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Updating Plugins is an Endless Battle

If you have a WordPress site, you probably use several plugins. Plugins offer many features to make your website easier to manage and easier to look at, so why wouldn’t you add a few? Often a plugin will receive an update, and if you spend any time in the backend of WordPress you are bound to see a couple of update notices. Actually, if update notices were dollars, you’d be out buying a new computer to view all those update notices.

Plugin updates are definitely a good thing, since each one helps your site run faster or stay secure, but sometimes the constant stream of updates can push you into a routine of blindly updating a plugin.

I’m writing today to tell you the following: Don’t Update That Plugin!

How I Broke a Site

My favorite WordPress plugin is Advanced Custom Fields (ACF). No other plugin has come close to helping me produce quality sites as quickly and efficiently, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. We developers at Orion Group like it so much that we purchased some of the premium add-ons and make use of them quite regularly. I’m putting all of this out here so that you can understand just how interesting things became a month ago, when we determined that an update for ACF could break a site if not handled properly.

ACF hadn’t seen an update for a while. In fact, it was sort of removed from the official directory of WordPress plugins. So, I was pretty excited when I saw an update notification on one of our development sites. Without hesitation, I pressed that update button and felt good. At least I did feel good until I received a message from our client asking why they can’t preview their site.

I promptly enabled WordPress debug mode and quickly realized the issue was related to ACF. So I did some research, read the ACF changelog, and learned that the way premium add-ons were installed had changed drastically. Since I didn’t read the changelog warning and install the premium add-ons according to the new instructions, the development website didn’t know where to find the premium add-ons and broke.

I quickly fixed that site, and immediately planned an update process for our 20 to 30 sites that currently use ACF. It was a painless process and, like any update that doesn’t affect the UI, our clients didn’t notice a thing–their websites worked and never stopped working.

How You Can Avoid Breaking Your Site

Don’t Update That Plugin! until you do the following:

  1. While logged in the backend of WordPress, bring up your list of plugins by clicking Plugins on the left-hand nav-bar.
  2. Under the plugin with an available update, you will see a notice stating View version details or update now. Don’t Click Update Now! Instead, click View version details.
  3. A window with recent changes will pop up. Read over the changes while looking out for anything stating ImportantWarning, Breaks backward compatibility, or other similar words.

If you see anything that raises a red flag: follow the instructions provided by the plugin author or ask the author how you can safely update.

If you don’t see anything to worry about: go ahead and update that plugin. You’ve earned it!