Automatic Upgrades – nursing your CMS installation

Open source CMS platforms like WordPress and Joomla regularly work on their core codes, issuing frequently next version for the upgrade. We are so used to constant upgrades of our computer software that clicking that upgrade button is not anything most of us think twice about.

Should you always upgrade to the most current version?

This simply sounding question does not have a straight-forward answer. It is really a complex issue and coming up with a right answer goes back to the planning stage of your website. Let’s talk about the most popular Content Management platform today – WordPress.

As the popularity of the WordPress increased exponentially in the last couple of years, so did the number of available themes and plugins that make the flesh and experience of our sites. Many of intermediate programmers contributed with their excitement to this development. Not nearly half of them continue to support their original, publicly available code. Unfortunately, this code was used in newly created sites all over the world, because it offered attractive functionality and aesthetics at the time. Website designers and project managers alike proceeded in good faith, not knowing whether or not the plugins and themes used in their clients’ websites will be abandoned a month or a year later.

Long gone the development phase, now the sites are in the hands of the “administrators” that know nothing about the codes. They are the end users. As soon as they see the upgrade notification pop up in the admin interface, they hit the button. Who does not want to have up-to-date website?

This one click can result in a disaster. With any incompatible plugins or themes the site becomes slightly or completely broken. You should have had a backup!

Precautious developers hide the upgrade notifications from the end users. Others are warned not to do upgrades on their own. Some part of website owners just don’t care what version do they run, and never upgrade – there is business to be run, who has the time for the back end!?

Staying with the originally installed version of your CMS also has its pitfalls. Yes, your site may function Ok as is, but that’s not guaranteed. Between the improvements in browsers technology and dangerously growing day by day cyber security threats, your site may not look or function the same after a while. It can become inaccessible on the newer devices, like iPads, smart phones and electronic appliances, or be easier hacked with every ignored security update. You may also miss all the newer, nicer functionality offered in the current version.

So what’s the smart plan?

If you are aiming to save yourself time – have a professional developer on retainer or frequent short-time contracts to keep up with security and functionality upgrades. They will evaluate your plugins’ compatibility over time, when the new versions come aboard. The best is to have original developer do it, as the ‘secrets’ of your installation may not surface until new elements are at play. It’s as delicate as a pharmacist’s job – hard to predict interactions amongst all the plugins used over time.

If you are set to save yourself money – you need to follow all the upgrades announcements, and do the due diligence about published compatibility of each of the plugins and themes that are on your site, before upgrading. Have a good, working backup, and keep in mind that compatibility of each plugin does not add up as joint compatibility in a new version. Vinegar is Ok on it’s own, and so is baking soda – but join the two and foaming may overflow your bowl. The same is true about your upgrades and plugins.

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