I received the following question from an anonymous reader via my Ask Me Anything About WordPress page:

With WordPress 3.4 just round the corner, I’m concerned about updating my site. Basically I don’t want it to crash. How often should you update your WordPress installation?

The short answer is to update as soon as a new version is made available, but be sure to back up your WordPress files and database before doing so! For a slightly longer and more nuanced answer read on.

Let’s start with a few simple reasons why you might keep your WordPress installation up to date. These include: the ability to benefit from new features, from bug crushes, from the latest security updates and to make your installation compatible with themes and plugins that require the latest version of WordPress.

How to check that your WordPress installation is up to date?

To find out whether your WordPress installation is out of date, you can check for updates in your WordPress admin panel by clicking on the “Dashboard” tab and then selecting the “Updates” link immediately below.

Alternatively, you should see a notification appear at the top of your dashboard’s main content area telling you that your version of WordPress is out of date and that a new version is available.

Yet another way of doing this is to scroll to the bottom right corner of your admin panel and look for the version number displayed there. Then head over to WordPress.org and check the version number of the latest official download.

Once you’ve determined that your installation is in need of an update, make sure as I said above, to back up all your files! I can’t repeat that enough.

How to back up your data?

There are a couple of ways to do this. It depends how much control you want over the backup process. The first option is to manually download your files via FTP and use PHP MySQL to download your database. See this list of WordPress.org recommended FTP clients

if you’re new to FTP. Also, see the WordPress.org tutorial on using PHP MySQL to download your database.

An easier option is to install a WordPress backup plugin such as Backup Guard for example. This will give you multiple file export options, including the ability to receive your backup via email, and the process will be more or less automated.

As a general rule, I would advise you to set up weekly (if not daily) backups of your site’s content. If you opt for a plugin like Online Backup then you can simply set the backup frequency to your liking and have the backup file sent to a free gmail account. It’s worth setting up a gmail account for the sole purpose of backups.

How to prevent your WordPress theme and plugins from crashing your site?

One of the biggest concerns when a new version of WordPress hits the scene is whether there will be any compatibility issues with the theme and plugins you’re using.


Let’s start with themes. This is a good opportunity to talk about Premium WordPress themes and legacy support. If you’re using a premium theme on your site, then one of the criteria for choosing the theme in the first place should be that the theme developer is devoted to providing legacy support.

It’s important to find out whether the developer is committed to updating the theme and is not simply going to abandon it after making a handsome wad of cash. In that sense, I advise going with a long-standing and reputable WordPress theme developer.

If it’s not clear as to whether the theme you’re using has been updated to meet the requirements of the next major WordPress release, then it’s a good idea to contact the developer and ask. That goes for free themes just as much as for premium themes.

If the developer has disappeared, then I suggest that you should first drop by the excellent WordPress.org support forums

to see if a kind soul can help you out if you’re having compatibility problems.


For plugins it’s much the same thing. As a general rule, I recommend not to use too many plugins if you can help it. The more you have, the more likely it is that you’re going to encounter legacy conflicts at some point in time.

So with plugins it’s a good idea to look at each one separately and first of all make sure you have the latest version of that plugin installed (backup your files once again!). Then check whether it is compatible or not with the WordPress update. Finally, when you get to the update process, you can disable all your plugins, carry out the update, then re-enable them one by one to test for problems.

More often than not your site will run just fine after minor WordPress updates. If it’s a major milestone update, then that’s when you need to put the extra work in. WordPress 3.4 is somewhere in between. So be cautious, but don’t lose any sleep over it!

A checklist for updating your WordPress installation

Here’s a recap of the basic things to consider before updating your WordPress installation:

  • Back up your WordPress files and your MySQL database.
  • Make sure your that any plugins you’re using are compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
  • Make sure your theme is compatible.
  • Disable all your plugins. Run the update and re-enable them one by one to test for potential problems.

Good luck and remember: as long as you’ve backed everything up, there’s nothing to worry about! Have fun using WordPress!

Reader tips

This is an update with some tips from readers. These all feature in the comment section below, but I thought it would be nice to integrate them into the post (with attribution of course).

  • Omar recommends waiting a week or two after the release before updating so you don’t lose plugin compatibility and let the developers update their plugins.
  • Jürgen recommends running the update on a test site to test the new version of WordPress with his themes and plugins.