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How to enable WordPress plugin auto-updates (and when you shouldn’t)

WordPress is one of the most widely used website platforms on the market, with a global market share of around 43%. It’s very user-friendly and can be configured to do anything (from simple blogs to more complex e-commerce sites).

As someone who manages multiple WordPress sites, I’ve seen the good and the bad. This is especially true of plugins, which are a double-edged sword. For one thing, without plugins, WordPress is pretty much limited to acting as a blogging platform. When you start adding these plugins, the platform blossoms.

On the other hand, plugins can cause you endless trouble. To make matters worse, sometimes the trouble can be rocky and hard places.

think about it:

My official author site (jackwallen.com) has included so many plugins and features over the years that I can’t count. The site has been around for decades and has (mostly) served me well. However, in many cases, a plugin has taken the site down completely. Most of these instances occur when updating WordPress or plugins causing corruption in between. I’ve gone through both ways (WordPress update doesn’t work with plugin or plugin update doesn’t want to work with WordPress).

This is one side of the coin. On the other hand, my WordPress site got hacked due to an outdated plugin.

At this point, you’ve probably realized that the whole WordPress/plugin problem is a not-so-fun game of Whack-A-Mole. This, my friends, is where you can find yourself. Did you update the plugin?

It’s all about backup

After multiple rogue plugin updates crashing my WordPress site, my saving grace has always been backups. If you have a recent backup, you can restore even if the plugin crashes your site. Without a recent backup, you may find yourself out of luck.

One of the easiest tools to use for WordPress backups is (you guessed it) another plugin. The plugin I use for WordPress backups is UpdraftPlus. But no matter what plugins you use (or if you back up your WordPress site manually), running backups regularly is critical. The last thing you want to do is have a plugin crash your site, only to find out that your backups are out of date. Of course, backups can take some time out of your already busy day. But not taking the time would be a serious mistake.

Therefore, before you do anything with automatic updates of WordPress plugins, make sure you have a solid backup strategy in place first.

You have been warned.

Now, read the warning again to be sure.

yet another warning

Here’s another caveat. It’s hard to know which plugins you should consider using for automatic updates. While one plugin will never give you problems, another might. So here is my best advice:

Always err on the side of caution.

Seriously…if in doubt, don’t.

If that’s not good enough for you, think about it. If the plugin is updated frequently (and provided by a legitimate company, development team, or official plugin), it should be ideal for automatic updates.

Conversely, if the plugin is infrequently updated, created by a single developer, or is a custom plugin built specifically for your site, I strongly recommend against setting up automatic updates.

in conclusion:

  • If the plugin is official or developed by a team (or company) then automatic updates are likely safe.
  • If the plugin is custom work or developed by an individual, I would contact that developer (to learn about the security of auto-updates) or not set it to auto-update at all.

OK, here’s the final warning. Let’s learn how to set up auto-update plugins.

Before I do this… re-read all warnings and heed.

Enable automatic updates for WordPress plugins

Now that you’ve been warned, let me show you how to enable plugins in WordPress for automatic updates. I use this for every plugin that I’m sure won’t cause problems with my WordPress site.

even with these problems Can Since updates fail, I tend to use these updates as it ensures I don’t have outdated plugins and exploitable vulnerabilities. As long as I have regular backups, I know I can always restore if something goes wrong.

So, how do I enable automatic updates for plugins? It’s really simple.

First, log in to your WordPress site as an admin user. If you’re not sure how, go to http://DOMAIN/wp-admin (where DOMAIN is the domain of your WordPress site) and log in with your admin username and password.

In the left navigation, click Plugins > Installed Plugins.

WordPress plugins submenu.

Access the WordPress plugins menu from the dashboard.

Image: Jack Warren

From the list of results, find the plugin you want to add to the auto-update feature, and click Enable Auto-Update. Go ahead and browse your plugin list and enable any/all you wish to add. But remember, exercise caution and only enable automatic updates for those plugins you trust.

A list of WordPress plugins.

Enable automatic updates for WordPress plugins.

Image: Jack Warren

That’s all there is to enabling automatic updates for WordPress plugins. Remember to keep making these regular backups in case a plugin update takes your site down. As long as you are prepared for such an eventuality, everything will be fine.

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