Leapfrogging multiple versions of WordPress

If it’s been awhile since you last updated WordPress, you may be several versions behind instead of just one.

Here’s how to check :

  1. Look in the “At a Glance” section of the home page of your WordPress dashboard for the version of WordPress your site is currently running. This should be near the top of the page, on the first page you see when you log into the Dashboard.
  2. If you’re not running the current version of WordPress, you should see an “update nag” message at the top of this page, telling you which version is the latest one available.

If the only difference between what your site is running and the latest version available is in the third digit (for instance you’re running 5.2.1 and the latest version is 5.2.3, or you’re running 5.2, and the latest version is 5.2.1), you’re probably safe to update with the regular one-click process, although you might want to figure out why your site hasn’t updated itself, because these so-called minor updates are supposed to get installed automatically.

But if your site’s version and the latest version differ by more than one in the second digit (your site is running 4.9 and the latest is 5.2 or your site is running 5.0 and the latest is 5.2), that means you’re more than one major version behind.

The one-click update process will always update WordPress to the latest version available, which means that if you are more than one version behind, you’ll skip several versions to catch up to the latest release.

Is this is a safe thing to do?

Well, it depends.

The official WordPress guide to manual updating says this:

“If you plan on upgrading across more than two major releases, you should consider upgrading incrementally to avoid potential conflicts and minimize the risks of database damage.”

But it also says, in the very next paragraph:

“WordPress 3.7 introduced an easy to use one-button updater which will take you directly to Current Version. This update step is safe, and it is possible to one-click update from 3.7 to any later version.”

Should you, or shouldn’t you?

Well, here’s a quick rundown of three alternatives:

The one-click update process will probably work fine, but I would strongly advise you to have a full backup and know how to restore your site from that backup if necessary before clicking it (and leave yourself some extra time for troubleshooting).

Alternatively, you can install the WP Downgrade plugin, which, despite its name, allows both upgrading and downgrading to any existing version of WordPress. Once the plugin is installed and activated, use the plugin’s settings to manually specify the version of WordPress you want to end up on (the safest approach is to update one version at a time, making a backup before each update). Then your one-click update screen in your dashboard (Home –> Updates) will reflect your choice of version, and you can use that screen to update WordPress. Repeat until you’re at the latest version, and then if everything has gone well, you can safely deactivate and delete the plugin.

The alternative to the one-click updater is to update manually and incrementally, which requires accessing your site’s files directly via FTP and replacing certain WordPress files and folders with new ones downloaded from WordPress.org’s release archive. And if the reason you’re doing this is to go one version at a time, you’ll be doing it more than once.

However you choose to update WordPress, you will certainly also need to update plugins, and quite possibly your theme, since new versions will have been released. You’ll also want to follow the post-update steps in my free WordPress Update Checklist to make sure the update went successfully.

Any of the three approaches above is very doable if you’re patient and careful and follow the instructions. Use my free guide How to Upgrade Anything for a helping hand.

But if you’re feeling like all the above options are too daunting, don’t worry, there are plenty of people just like you who don’t have the time or inclination to take on a multi-version WordPress update. With a Website Tune-Up, you can hand all that off to me, and with my ongoing Peace of Mind Program, you’ll never fall behind with your WordPress updates (and plugin and theme updates, and regular scheduled backups) again.