Note: Although this article talks about WordPress, most of the concepts are applicable to any Content Management System (CMS).

Why Install Updates to WordPress?

Keeping all of the components of your website up to date is generally a good idea because updates typically:

  • Add new features in your website
  • Fix things that didn't work
  • Include security fixes to help keep your website safe and secure from hackers
  • Keep your website compatible with updated versions of WordPress

Why Should I Not Install Updates?

Applying updates to customized components such as WordPress, Plugins and Themes will result in these changes being lost. If you or someone you hired customized parts of your WordPress website in order to make them work the way you needed them to, you will likely need help to integrated these changes into the updates.

Applying updates to a website can sometimes be tricky because things can go wrong. Unfortunately not all updates work out as well as one might hope. New problems have been known to be introduced into websites after an update and I have even seen cases where the website didn't work at all anymore after updating some very popular plugins.

In a larger corporate environment, they would have a separate private copy of the website and professional knowledgeable staff would test each updated component to ensure it worked and didn't break anything before installing the updates on the public website. In the case of smaller businesses, this isn't always possible.

How Can I Avoiding Costly Mistakes?

  • ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP PLAN. Have some way to undo an update in the event that something unexpected does wrong. This should involve making regular backups of your website including both the files and database, and ensuring that the website can be restored back to working order. IMPORTANT: Both the database and files are required in order for the website to work. If you have a webmaster or your Web hosting provider manage your backups, make sure that you have a documented procedure for contacting them in the event that you need your website restored.
  • Ask your developer/webmaster for a CUSTOMISED COMPONENT LIST. Always have a knowledgeable webmaster help you update these components on your website. IMPORTANT: If they feel they can do it without making a backup of both the files and the database first, find someone else to help you.
  • Don't update your customised WordPress themes as this will ALWAYS change to the way the website looks… and not in a good way. If you have a good reason to update it, get a qualified webmaster to help you.
  • Always install one update at a time and always test your website afterwards. That way, if a change breaks your website, you will know which component did it. By the way, if you were not the person who applied the updates, please let me know because that would mean that someone unauthorized accessed your website.
  • Keep a log of when you made changes to your website and note the last time everything seemed to be working properly. This will be an important should you need to restore your website back to a time when everything was working properly.

What If Something Goes Wrong After an Update?

SOLUTION #1: Contact a webmaster to have them fix the problems created by applying an update. This is a rather expensive solution but will always ensure that your website software and plugins has the latest updates and security fixes.

SOLUTION #2: A less expensive alternative requires that you plan ahead. Implement your backup plan (see "Avoiding Costly Mistakes" above). Contact your hosting provider and ask them to restore the website files and database back to the way they were (hopefully they make backups). This would probably be a faster and less expensive solution.

I Know Some HTML. Can I Fix problems myself?

While WordPress was created to easily manage the content of your website in most cases, fixing the software itself including the theme (look and feel of your site) can be pretty intimidating to many. WordPress is written using web programming languages including HTML, PHP, JavaScript, CSS and occasionally even XML. If you are comfortable with all of these programming languages, and are familiar with the WordPress API, go for it. If you are not comfortable or have no idea what I am talking about, consult someone who is.

Can I Back Up My WordPress Blog or Website Myself?

Although many web hosting companies do provide backup and restore services, sometimes it is not included or there might be an additional cost involved. You also need to consider what would happen if your web hosting companies backup failed and could not restore your website.

Making an additional backup of your WordPress site is definitely a good idea. How often you should do it will depend on how often changes are made to your site. You will also need to evaluate how much you are willing to loose.

For example, if you use WordPress as a website that rarely changes, and doesn't allow people to add comments or sign up for things, it is probably pretty safe to only make backups after you finish making changes to your website. If you have an interactive website or blog on the otherhand, you may want to make backups more frequently.

The simplest solution is to always backup both the files and the database. That way they will be always in sync. That being said, all of the content for the website (posts, pages, comments) are stored in the database. If this is typically the extent of the changes on your website, you can make an occasional backup of the files and more frequent backups of the database. If you have any doubts, be safe and backup both.

What Plugins Should I use to Help me Backup and Restore my WordPress site?

There are many backup plugins available. Just be aware that many of them don't necessarity work reliably. Always test or have somone test your backup solution to make sure it works reliably and can restore your website back to a fully working state before you rely on it… even if I recommend it to you.

There are actually two types of backups that can be made. Automated and Manual. Automated backups will happen on a pre-defined schedule (like at 3 AM each morning). You need to manually go and click a button in the adminsitration side of your website in order to make a manual backup happen.

Some backups are designed to work in conjunction with a backup service. This is great as your backups are stored on a completely separate computer. As a result, it will be possible to restore the backups, even if your webserver goes up in flames. It can also make things easier if you decide you want to move your website to a different web hosting company.

One manual plug-in that stores the backups on your web server or optionally to the companies server for a fee is called XCloner Manager. You'll find it in library of installable the WordPress plugins.

Be safe -- always have a backup!