WordPress has added a new feature in its 5.5 version. Since August 2020, you have the option to auto-update plugins and themes in your WordPress site. You can go to your plugin page and choose to enable or disable auto-update for each of your installed plugins. Since this is a new feature, the scepticism around it is obvious. Before jumping to any conclusions, let’s talk about it and see if its risky to automatically update your WordPress website?
Why such a feature?
But first, let us talk about why WordPress has introduced such a feature. Plugins as we all know are an indispensable part of a WordPress site. Plugins add functionalities that help you to improve your website in all senses. As such, people tend to install too many plugins and forget to keep track of them.
The problem is, plugins are written code. If done poorly, a plugin can cause errors to your site and even bring it down. Many plugins you find online are work in progress, improving after each version update. Hence if you don’t constantly check on your installed plugins to see if they are valid anymore and do essential updates, you may find yourself with a buggy website.
This is why WordPress has brought the new feature, by which you can choose to auto-update your plugins and free you from constantly checking for updates.
What are the risks of automatically updating?
However, this is not such a convenient and simple move to opt for. For starters, the auto-updates option only provides basic functionality that is on-or-off. You either update everything from a plugin or you don’t.
There is no way to select specific types of updates, like only allowing minor updates or only allowing security updates. This means that once you enable auto-update for a plugin, it can get updated at any point in time, which can be when you are publishing a new blog post or at a time of the day when your site receives good incoming traffic. This is potentially risky because of the following reasons.
1. Back-to-back updates can cause trouble
More often than not, you may see multiple updates within a timespan of few hours. This happens mostly because of an unforeseen bug in the initial update. If multiple plugins in your site have such updates, and if all of them have auto-update enabled, the updates may fail due to resource over-utilization. If an update fails, your site may become unavailable for your users for some time. And you may not be aware of this until several hours after. The plugins may also get deactivated and cause the unavailability of the resultant functionality.
2. No idea what has changed
If multiple updates happen automatically, you will need some time to identify what has changed in your site as a result. You may have installed a plugin due to a specific way it does things that you love, and the new update has removed or changed it. Unless it is something readily visible, you will have no idea this change has happened if you don’t closely review what exactly has changed with each update. Hence, if you care about your website, the auto-update doesn’t completely absolve you from checking out the updates.
3. Your site could crash
With the auto-update feature, you don’t have an opportunity to perform a code review to catch any vulnerabilities before it gets deployed. Think of the worst possible situation. Your website can crash partially or completely due to a faulty plugin update. For someone who is managing an eCommerce site as an example, such unavailability is not acceptable, as it affects your credibility. Nobody likes to make purchases from a site that seems faulty.
4. Compatibility issues
Plugin updates may be major or minor. While minor updates often are intended to improve some simple functionalities and hence are more focused, major updates make significant changes to the code.
Thus, there may be issues overlooked by the developers. Most of the time, it is better to wait for a while before choosing to update these major updates. However, like mentioned earlier, the auto-update feature doesn’t give an option to choose the kind of updates to automate.
It is all or none. One other aspect of major releases is compatibility issues. Since we are talking about a huge change in how the plugin works, it is possible that other plugins and your website itself need some patching to align themselves to this new change.
5. No canary releases
Canary release updates is a technique that is used to reduce risk while introducing new software or updates to existing software by availing the changes to a small number of users before rolling it out to the entire user set. The advantage is that a small set of users are more manageable and can be monitored to see how the update works for them.
You can handle even the worst-case scenarios with relative ease. The developers can then identify issues, if any, fix them and then make them available for the whole world. The new auto-update feature doesn’t have this capability and will roll out the changes to all users simultaneously. If a plugin has some major issue, then whoever uses it will get affected catastrophically.
What is the right approach?
You can approach this feature in three ways. Enable all updates, disable all updates, or review each plugin and enable auto-update for only some of them. If you are a hobbyist blogger, then turning auto-updates on is not a huge concern for you. You don’t look at your WordPress website as a money-making entity, neither do you frequently check your site anyway.
On the other hand, if you are running a business site, then your website is an indispensable part of your business. Some part or the entirety of your website being erroneous is bad for business. The larger your business, the bigger the team you have to maintain your website. Moreover, either you or your website admin regularly monitors the site for its health. For you, it is better to turn the auto-update off and tend to each update manually. You can selectively turn on them for only those plugins whom you know have a very trustworthy QA team and a strong reputation.
Let us know if you found this article about automatically updating WordPress useful. We would love to hear from you about what you read and how you feel about what you read. Comment down in the comment section to help us improve with your valuable suggestions.
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