Although this was originally written when WordPress 4.3 shipped, the information here remains relevant for current WordPress releases.
The latest feature rich release of WordPress, version 4.3, went live yesterday August 19, 2015. As a website owner, developer, or user, you know that it’s important to keep your website software updated. Aside from cool new features like the ability to add a Favicon from within the WordPress dashboard and edit menus in the Customizer, there are updates behind the scenes designed to improve WordPress.
In a perfect world, updating WordPress would be as simple as clicking a button, or allowing an autoupdate to update the site. Fortunately, many times this does work. However, there are times when things go wrong.
For example, it was reported, on WordPress.org
, that sites using the plugin wp-ban broke after the update. In this case, disabling the plugin fixed the sites leaving site owners with the option of leaving the plugin disabled until fixed or restoring the site to its previous release.
How to Restore a WordPress Installation
When a WordPress Update breaks your website, your first step is going to be to get the site back online. Once the site is working again, then you can take steps to troubleshoot what happened and make the appropriate changes.
Use Backups that Include the WordPress Core
As always a good backup is your first step to securing your website data. Restoring a backup after a failed update, is a quick way to get your site up and running fast. In cases like this, it helps to have a backup that includes the WP core files so that you can easily roll the site completely back to its previous state.
Many backups, including one of my favorites, UpdraftPlus, only include the core files unless you purchase the premium version. The thought is that you can always access the core files and install them. However, the reality for a site owner is that time is of the essence when a site is down. If you are using UpdraftPlus and your site doesn’t have access to One Click Rollbacks
shown below, you may want to consider purchasing the premium version of UpdraftPlus
. BackupBuddy is another premium backup software option that includes complete backups.
One Click Rollbacks
Check to see if your web host provides a one-click rollback. Many managed hosting plans like those available at WP Engine and SiteGround provide the one-click rollback option. In this case if an update, whether automatic or manual, doesn’t go well, it only takes the click of a button to roll the site back to its previous state.
After a site automatically updated on a managed hosting account, it displays that the site is running 4.3 and that WordPress is updated. From the dropdown menu, select Restore last backup to restore.
Once the backup is restored, you see the version listed as 4.2.4 with the information that an update is available.
If there had been an issue with the above site, it could remain in version 4.2.4, then cloned for troubleshooting the issue.
Even if your host doesn’t have a rollback as simple as the one shown, they may have a restore option. Check with your hosting company for help.
Cloning sites to test updates and troubleshoot
If an update breaks your site, once you restore the original site, you will need to troubleshoot the issue. After you restore the original site, you can clone the site and test the issues with the upgrade.
Note that if you have a large or complicated site using many plugins, I recommend cloning the site, and applying the update to the cloned site, then testing. If the update works without issues, you can then update the live site without issue. If the update causes issues, you can troubleshoot on the cloned site without ever affecting the live site.
How to clone a site.
The WordPress auto installer in many web hosts like InMotion
hosting and SiteGround
, provides the ability to quickly clone a website.
- From the Installer screen, locate the website you want to clone. Notice that there are many icons providing options that may include Cloning, Deleting, or Backing up the site.
- Select the Clone option. This opens a separate screen where you will see the details of the current installation and enter the details for the new installation.
- Enter the domain and subdirectory where you want the clone to exist.
- Change the database name, if desired.
- Click the Clone Installation button, and wait until the clone is completed.
- You may then login to the cloned site, update the site and troubleshoot the installation failure.
How to Troubleshoot a Failed Update
One of the most common issues occurs when plugins are not compatible with an update which can break your site.
Identify the Issue
To test if a plugin is causing the issue, disable all plugins, then enable them one at a time until you find the break. Note that sometimes more than one plugin will have an issue, but frequently, it is just one causing the issue.
If you can access the Dashboard, you can do this within WordPress. If the site is inaccessible, for example displaying an error message or a blank screen, use FTP or SFTP to access the underlying files and rename the plugins directory, then check the site. If the site displays properly, other than items dependent on plugins like slideshows, then you know that a plugin incompatibility is causing your issue. In this case, you will need to reset the plugins directory and then rename each plugin until you find the problem.
Once You Find the Problem
Once you identify the plugin causing the issue, make sure it’s a plugin you need and use. As your site changes over time, some functionality might be replaced by the WordPress core or may no longer be needed for your business. Up to WordPress 4.3, if you wanted to add a Favicon to your site (that little icon that shows in browser tabs), either your theme had to have an option for this, you had to use a plugin, or you had to edit the underlying code. This functionality is provided in WP 4.3 rendering those plugins obsolete.
If it is a functionality that you need, is there another plugin that can accomplish this for you? For example, when WP upgraded to version 3.9, the changes made in the programming of the Visual Editor broke some plugins like Ultimate TinyMCE forever. In this case, other plugins like WP-Edit, and TinyMCE Advanced, provided the functionality of extending the visual editor.
Outsourcing WordPress Updates Takes the Headache Out of Site Maintenance
If managing site updates and troubleshooting installation issues seems daunting, and if you prefer to spend your time on business not futzing with software, then consider outsourcing your WordPress maintenance and updates.
We recommend WP-Tonic. Their team will update your site and do the troubleshooting for you in the case of an update failure. They can also help you with basic blog and site changes.
Next week, we’ll feature more tools to help with maintenance, plus a tutorial on how to use FTP.