Plugins are necessary if you want to add functionality to your WordPress website. And no matter how many or which plugins you decide to install, you need to stay on top of updating them — this way, your website continues to work properly, efficiently, and safely.
WordPress plugins are a lot like the apps you download on your smartphone — similarly, after you add plugins, you must regularly update them to maintain peak performance and keep security issues at bay.
The same way Apple updates the apps on your phone, developers often update the plugins they offer, too. Here are some reasons a specific plugin may be updated:
- New feature update or addition to the plugin
- Security issues that need to be addressed
- Bugs or glitches that surface
- CMS speed and compatibility management
How do you know when to update a WordPress plugin?
Your WordPress Dashboard should automatically notify you when a plugin needs to be updated — you can view this notification under the Updates tab. If you visit this tab and don’t see any updates listed, click Check Again just to be sure.
In your WordPress Settings, you can choose to have plugin updates automatically installed or install them manually.
Automatic updates are great if your plugins are updated frequently whereas manual updates are ideal if you want to review the newest version of a plugin before installing it on your website. In this piece, you’ll learn how to do both.
Let’s start by reviewing how to manually update a WordPress plugin.
How to Manually Update a WordPress Plugin
- Download the plugin .zip file.
- Extract the .zip file.
- Use a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) Client to connect to your site’s server via FTP.
- Navigate to the “wp-content/plugins” folder and delete the folder of the plugin you’re updating.
- Find the extracted plugin folder you just downloaded, right-click it, and press “Upload”.
- Visit your WordPress dashboard and website to ensure the plugin is active and functioning correctly.
1. Download the plugin .zip file.
To manually update a WordPress plugin, you will first need to download the plugin in a .zip file from either the WordPress Plugin directory or a third-party source.
2. Extract the .zip file.
After downloading the .zip file, you can make these files available by right-clicking the downloaded folder and selecting Extract All or Extract Here.
This will make a new folder of the plugin files with a replicated name of the .zip file. Be sure to keep this extracted file in a spot that is easily accessible, such as your desktop.
3. Use a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) Client to connect to your site’s server via FTP.
Next, connect to your site’s server through FTP. To do so, you will need to use a third-party called an FTP Client and as well as contact your hosting provider to obtain the login username and password to access the server.
4. Navigate to the “wp-content/plugins” folder and delete the folder of the plugin you’re updating.
Once you have accessed the server, click through the files to the "wp-content/plugins" folder. Here, you should see a folder with the name of the plugin you are updating —delete or deactivate this folder.
5. Find the extracted plugin folder you just downloaded, right-click it, and press “Upload”.
Replace this deleted or deactivated plugin folder, which contains the older, outdated version of your plugin, with the recently extracted plugin file. Right-click on this extracted file and select Upload.
6. Visit your WordPress dashboard and website to ensure the plugin is active and functioning correctly.
The updated plugin should now be functioning. Visit your WordPress dashboard and your website to ensure it is operating as expected.
And that's it! You've manually updated your WordPress plugin. But, what about automatic updates? They help you save valuable time that could be lost throughout this manual update process. So, here’s how you can ensure your plugins are automatically updated.
How to Automatically Update a WordPress Plugin
To set up automatic updates, use a site management tool, enter code to tell WordPress to automatically install plugin updates as they’re available, or enter a code snippet in the functions.php file.
Below, we'll cover the steps involved in each of those options for automatically updating your plugins.
Automatically Update Plugins with a Site Management Tool
A site management tool is a resource that automatically handles tasks for you such as backing up your website, performing security scans, or updating WordPress (including your WordPress themes and plugins).
Here are some common site management tools that will automatically update your plugins so you can avoid continuously checking for updates or receiving update notifications.
WPMU Dev is a platform that offers WordPress management tools in a product called The Hub. The Hub will help perform automated tasks, so you can focus on creating content for — and marketing — your business.
The Hub will regularly monitor and scan your website for security, backup your files and pages, and update everything from core WordPress updates to theme and plugin updates.
While it might sound strange, you can actually install plugins to automatically update your plugins.
JetPack is a site management tool that allows you to select which plugins you want it to automatically update — and yes, you can have JetPack automatically update itself.
Easy Updates Manager
Easy Updates Manager is another easy-to-use plugin that allows you to disable or enable automatic plugin updates for all of your plugins in one click. Alternatively, the Easy Updates Manager plugin allows you to select specific plugins for automatic updates.
ManageWP is a WordPress management service that offers automatic plugin updates. A unique feature of this site management tool is that it allows you to set what it calls Safe Updates.
This service will let you schedule automatic updates, and from there, it will create a restore point in case the update is unsatisfactory and you want to return to the older version of the plugin.
ManageWP will take screenshots of your website before and after each Safe Update as well, so you can compare site appearance and functionality between plugin versions.
Automatically Update Plugins with a Code Snippet
To automatically update WordPress plugins, you can also choose to add code which signals to your website to update plugins as soon as they become available.
To do this, simply insert the following code to the functions.php file in your WordPress theme folder:
add_filter( 'auto_update_plugin', '__return_true' );
Now, you might be wondering what to do if this process fails and your WordPress plugin doesn’t update correctly the first time. Plugin update failures are actually fairly common, especially with automatic updates (unless there was an error with a step in your manual update, or a larger technical issue unrelated to your the steps we reviewed above).
WordPress Plugin Update Failed?
Plugin updates can fail — you’ll see a maintenance error to users and an “Update Failed” message on your Plugins Admin page. Failures are commonly related to automatic plugin updates, so try to manually update the plugin instead.
If you have a front-end maintenance error message, navigate to your website folder via FTP and delete the file called “.maintenance”. Then try updating the plugin again.
Start Updating Your Plugins
No matter what approach to plugin updates you decide to take, be diligent in keeping an eye on your plugins by updating them regularly. Updates can occasionally fail, so be sure you’re ready to dive in and make a fix if things go awry.
But, most importantly, stay on top of those updates to give yourself and your users a smooth and secure experience with your website.
Originally published Feb 7, 2020 2:05:34 PM, updated April 15 2021