Why You Should Wait to Update WordPress Plugins and Themes

I have used WordPress going on 10 years now. It’s awesome, and I couldn’t imagine myself working with anything else. However, just like with every platform, there are ways to go about forming what I call “good and safe” habits. Today I want to discuss a little bit about updating WordPress plugins and why I typically recommend users to wait before updating to the shiny new version. Trust me, this will cause you less stress in the long run. 😉

Wait to Update WordPress Plugins and Themes

We all love new and shiny things… and updates to our favorite plugins and themes are always exciting as sometimes they mean new features and capabilities. It’s very tempting when you login to your WordPress dashboard and see pending updates just to click “update all” and move on. However, this is what I urge you not to do! ✋

WordPress updates available
WordPress updates available

Why? Because developers are humans, just like the rest of us. They sometimes make mistakes. Trust me, my brother and I develop our premium WordPress plugins, and there has been a time or two where we have pushed out bad code by accident, and then immediately had to push another update to fix it. I don’t care how big of a development team is behind a plugin or theme, plugins and themes will always be prone to humans errors.

What happens when a developer accidentally pushes out bad code? Well, for one, it can take down your entire site. Or it can simply break other functionality that you might not even realize until later. Here are a couple examples on plugins that I actually use that had issues this very month. I by no means want to single anyone out here, as it happens throughout the entire WordPress marketplace.

Plugin 1

This first plugin introduced some bad code that would actually freeze the media library. 😦

Plugin update freezes the media library
Plugin update freezes the media library

Plugin 2

This second plugin introduced some bad code that would actually cause a 500 error on your WordPress site. 😥

Plugin causes 500 error
Plugin causes 500 error

These types of bad updates actually happen a lot! I see patches to fix a patch multiple times per week.

My Recommendations for Updating Plugins and Themes

So what is the safest route to go? Well, here are my recommendations when it comes to updating plugins and themes on your WordPress site.

1. Look at the Plugin/Theme Changelog

The first thing you should do is always look at the plugin and or theme’s changelog. This can be found within the “Plugin” update section in the WordPress dashboard. If there is a critical security update, then by all means, you should update it right away to ensure your WordPress site is safe. If there isn’t, I recommend waiting a week or two before updating.

Plugin changelog
Plugin changelog

Why wait? Because in almost 99% of scenarios if a developer pushes out bad code, if you wait a week or two, they will most likely have pushed out a fix and in essence, you can bypass all the problems altogether. This is less of a headache for you, your clients, and saves you time. In those 2 plugin examples I mentioned above, I didn’t update either of them within that time period and therefore, never experienced issues.

2. Use a Staging Environment

If for some reason an update has a feature or fix that you do need right away, then I strongly suggest using a staging environment to test with first(even for the smallest of updates!). Many hosts have staging environments now, so make sure you take advantage of them. This is what they are meant to be used for… testing.

WordPress staging environment
WordPress staging environment

Summary

The next time that shiny new plugin update comes around, ask yourself if you really need it today. If you don’t, and it isn’t security related, wait a week or two… trust me, you’ll thank me in the long run. I have been doing updates this way for a long time and almost never experience anything breaking anymore.

I would love to hear your thoughts on updating plugins and themes. What is your workflow? Let me know below in the comments. 👇

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5 thoughts on “Why You Should Wait to Update WordPress Plugins and Themes

  1. This.

    The whole theme/plugin update dance is such an issue that we ended up baking it into the hosted/managed service we sell. We go so far as to prevent users from installing updates directly so we can test on staging installs before rolling out.

    The only real exception to that rule are emergency security updates.

    As for the workflow, we manage just over 100 installs all hosted on WPEngine. We update plugins via a proprietary deployment tool my Lead Tech Developer wrote to push themes and plugins out from a Git repo to each install: https://www.screencast.com/t/Rcapub31D3

    We can push updates on a per site basis or per element (i.e. any site with that theme or plugin assigned gets the update).

    This makes testing less time consuming but allows us to get the updates out ASAP once that process is complete.

      • I’m really happy to see more attention paid to this topic. While it’s a natural byproduct of successful open source software, anyone who has been a WP developer for more than five years has seen this become an increasingly tricky issue. I asked my Lead Technical Developer to write an article on the catch-22 of this where the other side of the coin is WP users who get one-off development projects and end up in update hell becasue no one prepared them for the notion of legacy costs: https://artshacker.com/update-pros-and-cons/

  2. Thank you for this great article, Brian. I wonder how do you find out if the update is a “critial security update”? Is in the changelog of that update written “critial security update”?

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