Are you tired of manually updating WordPress each time a new version is released? According to Alexa, over 30 percent of the top 1 million websites on the internet are running an outdated version of the content management system (CMS). As a result, they aren’t taking full advantage of WordPress. They lack the features, customization options, and security improvements of the latest version.
Manually updating WordPress, however, can be time-consuming. You’ll have to log in to the main admin dashboard and select the update button each time a new version is released. Fortunately, you can now enable automatic updates in WordPress. When enabled, auto-updates will update your website’s core WordPress files automatically.
Minor vs Major Updates
WordPress updates can be classified as minor or major. Both types of updates involve the core WordPress files. Minor updates are simply smaller updates, whereas major updates are larger updates.
Most minor updates are designed to fix security vulnerabilities.
Security vulnerabilities are digital weaknesses that an attacker can target and exploit to perform malicious activities on a website. WordPress developers release unplanned minor updates to fix them so that webmasters’ websites aren’t susceptible to being hacked.
Major updates are entirely new versions of the CMS. They typically introduce multiple features and improvements. Some major updates even change the editor’s interface.
Gutenberg, for instance, was a major update that removed the TinyMCE editor and replaced it with the Gutenberg editor. On average, WordPress developers release planned major updates about one to three times per year.
How Auto-Updates Work
Auto-updates is a feature in WordPress that performs updates automatically. During the early years of WordPress, webmasters were forced to manually update WordPress. But version 3.7 of the popular CMS came with an alternative updating solution: auto-updates.
WordPress leverages cron jobs to execute auto-updates.
You can enable or disable auto-updates for your website’s core WordPress files. Enabling this feature will result in WordPress running a cron job twice a day to see if there’s a new version available. If it detects a new version, WordPress will automatically download and install it on your website.
Steps to Enable Automatic Updates in WordPress
You can enable, as well as disable, auto-updates from the main admin dashboard. Once you’ve logged in to the dashboard, select “Updates” under “Dashboard.” About halfway down this page is the option to toggle on or off auto-updates.
Keep in mind that auto-updates may already be enabled for your website. This feature is enabled for all minor updates by default. For some websites, it’s also enabled for all major updates. WordPress 5.6 enabled auto-updates for both minor and major updates by default. Prior to version 5.6, auto-updates were only enabled for minor updates by default.
If you launched your website with WordPress version 5.5 or older — regardless of whether you later updated it to a newer version — it should only have auto-updates enabled for minor updates by default. Navigating to the “Updates” section in the dashboard will reveal a link labeled: “Enable automatic updates for all new versions of WordPress.” Clicking this link will enable auto-updates for major updates.
How to Disable Auto-Updates
You can disable auto-updates for major updates by clicking this same link. Assuming it’s currently enabled, the link will be labeled: “Switch to automatic updates for maintenance and security releases only.” You can toggle on and off auto-updates for major updates by clicking this link.
There’s no option to disable auto-updates for minor updates in the dashboard. Minor updates are important because they fix security vulnerabilities. Therefore, WordPress doesn’t allow you to toggle on and off auto-updates for minor updates in the dashboard.
The only way to disable auto-updates for minor updates is to edit the wp.config.php file. You can use the “_return_false” value for minor updates in this file.
What About Themes and Plugins?
You can enable auto-updates for themes and plugins as well. Like with the core WordPress files, auto-updates for themes and plugins use cron jobs. WordPress will run cron jobs to check for new versions of themes and plugins.
To enable auto-updates for a theme, go to the themes section in the dashboard. Next, hover your mouse over the theme and select “Theme Details.” If the theme supports auto-updates, you’ll see a link to enable this feature.
Enabling auto-updates for plugins is pretty much the same. You’ll need to go to the plugins section and search for the plugin for which you want to enable this feature. If the plugin supports auto-updates, it will have a link labeled “Enabled auto-updates” to the far right.
While you’ll have to enable auto-updates for each theme individually, you can enable auto-updates for multiple plugins at once. Click the box next to each plugin. At the top of the plugins page is a bulk actions menu. With all of the plugins selected, click the bulk actions menu and choose the option to enable auto-updates.
Benefits of Enabling Auto-Updates
With auto-updates enabled, your website will never run an outdated or obsolete version of WordPress. When a new version of the CMS is released, WordPress will download and install it automatically.
Compatibility problems are less likely to occur with auto-updates enabled. Most themes and plugins are compatible with the latest version of the WordPress CMS. Developers don’t build their themes and plugins around older versions. Rather, they build them around the latest version. By enabling auto-updates, your website will run the latest version, thus lowering the risk of compatibility problems.
Your website will be more secure with auto-updates enabled. Most minor updates are released for security purposes. They eliminate bugs and vulnerabilities that could lead to a cyber attack if left unfixed.
On the other hand, enabling auto-updates may break your website. Whether it’s a minor or major update, it may fail to install properly. If you’re going to enable auto-updates, you should schedule regular backups for your websites. Backups will allow you to restore your website if it breaks during an update.
If you’re tired of updating WordPress by hand, you may want to enable auto-updates. This feature is probably already enabled for minor updates by default. From the dashboard, though, you can enable it for major updates, themes, and plugins.