Plugins are responsible for a large part of a website’s functionality. They’re incredibly important for both internal processes and for the users.
However, they must be up to date if you want to keep your website at the top of its game. This includes making sure that you update your installed plugins in order to maintain a competitive technical edge.
In this guide, you’ll understand how to manage and update your plugins, as well as how to deal with potential issues that may arise in the process.
Understanding plugin updates
Consistent updates are crucial for a healthy website, and plugins are no exception. Plugin developers consistently put out new editions of their products so you can not only avoid bugs but also reap the benefits of useful new features.
What are plugin updates?
A plugin update refers to the improvements, bug fixes, new features, or enhancements added to an established plugin. Plugin updates can range from seemingly insignificant (like minor UI improvements) to absolutely essential to a site’s function.
Plugins are most commonly used in CMS systems and website builders such as NEXT BASKET, where custom external features are a must.
Why are plugin updates important?
Updating plugins regularly is crucial, as that’s key to maintaining peak performance and high security. Delaying plugin updates might cause compatibility issues, security threats, and other easily avoidable issues that may have a detrimental impact on your business or project.
Here are some of the reasons plugins should be updated:
- Adding new features to your website;
- Fixing existing security vulnerabilities;
- Removing bugs or glitches;
- Avoiding compatibility issues that come with outdated plugins;
- Optimizing for speed and performance, etc.
As you can see, by updating your website’s plugins, not only do you avoid crucial risks, but you stand to gain many benefits that will help you build a smooth and effective site.
Next, we’ll cover the different types of plugin updates and how they help a website’s functionality.
Types of plugin updates
Plugin updates vary in nature, but each individual type is indispensable to a website that strives for success. Let’s look at the different kinds of plugin updates and why they’re essential to your site’s technical performance, customer experience, and security.
A common update type is one that patches up holes in the security of a plugin’s previous version. These updates should be implemented as soon as possible, as delaying them might threaten the site’s security and, in turn, your personal and client information.
Though you can indeed enable automatic updates for security tools, it’s best to have a human touch to it, especially when it comes to third-party plugins.
Bug fixes or patches are updates that resolve issues and glitches in the plugin. Some bugs are minor, and some can severely impact your website’s overall performance and functionality.
Updating your plugins to a newer version and reporting potential bugs to the developers will go a long way in preventing potential malfunctions in your website.
Old versions of plugins might interfere with other plugins, apps, or themes, causing major technical issues. Theme incompatibility is a particular threat because a mismatch in the plugin and theme versions could force entire processes and plugins to stop working.
Compatibility issue risks increase when you have too many plugins, especially if you don’t monitor or manage updates manually.
By introducing new versions to your plugins, you’re taking advantage of new exciting solutions and features that could give your business a competitive advantage. These additions could be cosmetic, technical, or quality-of-life ones – in any case, they’re built to help you.
If you don’t find the new features helpful or appealing, you can deactivate specific features or, in most cases, revert the plugin to an older version.
Best practices for managing plugin updates
While updating plugins seems like a straightforward process, it’s recommended that you approach it with care in order to maintain a healthy and bug-free website.
To do so, consider the best practices listed in the paragraphs below.
Backup your website
Create a full site backup before making any changes or introducing updates. Some new versions might interfere with other website elements or could go through an unexpected installation failure, including a critical error.
The site backup will allow you to restore your website to a previous working state, allowing you to safely update it or contact the plugin’s developers for assistance.
Read the changelog
Carefully read through the plugin’s new version details to assess the latest list of features and determine whether the update is necessary.
In some cases, plugin developers stop supporting compatibility with other apps, which could define your choice of whether or not to move forward with a new plugin update.
Test updates on a staging site
Giving the updated plugins a test run in a controlled environment replicating your live website gives you a clear and realistic perspective of its effectiveness. This way, you can adjust the settings to avoid potential issues (if the site crashes) and ensure a smooth transition.
Update plugins regularly
Consistently check plugin updates and apply them to your website. You can subscribe to the developers’ newsletters or stay in the loop through your website platform’s dashboard, which allows you to manage plugin updates yourself.
Ideally, you should update your plugins as soon as they’re available.
Delete unused plugins
Reduce clutter by deleting your unused plugins. That will help you manage your plugins more efficiently and likely increase your website’s loading speed – a key metric for SEO and a better user experience.
How to update a plugin on your website?
You can set up different methods to ensure easy theme and plugin updates. Your approach may vary depending mostly on the specific plugin’s nature, but certain situations may call for an alternative technique.
Below, you’ll see your main options and learn which one you should pick, depending on the context.
Updating plugins manually
Deciding to manually update your plugins gives you better control over your website, as you’re able to prepare for changes and new features accordingly.
The manual method usually involves logging into your website’s backend or user dashboard, typically your installed plugins page, and updating it. If you see a note similar to, “There is a new version of [plugin] available,” this addon is ready to be updated.
