Think Twice Before You Upgrade That WordPress Plugin

Have you ever upgraded a WordPress plugin only to find that your site is broken, throwing an error, and you can no longer access your dashboard? The ease of upgrading WordPress plugins through the dashboard can get you into some hot water if you’re not careful. Today we’re going to take a look at some tips and basic best practices for safely upgrading WordPress plugins.

How to Undo an Upgrade

If you upgraded a plugin and for some reason it’s not compatible with your version of WordPress, theme or other plugins, you may get an ugly error that completely takes your site down. If you can no longer access your dashboard to disable the plugin you upgraded, you’re going to need to go into your plugins directory via FTP. Navigate to the plugin’s folder and delete it. That should bring your dashboard back up.

If you want to revert back to the previous version you had, you’ll need to download it from the repository. Go to the plugin’s page. There’s a blue box in the sidebar that says FYI and it has a link to “Other Versions.” Find the version you were using previously and upload that folder to your plugin’s directory. You should be back in business with the version you had before upgrading. Do some more research to determine the source of incompatibility or wait for a more stable release.

Do your homework before upgrading a plugin

There are a few things you’ll always want to check before clicking that “upgrade automatically” button. When you receive notice that there’s an upgrade for one of your plugins, make sure to click “View version details” before upgrading. There may be a warning in there about compatibility or requirements. Have a quick look at the changelog to see what’s new.

Click through to the plugin’s homepage on WordPress.org and check to see if other users have marked that the plugin works with your version of WordPress. If you see that many people have marked it as broken, consider waiting on your upgrade.

These tips are are especially important if you’re upgrading a big plugin such as BuddyPress, a shopping cart, forums, or anything that provides some critical functionality to your site. Google the new version of the plugin in question. If your search turns up tons of support requests and forum posts, then it’s possible that the upgrade may have some issues. If your plugin has a dedicated support forum, make a quick visit to see what others are saying about the upgrade.

Not sure whether to upgrade?

It takes just a couple minutes to make these checks. If you’re still uncertain, play it safe and give it a week or two to let others test the latest version. You can always jump in later when it looks stable.

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Comments (17)

  1. This goes for THEMES, too! The Atahualpa theme, for example, recently removed significant amounts of functionality due to the WP directory rules. For some of my sites, upgrading would have resulted in losing significant customizations and styles from the sites.

  2. Just a note for plugin developers regarding upgrades and downgrades: Given the sheer number of updates to WordPress over the past year or two – and the occasional need to roll back to previous versions of a particular plugin, it would be helpful for plugin developers to ALWAYS include some indication in the changelogs, readme, and even the comments of the plugin code, the specific version of WP with which that particular version of the plugin is compatible.

    I manage a number of WP installs that span various WP versions – including an important site that runs on WPMU 2.9.2. For various reasons, upgrading some of these sites to latest WP version is not always practical. I sometimes find myself needing to reinstall particular plugins.

    One example:

    I use many WPMU Dev Premium plugins. However finding the version of WordPress that previous versions of plugins are compatible with is often really frustrating.

    WPMU Dev Premium plugins seem to always indicate the WP compatibility for the currently available version in the sidebar of the download area. However when I try to determine the WP compatibility of previous versions of many – if not most – of their plugins, there is no mention in the changelogs, readmes or anywhere, of what specific version of WP that plugin is compatible with. I usually end up looking at the date, trying to recall what version of WP was in release at that time, and then dealing with trial-and-error installations.

    I’ve taken to keeping my own notes and backups of various plugins I use, but it would be better to have the developers ALWAYS make this simple piece of info readily available.

    Just my $0.02.

  3. Thanks Sarah! I haven’t had this happen, luckily, but maybe that’s because I’ve been using these guides – mostly. I’ve notice some plug-ins are updated almost weekly, without any upset, but others come only once a year, and I watch those especially.

    I heard another solution for the plug-in crash was to leave the plug-in, but give it a new name on the server. How is that different from deleting it?

  4. i will add a small tip, if you upgrade and get error, rename the plugin folder at the meantime. you can try upload a previous version or use any other trick, but the most powerful, is just de-activate by renaming the plugin folder.

  5. A follow-up to Oshik’s tip: renaming the plugin folder works perfectly for all plugins in the “plugins” folder, but if you’re dealing with a plugin designed only for use in the “mu-plugins” folder, you have to either remove it or rename the entire mu-plugins folder. Be careful, as this can result in core functionality being lost!

  6. Anoother option if you absolutely MUST check out a plugin for a live WP instalation, is to clone the entire instalation to another server and test the plugins “of line”. this clone would also work as at total backup.

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