7: Upgrade Plugins (one at a time)
STEP 8: Test the site (focus on plugin functionality)
STEP 9: Fix any issues and return to STEP 7
STEP 10: If all is well, write a new blog post.

* This may seem funny but as a blogger – I spend most of the time looking at my blog backend interface, not the frontend display. You want to refresh your mind so that you can see if anything goes wrong with the upgrade.

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