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Guide on How You Should Update WordPress to its Latest Version

Although in very small numbers, WordPress version 3 is still being used in 2.1% of WordPress-powered websites, while version 2 is being used by 0.6% of the websites.

WordPress recently released WordPress 5.2 in May 2019 that has already been downloaded over 15 million times. As a website owner, you may ask “why bother to update my WordPress version? Why not continue to operate with the current version?” Well, updating WordPress is not just free but comes with its unique advantages. Here are a few:

Each released WordPress version comes with a lot of security and bug fixes, thus making it more secure against hacking and malware attacks.

You don’t want to miss out on the many new features and enhancements available in the latest versions that can enhance your website performance.
Guide on How You Should Update WordPress to its Latest Version

You can leverage on the latest WordPress plugin and theme functionalities that may not be compatible with an old WordPress version.

However, updating your WordPress to the latest version can be a little tricky as you won’t find any “Update” button that helps you upgrade your WordPress site instantly. Moreover, it’s important to be prepared with a proper backup plan in case of any failure, so that you don’t end up with a broken (or non-functional) website that could make you regret your decision to update.

So, before you click on the latest version of WordPress for your website, here are some ground rules for updating WordPress across multiple versions and an outline of the steps to complete the update.

Can I Update My WordPress Across Several Versions?

Well, that’s a good question. Is it technically possible for you to update from any old WordPress version (let’s say 1.x or 2.x) to the latest version 5.x? The good news is that yes, you can! Thanks to its powerful backward compatibility, WordPress does allow updates across more than two versions. If you are operating a large website, we would suggest that you should go for an incremental mode of updating to avoid any major conflict or any database damage. It’s a wise choice to maintain a backup of your website data so that you have something to fall back on in the event of any failure.

Want to download an older version of WordPress? You can get them all from the official WordPress archive. Want to speed up the process? Well, the best and safest way is to update till WordPress version 3.7 where you can use the one-click update option to update to the latest released version directly.

How to Update Your WordPress Version

Now that we have answered this question about the feasibility of updating WordPress across multiple versions, let’s get down to the five basic steps you need to follow for executing an update of your WordPress version:

  • Create a backup of your current WordPress installation.
  • Deactivate all your installed WordPress plugins and themes.
  • Download and extract the latest WordPress package.
  • Remove the previous WordPress files in your current installation.
  • Upload the new WordPress files on your web server.

Let’s now see how to execute each of these steps in detail.

Step 1: Take a Backup of Your Site

If you want to complete your WordPress update with zero hassles, we strongly suggest you create a backup of the existing WordPress installation files before attempting the upgrade. Why is this so critical? So that you can revert to your “old” WordPress version if the upgrade does not complete for any reason.

A WordPress website backup comprises of the following two components:
Database backup comprising of all data related to users, web pages, user posts, weblinks, and more.

Also read: Everything you need to know about WordPress Migration

WordPress file backup, including all the files present in your WordPress installation folder along with the .htaccess file. Additionally, you may want to include any modified Core WordPress files or any customised plugins (or themes) in your backup.

You can take backups manually or automated the process using WordPress backup plugins.

Step 2: Deactivate Your Installed WordPress Themes and Plugins

After performing a complete website backup, you must now deactivate all your themes and plugins currently installed on your website. Why is this necessary? This is because some of your themes and plugins may not be compatible with the upgraded WordPress version and may cause some conflicts that can make your website unusable.

You can deactivate all your plugins (and themes) from the WordPress Administration panel. If you do not have access rights to the Administration panel, you can either deactivate the plugins using phpMyAdmin script or by resetting the plugins folder using an FTP client.

After upgrading to the new version, you must remember to activate all these themes and plugins. Now that these two important steps are done let’s get down to performing the WordPress update.

Step 3: Replace the Old Update with the Latest WordPress Package

You can now download and extract the updated WordPress version package from the WordPress Download page. As mentioned before, it’s recommended to go for incremental updates if you are currently using an old WordPress version.

