WordPress 3.7: What’s New?

WordPress version 3.7 was released on October 24, 2013. It’s a great release for a number of reasons, but there’s one new feature that can cause issues if not properly handled.

Upgrades the Old Way

Prior to WordPress 3.7, upgrading your install of WordPress involved logging in to your WP admin, clicking upgrade, and watching while your site was upgraded. Generally this works quite well and it’s a great thing to do if you’re running a small site or blog. On the other hand, sometimes the upgrade doesn’t quite work – usually this is a result of plugins that aren’t upgraded or custom code that uses functions which have been deprecated (removed). When this happens, at best it can cause a few minor issues with your site and at worst it can knock the entire site offline or cause data loss.

The Way of the Future

With WordPress 3.7, the manual task of logging in to upgrade your site is no longer required. In 3.7, WordPress has debuted automatic upgrades. This means that if you upgraded your site to version 3.7, it was automatically updated to 3.7.1 when that was released (October 29, 2013). If WordPress releases version 3.7.2, then it will be automatically updated to that version as well.*

So what’s the big deal?

This is where the problem comes in – when automatic upgrades work like they should, everything works out fine. However, when they don’t, then chaos can ensue. Now to be fair to WordPress, the issues we’ve seen with site upgrades have rarely (maybe never?) been caused by WordPress core itself, generally plugin code and/or custom code are the culprit. Still, this is why we usually recommend doing a full backup of your site files and database, then testing the upgrade on a dev site, then deploying the upgrade to the live site.

What about disabling auto-updates?

Automatic updates can be disabled, there’s a great post on the WordPress blog explaining how that works. As that post states, there are a few cases where you’d want to disable automatic updates – if your site is managed via version control or if you have a large complex install. Some web hosts are also not compatible with automatic updates, so you’d want to disable them there as well.

What do I tell my clients to do?

The short answer is “it depends.” If you’re comfortable doing your own WordPress upgrades on a development server or if you manage your site via version control, then disabling automatic updates is fine. You’ll probably also want to disable them if you run a large complex site – though if you do that you probably already have a development team to manage the site. For everyone else, we highly recommend leaving automatic updates enabled but also running a great backup system so that you get daily backups of your site. Something like VaultPress is a great option. With a backup system in place, you can be confident knowing that even if something goes wrong during the upgrade, you’ll still have a backup of your site that you can deploy to get things up and running again.

If you have questions or need help with your site, feel free to contact us.

* Currently automatic upgrades are for minor versions only, 3.7.1 to 3.7.2, but there’s talk of doing major version upgrades in the future – 3.7 to 3.8.

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