How to Update Themes and Plugins in WordPress

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Have some themes or plugins that need upgrading? Performing updates in WordPress is relatively quick and easy. In fact, it only takes a few moments and a couple clicks of the mouse. To update themes and plugins, you ensure the overall performance of the site.

Of course, this is based on whether your WordPress installation is online or not. Some people use WordPress on a private network.

In any case, I’ll go over how to update a WordPress theme or plugin on a live site. Most of the time, your visitors won’t even know there was a change made.




Update Themes and Plugins to Stay Safe

One of the easiest ways to keep your website safe is to update themes and plugins as they happen. This is because a lot of developers will make fixes to plug up any holes that bots and hackers can exploit.

Some updates are necessary to make sure the tools remain functional in WordPress. Sometimes changes of the core files cause themes and plugins to stop working correctly. I’ve seen this happen with an old word count plugin I had running.

Needless to say, I removed that plugin as it hadn’t been updated in several years. Uninstalling it also solved a lot of add performance issues the site was having.

Updating through WordPress

It’s important to note that the following only affects themes and plugins you install directly from the WordPress.org archive. So, this affects any theme and plugin you add by using the WordPress admin panel.

When an updates are available, you’ll see messages in the dashboard of WordPress. For instance, a red circle with a number next to “Updates” indicates updates are available.
Available Updates

You’ll also see a circle of arrows with a number in the top tool bar.

Click the “Updates” tool from the left panel. You can also click the double-circle image from the top tool bar. Both will take you to the same screen.
Updates

Any themes and plugins that have updates available are displayed in this page.

In this area, you choose what to update by clicking the checkbox next to each title. This is helpful if you make custom changes to a theme or plugin and don’t want to lose that code.

For now, we’re going to upgrade everything on the site.

Click the checkbox next to “Select All” above the list of plugins.
Select All

Click the “Update Plugins” button.
Update Plugins

WordPress will do the rest of the work on its own. It only takes a few moments, and you’ll see a list of all plugins that were successfully upgraded.

If your plugins were the only ones that needed upgrading, the red circle next to “Updates” will disappear and you’re done.

However, my example site also has three themes that need upgrading as well.

In that case, click the “Updates” function again.
Updates Again

It’s the same process to update themes as it is for plugins. Simply click the checkbox next to Select All and click, “Update Themes.”
Update Themes

After you update themes and plugins, you should no longer see the red circle next to “Updates.”




Updating from a ZIP File

The above is the easiest way to update themes and plugins. But what if you have a third-party tool that isn’t available on WordPres.org? Perhaps you bought a theme or plugin from a private vendor.

Maybe you have an installation of WordPress that operates offline, or otherwise doesn’t have access to the WordPress.org database.

In this case, you’ll need to update those elements through ZIP files.

Most packages in WordPress come in ZIP format. The system automatically unpacks these archived files and assigns them correctly. Unfortunately, you just can’t add a ZIP file as an update.

You’ll get the error, “destination already exists.” In this case, it’s probably beneficial to install a plugin like “Update Theme and Plugins from Zip File.”

This plugin runs in the background without requiring configuration from yourself. In fact, the only setting it has is to enable saving a backup copy of the old version of themes and plugins.

This is helpful in case something is wrong with the updated files. Although it’s rare, it has been known to happen.

Update Themes and Plugins Manually

What if you don’t want to use the automatic feature or ZIP files? Can you update themes and plugins manually? Yes. It’s a bit more time-consuming, but it’s possible.

Before you do any manual modifications, I suggest creating a backup of your website. The last thing you want is to lose your files in the event something goes wrong.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.

For this next part, you’ll have to access your core files of the website. This involves the use of a FTP program like FileZilla or CyberDuck. In a nutshell, you need to upload the files and folders directly to your web host.

I often use File Manager in cPanel.

From the root directory of your website, open the “wp-content” folder.
WP Content

From here, you can open either “plugins” or “themes” depending on what you’re uploading.
Open Folder

Upload your updated theme or plugin. You’re more than likely going to overwrite the old version. Any custom settings or coding modifications you made will probably be lost.
Updated Theme

It’s important to note that your themes and plugins need to be in their own folders. Do not upload files without having them in their own directory.

Many plugins and themes hold their settings information in the database of your website. Which means you won’t have to reconfigure most tools. However, if you made adjustments in a theme’s functions.php file, for example, those will be lost.

After uploading the updated files, you’ll probably have to activate the theme or plugin again.

Keep Your Site Safe and Secure

Keeping your themes and plugins updated and current aids in keeping the site safe and secure. It also gives you access to new features and tools the developers may include in these upgrades. At any rate, never underestimate the importance of regular updates and file maintenance.

An outdated tool may just stop your site from working altogether.




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Michael Brockbank

Michael has been a freelance writer since January of 2012. He has completed more than 6,000 jobs for a variety of clients ranging from animals to travel.

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