Which location should you download the new WordPress package to? Here are two options:

  1. To your local computer (if you plan to upload the WordPress to a remote webserver)
  2. Directly to your web server (if you plan to extract the WordPress files to your web server using console-based tools)

If you are using a console-supported web browser, you can place this WordPress zip package to the “Uploads” folder of your current WordPress installation and then extract it using either of the following commands:

  • unzip -c WordPress-Version.tar.gz | tar -xf
  • tar -xzvf latest.tar.gz

After extraction, the updated WordPress files are stored in the “wordpress” folder. Verify if you can view the following files and sub-folders in the “wordpress” folder:

  • wp-admin, wp-includes, and wp-content folders
  • index.php, wp-login.php, wp-config-sample.php, and other .php files

Step 4: Delete the Old WordPress files in Your Current Installation

To avoid problems later on, it’s a wise choice to manually delete some of the old WordPress files and folders in your current location. This is because the upgrading process might not overwrite every existing file, thus leading to problems after the update.

However, you must take care only to delete some files and folders and retain the others. For your ease of understanding, we have created a list on what you can (and cannot) delete:

Don’t delete
Do delete
  • wp-config.php file
  • wp-content folder
  • wp-includes/languages folder (which stores your language file): However, you can consider moving the languages folder to the wp-content folder for future use
  • .htaccess file particularly if there are any customized rules to this file
  • Any images, plugins, or customized content in the wp-content folder

  • All the files in your root WordPress folder prefixed as “wp-* (except those listed in the “Do not delete” section
  • Other roots folder files like readme.html, xmlrpc.php, wp.php, and license.txt
  • Wp-admin and wp-includes folder
  • Wp-content/plugins/widgets folder that is displayed only post installing the “Sidebar Widgets” plugin.
  • Now that you know which files and folders to retain, you might wonder on how to delete these remaining WordPress folders? Well, you can do it using either of the following tools:

    The FTP client that was previously used for uploading WordPress can now be used for file and folder deletion. Some FTP clients do not allow deletion of non-empty WordPress folders for safety concerns. In this case, it’s better to turn off the security settings in the FTP client to complete the deletion process in a shorter time. FileZilla is a popular FTP tool used for both uploading and deleting WordPress files.

    Command-line tools (or SSH) that can be used to create a backup of these files (to be retained) and delete the other WordPress files and folders. You can execute the following copy (or cp) and remove (or rm) commands to perform this operation:

    $ mkdir backup
    cp wp-config.php .htaccess backup
    cp -R wp-content backup
    rm wp*.php .htaccess license.txt readme.html xmlrpc.php
    rm -rf wp-admin wp-includes
    cp backup/wp-config.php

    Step 5: Upload the New WordPress Files on Your Web Server

    Finally, you can now upload the new files (extracted from your updated WordPress version) to your WordPress web server. This follows the same procedure that you followed while installing WordPress for the first time.

    Remember the wp-content folder that contains all your installed WordPress plugins and themes. After completing the upload of all other files, upload the new or modified plugins and themes to the new wp-content folder (uploaded with your new WordPress version). Similarly, overwrite the old plugin or theme files in this folder with the new plugin and theme versions from the updated WordPress version.

    How do I upload the new WordPress files? You can do it through many ways listed below:

    • Using the WordPress Admin dashboard
    • Manually using an FTP client like FileZilla
    • Using SSH
    • Automatically using cPanel tool

    If you are using a WordPress Admin dashboard for the update, WordPress first checks if your database also requires an upgrade, which will require you to upgrade your WordPress script (as detailed in the wp-admin/upgrade.php file). To manually upgrade your WordPress site, you must either:

    Search your browser for this location (example, if your WordPress version is installed in the default root folder.

    Search your browser for this location (example, if your WordPress version is installed in a sub-folder.

    Also read: 6 Quick Tips for Improving Your WordPress Security

    After completing the WordPress version update, check if each of your installed plugins and themes is compatible with the new version. To do this, you may need to visit each of the individual plugin/ theme website pages and check their compatibility-related information with your updated WordPress version. If not, you may need to install the latest (and compatible) versions of these plugins and themes on your website. Activate all your deactivated plugins once you have resolved all the compatibility issues (if any).

    In Conclusion

    We hope that the information provided in this article enables you to seamlessly update your current WordPress installation to the latest version without breaking your website. Additionally, as recommended in this article, you are advised to go through incremental version updates of your WordPress to prevent any major conflict on your website.

    | About the Guest Author:

    Guest Author
    Akshat Choudhary has always prided himself on his ability to teach himself things. Since starting BlogVault, Akshat has transformed his side-project into a profitable venture that is scaling new heights in the Indian startup space. Being a member of the WordPress community for almost a decade, Akshat is keen on understanding the areas where users struggle. Akshat’s core belief behind building any product is making sure the end-user doesn’t need assistance and to assist them in the best possible manner if they do.

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