If you do your own site management, this article will teach you how to upgrade WordPress plugins yourself. No tech support required!
When you log in, you might see little red circles with numbers in them next to items in the left-hand dashboard menu. These are notifications. Seeing one next to Plugins means there are newer versions of some of your plugins available. (You’ll see them for your WordPress theme and the WordPress core software, too, and they mean the same thing: An upgrade is available!)
Do yourself a favor and get into the habit of addressing those plugin updates right away when you see them. Especially if you don’t log in regularly.
Why It’s So Important to Upgrade WordPress Plugins
Often, you get new features or functionality for your site when you update WordPress plugins. They might add a new cloud storage option, enhance the user interface, or simply provide better support for everyone using the plugin.
To implement these changes, you need to upgrade to the new version of the plugin. In cases where the only update is a new feature or an improvement of an old one, waiting isn’t likely to cause much harm. However, waiting is harmful if the update closes a security hole or prevents one.
Websites need to be safe and secure. Keeping outdated plugins upgraded is required to keep your site secure and running smoothly.
If you find yourself putting it off repeatedly, afraid it will be a big time commitment if something goes wrong, you can delegate it. You don’t have to be the one to do it. You have to be the one making sure it’s done.
[Shameless plug: Delegate it to me with a WP Anti-Hack Plan, the most cost-effective website maintenance/care plan currently available online.]
New features may be the cool reason to keep your plugins updated, but the most important reason to update plugins — as soon as you see them available — is website security.
The good news is the update process is extremely easy to do! And I’m sharing what I do to eliminate the “what if something goes wrong” worry, too.
So, let’s get to it!
Before You Upgrade Anything, Do This First. Always.
Before you change anything on your site, make a full backup of your site first. This is your insurance against “what if something goes wrong” being a problem. With a full backup available, you’ll be able to reverse the changes if something goes wrong.
I use and heartily recommend UpdraftPlus (a WordPress plugin with free and paid versions available) as your backup solution. It detects when you’re about to upgrade something and makes a backup for you first, then does the upgrade. The free version has everything you need for this.
If you use a different backup solution that doesn’t have that feature, be sure to make a full backup before you upgrade anything.
If you’re interested in knowing what is in the update of any plugin, you can view the details before you upgrade to the new version. The plugin developer provides information about the update, including new requirements, known compatibility/conflicts with other plugins, and if there are any known bugs.
If you don’t notice anything that relates to your site working properly, then you can safely upgrade the plugin.
Is It Safe to Use the Automatic Update Feature?
Managing WordPress is easier than it was when I started using it back in 2006. These days, WordPress provides automatic updates for its core files and plugins. You don’t need to take any action to get these updates.
You should either allow your plugins to auto-upgrade themselves or manually check them for any new releases before updating them. Or should you go through each and every plugin with a fine-toothed comb and decide which updates get installed and when?
For some plugins, automatic updates are okay. They don’t pose big risks or go too far into the core functionality of your WordPress installation. For other plugins, automatic upgrades can be a big problem because of how important they can be to keeping your site running smoothly.
Every website has a set of plugins. Some are essential for the website’s performance, and others offer user-friendly features. These easy-to-update plugins don’t harm the website if they stop working. For example, Yoast SEO (or another SEO plugin) is installed on nearly all WordPress sites online. If it breaks, the site doesn’t go down. It’s safe to be upgraded automatically. On the other hand, if something like a page builder plugin breaks, the site appears to be broken. It’s much safer to do manual updates on these kinds of plugins.
Since every site is different when it comes to installed plugins, the best rule of thumb for this decision is to ask yourself, “If I deactivate this plugin, does it deactivate my site in any way?” If not, you’re probably safe letting it automatically update.
How To Set Automatic Plugin Updates
You have the option of upgrading your plugins from the plugin list if your WordPress version is up to date. (If not, here’s how to update WordPress. You typically want to do WordPress updates first.)
- Navigate to Plugins –> Installed Plugins to start.
- Click Enable Auto-Updates to the right of each plugin in the list to enable plugin upgrades to happen automatically.
- Then it will say Disable Auto-Updates.
You can swap back and forth as often as you want or need to.
How to Upgrade WordPress Plugins Manually
Many site owners manually update WordPress plugins. It couldn’t be easier, really.
- Navigate to Plugins –> Installed Plugins in your WordPress dashboard.
- Find the plugins with an upgrade available.
- Click the Update Now link under an individual plugin.
- Repeat for each plugin that has an update available.
The process will complete quickly.
To upgrade several plugins in a batch:
- Click the checkbox next to the plugins to upgrade.
- Select Update from the Bulk Actions dropdown.
- Click the Apply button.
The process will run, and they will all upgrade to the newest version.
TIP: Don’t leave the page until the upgrades are complete.
How to Do A WordPress Plugin Update via FTP
Open your favorite FTP client (I use FileZilla. It’s free and works on Macs and PCs.)
- Enter your FTP login credentials and connect to your site’s server.
- Navigate to the /public_html/wp-content/ directory
- Locate the plugins folder.
- Locate the plugin you want to update.
- Right-click to download a backup of the plugin folder (just in case.)
- Right-click to delete the plugin folder.
- Download the most recent version of the plugin from its WordPress.org plugin page or from the developer’s site where you purchased it.
- Extract the .zip file you download to your computer, but don’t rename the folder it creates.
- Drag the folder from your computer to the /wp-content/plugins directory on the server (or right-click and select Upload).
- Log back into your WordPress admin dashboard.
- Navigate to Plugins –> Installed Plugins.
- Click the Activate link underneath the plugin.
Note: You can install WordPress themes using this process, too. You’d navigate to the themes folder instead.
How to Undo An Upgrade If Something Breaks
You should always be prepared for an upgrade to break something. That’s why the first step is to create a full backup of your site.
But you might be able to correct the problem by just restoring the offending plugin to its previous version.
To go back to a previous version of a plugin:
- Go to the plugin page on WordPress.org
- Click the Advanced View link.
- Scroll down to the dropdown for previous versions.
- Download the older version of the plugin.
- Use the FTP process outlined above to install this previous plugin version.
If you’re uncomfortable using FTP, you do this with a plugin. The WP Rollback plugin will help you roll back to any previous version of a plugin hosted on the WordPress.org repository.
Knowing how to upgrade WordPress plugins is one of the first skills you need to master as a WordPress site owner. It’s also your foundation for great WordPress security.
Use the automatic update feature, or update your plugins one at a time to control which plugins get upgraded and when.
The important thing is that the plugins get upgraded promptly. Not how.
Now that updating WordPress plugins is part of your skillset, they will!