WordPress 3.7 auto-updater - What you should know

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WordPress 3.7 auto-updater - What you should know

The new auto-update feature launched in WordPress 3.7 will automatically apply maintenance and security updates to your installation when released.

WordPress 3.7 has recently been launched bringing with it many improvements.  One of the most significant features relates to the auto-update functionality that will automatically apply maintenance and security updates when they are released.  These are commonly referred to as minor version updates, such as 3.7.1 or 3.7.2.

If you read the admin dashboard of your WordPress install after the latest upgrade, you will have noticed their summary talking about the new WordPress 3.7 auto updater. We have included the summary below, but you can also see it in the screenshot below:

Updates While You Sleep - With WordPress 3.7, you don't have to lift a finger to apply maintenance and security updates.  Most sites are now able to apply these updates in the background automatically, although some configurations may not allow it.

Wordpress 3.7 auto update
Screenshot showing the new features of WordPress 3.7 after updating to the latest version of WordPress.

Before we go into the auto-updater in more detail, it is useful to highlight some of the other new features that have been released with version 3.7:

  1. Automatic updates
  2. Stronger passwords
  3. Better Global support

The purpose of this article is to talk about the WordPress 3.7 Auto-updater. Essentially, all maintenance and security updates will be applied to your WordPress install automatically, and they will run in the background (meaning your site won't go offline while the update takes place).  This is a great feature, because how often do you forget to apply the update to your WordPress?  Now with security an issue, WordPress has promised that:

The update process also has been made even more reliable and secure, with dozens of new checks and safeguards.

This is great for patching security vulnerabilities quickly, but it doesn't go that far to helping you complete those standard maintenance tasks, like updating plugins or updating major versions of WordPress. Fortunately, there are a couple of solutions:

  1. Autoupdater WordPress Plugin - We used this plugin for a long time.  You simply install and choose whether to update plugins, themes (only official WordPress themes downloaded from the repository) and WordPress core.  We never use to use it with Themes, though, as we think this is better done manually.  You can download the plugin here.
  2. Manually altering the wp-config.php file to extend the new WordPress Auto updater functionality - While the new updater only does minor updates (i.e. 3.7.1 - 3.7.2) as standard, it is interesting to note that this functionality can be extended to plugins, themes as well.

Configuring the WordPress Auto-updater by changing the wp-config.php file

The default setting - Update all minor versions of WordPress Core

If you have already upgraded to WordPress 3.7 or later there is nothing needed to do to allow the auto-updating of all minor versions of WordPress.  These updates commonly contain security releases and are the most stable, so we recommend you keep this enabled:

define( 'WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', 'minor' );

Changing the settings

Simply replace the code above by adding the snippets below in wp-config.php file to enable the different type of updates:

Enable All Updates: Development, major, and minor releases

This is probably the option you would most likely want if you just want to keep everything updated.  This is probably most suitable for personal blogs so you can ensure that your site is updated for every release possible.  One of the lead developers of WordPress, saw you coming and wrote a detailed guide about disabling the new WordPress 3.7 Auto Updater here.  We highly recommend you read it before configuring this option.

define('WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', true);

Enable Plugin Updates

If you prefer to manage the updates of the WordPress Core yourself, but want all the plugins to be automatically updated you can add this code to your wp-config.php file.

add_filter( 'auto_update_plugin', '__return_true' );

Enable themes updates

Again, if you want to have more control of what is updated automatically with the new WordPress 3.7 Auto Updater you can add the following code to auto update any themes.  This one is quite useful, but we would recommend you use a child theme if you go down this route if you have made many modifications to your theme files.

add_filter( 'auto_update_theme', '__return_true' );

To disable the Automatic Updater completely

While we would not recommend it, sometimes you may not wish to have your site automatically updated at all, and prefer to update in a more controlled manner yourself.

define( 'AUTOMATIC_UPDATER_DISABLED', true );

Disaster Strikes

Sorry to scare monger you a bit, but perhaps you already know exactly what we are talking about.  You have just finished upgrading all your plugins, and all of a sudden you get the "white screen of death", or errors popping up over your WordPress Install or maybe even that slider or some other functionality has stopped working.  Did you take a backup?  Sure, your host probably has one, but did you just do some work before the upgrades that may be lost?  Does your host charge to recover backups?  How long will it take to sort out?  Can you afford the downtime?

Well, this kind of thing has happened to us before.  A couple of years back, our host even said that the earliest backup they had was three weeks old.  Pretty poor for a host that advertises nightly backups right?

So what is the solution?

Ultimately, you would need to do all your upgrades manually after taking a full backup of your site.  Ouch.  To be honest, manual updates on complicated sites are sometimes the best way.  Make sure you have made a backup (cPanel typically allows you to instigate a backup, so at least you have an up to date copy your host can restore). This can be a pain, though, and quite often people don't log into their WordPress dashboard for weeks at a time, so sometimes there is a need for a better solution.

Some Managed WordPress hosts will take care of the management of your WordPress sites for you; upgrading your plugins, and taking backups and making sure everything runs smoothly.  The problem is they are often restrictive on what plugins you can use, and charge a lot more.

Another option is going with a company such as SiteGround (see below).

SiteGround's unique auto updater

SiteGround has built their own auto updating system themselves, and we have been using it ourselves for some time.  Their auto-updater has the following process:

  1. Warns you about upcoming updates
  2. Backs up your website
  3. Updates WordPress Core - both minor and major updates
  4. Updates your plugins

The great thing about this is their easy to use interface to set all this up, and the ability to quickly restore your site should anything go wrong with a simple click of a button.  They have an excellent tutorial on the process which you can check out here , but we have included a couple of screenshots from their tutorial below for ease of reference.

siteground auto updater

siteground auto updater

siteground auto updater

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