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24Jun2014

Website Maintenance - The Pitfalls Of The "Update" Button

Most websites these days are built with Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress or Joomla. Most CMS make it very easy to push an "update" button, but this can seriously break your website. In this post, we'll talk about why it pays to think twice before pushing that tempting button to update your website.

What are website updates and why do you need them?

website-maintenance-updatesMost content management systems release regular updates to enhance security and improve features or fix bugs. In addition, your website is likely to use a number of plugins such as form builders or social media plugins. The developers of those plugins also regularly make updates available.

While your website will generally continue to function as usual without applying these updates, this may make your website more vulnerable to hackers over time as they find out about vulnerabilities in older versions of your CMS or plugins.

In addition, sometimes Third Party functionality may change and need to be updated in your plugin, e.g. social media plugins that connect to Facebook may need to "go with the times" if Facebook changes its integration code. Therefore it's a good idea to keep your website and plugins up to date.

Think before you push that "update" button

Most CMS, WordPress in particular, make updates very visible and actually make you feel bad for not updating immediately. Many updates are completely safe and hassle free. However, updating without thinking can occasionally break functionality on your website, so it pays to think before you update.

Some common issues with website updates include:

  • Broken functionality in shopping carts, particularly if you use add-on plugins that may not be compatible with the update
  • Loss of custom coding such as custom functionality or template design: sometimes developers apply custom code to plugins to make them work as needed for your particular website, however these changes can then be overwritten by plugin updates.
  • Broken design template if the template is not compatible with the latest version of your CMS, or if the template has been customised by amending its core files.
  • Broken functionality in any other plugins, e.g. social media plugins or web forms

How to apply website updates safely

There are some steps you can take to ensure your website keeps working as expected after applying an update:

  1. Backup, backup, backup: Make sure you have a recent backup. You should regularly back up your website files and database, and ideally store these in a different location such as on a hard drive or in the cloud. That way you can restore a copy of your website if things go seriously wrong during an update, or if you get hacked.
  2. Check with your developer: Your web developer should know whether a plugin or theme includes custom code in its core files. If it does, you'll know to be extra careful with updates to that particular plugin or theme.
  3. Do your research: Make sure you read the information provided by the plugin or CMS developer. This will often outline the changes that have been made, as well as flagging up any compatibility issues with the current version of your CMS or other plugins/themes.
  4. If you're not sure, wait a while: Sometimes issues only come to light a few days or weeks after an update has been released. It can pay to wait a little while before making the update, just in case an issue with the update is discovered and needs to be fixed by the developer.
  5. Test your website after updating: If you are satisfied that the update is probably ok, go for it! After updating, make sure you test any functionality that could be impacted by the update. E.g. if you are updating a form plugin, make sure you then send a test enquiry through your website to ensure it works as expected. If updating an eCommerce plugin, test the checkout.

What to do if things go wrong

If a plugin or template update completely breaks your website, you can try to undo the update by uploading a previous version of the plugin or template. You can often get this from the developer, or you can use the old plugin or template files from your website backup. If this does not work, you may need to restore your website from the backup you have taken.

If a content management system update, such as a WordPress or Joomla update, breaks your website, it is not so easy to revert back to a previous version. You would generally have to use your backup to restore the website to how it was.

If your website is generally ok but some of the functionality is not working as expected, you may need to play around with some of the plugin settings, or even have the plugin code looked at by a developer.

The bottom line

While it's a good idea to keep your website up to date, you need to have a plan B! Backups are crucial, and you need to be prepared to involve a developer to fix or restore your website if things don't go to plan.

Ondetto offers a website maintenance plan for Joomla and WordPress websites where we take care of your website updates - please contact us if you would like more information.

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