Update: 12/28/20 Several weeks have past and I have updated a couple of dozen different WordPress sites in a test environment. The only sites that are having any issues to update WordPress are websites with old outdated themes. Sites that have kept up with regular maintenance do not have any problems with this upgrade.
Softaculous sent email notifications recently that WordPress updates are available to upgrade to version 5.6 My advice? DON’T UPDATE YOUR SITE – YET.
WordPress Version Updates
WordPress consistency releases 3 – 4 major versions a year. With these releases the following changes may be included.
- new features – usually somewhat significant in functionality.
- many minor enhancements
- many bug fixes
Major releases have 2 numbers in the version. i.e 5.6
Outside of major releases there multiple minor releases. These minor release are for maintenance issues like bug fixes and security updates when vulnerabilities are identified.
Minor releases have 3 numbers in the version. i.e 5.6.1 5.6.2
The word “major” implies something significant. Major releases may have some significant changes that could cause problems with your website code. When updating your website to a major release, I take the following approach.
- Make a full backup of your website.
- Install a copy of your website in a staging/development environment. (This could be a subdirectory on your site, or a separate domain altogether that you use for testing)
- Perform upgrade
- Fully test your website. By this I mean, do not just go to the home page and see that it loads and think everything must be OK.
WordPress Plugin Combinations
There are almost 58,000 plugins
in the WordPress repository that can be downloaded for free. There are thousands more commercial plugins that can be purchased. The potential number of combinations of plugins a website could have installed is staggering. All of these code combinations all have the potential to conflict with each other. If they are not all updated and comparable with a major WordPress core release, this can also cause problems with code breaking. I wrote a similar post about WordPress updates
a couple years back when a client who I was providing WordPress maintenance services
got short with me because one day after a major release his site was not updated. I told him that I’m not going to use his site as a “guinea pig”. When a major release comes out, there will no doubt be some conflicts with certain plugins, themes and bugs to fix. It’s simply the nature of software development. My advice is to wait for 5.6.1 to be released. This minor version update will have fixes for bugs found in the major release.
These are the major features released in WordPress 5.6 – most of the probably don’t have any effect on your website.
- A new theme, Twenty Twenty-One is now the default theme included.
- Expansion of the recently included auto-update WordPress feature (I don’t recommend using for the same reasons I have noted above)
- A template for you to create an accessibility statement for your website.
From a developer perspective:
- A new feature with application passwords authorization
- Steps toward getting the core ready for PHP 8
- Updates to jQuery (this can break functionality in older themes or plugins. Install the jQuery Migrate Helper plugin to fix.
I am 100% in favor of keeping your WordPress website updated by performing regular maintenance to the core, plugins and themes to keep your website secure. The release of this version is not about addressing security issues though. Just going into the Softaculous control panel and clicking update like the email suggests could cause problems on your web site. Not making a backup and testing on another site is asking for trouble.