Alternatively, you can bulk update your plugins instead of doing it individually. In your plugins page, you can select each plugin and decide whether or not to take bulk actions – usually from a dropdown menu.
Additionally, you can schedule automatic updates to take place in the future with pre-set settings.
Automatic plugin updates
The auto update option is more time-efficient compared to the manual update process. Enabling automatic updates is fairly easy and removes the monotonous nature of individually managing each plugin.
To allow all the old plugin to automatically update, you need to navigate to your plugins tab and select the Enable auto-updates option attached to each plugin. Revise this page if you ever need to disable auto updates.
You can also use a site management tool that performs security scans, automatic backups, and auto-updates your themes and plugins. These tools are valuable time-saves and quality-of-life assets.
Updating plugins via FTP
An FTP client is one of the most reliable yet technically challenging ways to update your plugins. It is an alternative for when you can’t access your dashboard.
Accessing your site via FTP offers a manual solution of replacing outdated plugin files within your plugin folder with a ZIP file containing the latest version of the plugin.
When altering your website’s back-end data through the FTP client, make sure to create a backup version beforehand and clear the cache afterward.
Automatic and manual updates – how to choose?
Shouldn’t you enable automatic plugin updates for all the plugins on your website if it’s the easier option? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as it depends on the type of plugins installed.
If a specific plugin offers back-end improvements and adjustments for the staff, they’re generally safe to update automatically. These include SEO plugins and minor internal quality-of-life plugins.
However, if a plugin plays an integral role in the website’s structure and has a noticeable impact on the user’s experience, it should be manually updated. For example, page builders and other specific plugins that completely change the way the website works. In these cases, a single bug or issue could completely crash your website.
Other plugins that should be updated manually include cache plugins, central e-commerce plugins, redirection plugins, and translation plugins.
Dealing with plugin conflicts
Your website should be reliable and technically efficient. Plugin conflicts are some of the most common sources of unexpected errors and even website crashes, and in most cases, they’re preventable. Here’s how to deal with them.
Identifying plugin conflicts
The initial step is identifying the culprits behind the conflicts. Your first step should be to deactivate all plugins temporarily to check if the issue you’re facing persists. If they don’t, one or more plugins could be causing the conflict.
Activate the plugins individually and test the website after each activation to assess the specific cause. Examine the error messages and leverage debugging tools to gain detailed information regarding compatibility issues.
Troubleshooting plugin conflicts
First of all, you’ll want to ensure that all plugins are up-to-date and compatible. You can chase this information in each plugin’s documentation or contact the relevant developers.
Some plugins contain similar features that may clash. Disabling said features in one of the plugins may cease the conflict.
Finally, changing the plugins’ loading order could fix issues stemming from interdependence.
Resolving plugin conflicts
If your troubleshooting wasn’t effective, you should reach customer service or the developers themselves. Most issues are common and will be attended to by the relevant professionals. It includes third-party professionals for hire.
On the other hand, if the conflict persists, consider alternative plugins that offer the same function.
Another solution could be, as backward as it seems, to hold onto an older version of a plugin as long as it doesn’t cause compatibility issues.
Avoiding common plugin update mistakes
Risk management and being mindful of potential mistakes is crucial in maintaining a secure and steady website.
Avoid these common plugin update mistakes:
- Not backing up your website. Prematurely updating your plugins without a backup version of your website could lead to irreversible damage (or potential downtime for your business). A backup allows you to easily revert any changes if an update fails.
- Updating all plugins at once. Simultaneously updating all your plugins simultaneously carries the risk of causing compatibility conflicts – not only between plugins but between a plugin and the website platform. You should update your website plugins individually to ensure a smoother transition.
- Allowing automatic updates for the wrong plugins. Updating massively important plugins that define your website should not be taken lightly. Make sure you take the time to acquaint yourself with the new patch and set up the update carefully.
- Not reading the changelogs. Read through the update changelogs to avoid compatibility issues and decide whether or not your website needs the plugin at all.
- Skipping beta tests. Launching updates onto the live servers is risky, as you don’t know how they will interact with other aspects of your website. Take the time to stage-test any significant changes you make.
- Deleting plugins prematurely. Don’t remove plugins from your website before deactivating them, even if you don’t use them anymore. It could erase or leave behind data, causing database issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should I update my plugins?
Ideally, as soon as updates become available. Alternatively, aim for at least once a month to ensure optimal performance and security.
Are all plugin updates free?
Most plugin updates are free. However, some premium or advanced features require an investment.
Can I roll back a plugin update if I encounter issues?
Yes. The easiest way to do it is by reverting changes via a backup of your website. Also, you can download a prior version from the relevant repository or use a rollback plugin.
Can plugin updates affect my website’s SEO?
Yes. Updating your plugins usually improves your website’s security and performance – essential factors in search engine rankings.