Successfully updating WordPress and a Theme

WordPress Update & Maintenance Coming up with Update Steps that Work
When I updated my WordPress install from 3.3 to 3.4, I ran into issues. After the update, my sidebar and menus disappeared, and I could not get them to reappear, even when rolling back to an older WordPress version. So I decided to try updating my theme as well since the version I had was 18 months old. Here’s the sequence of steps I used to update WordPress, my parent theme (I have a child theme set up) and my plugins successfully.

Child Theme?

When you first setup a WordPress site and select a theme, it often doesn’t take too long before you get the itch to put your own stamp on your site and start hacking the theme by modifying the files. Maybe you want a different color or you need to make changes to get a plugin to work, like WP-PageNavi. The problem is that if you ever want to later update your theme to a newer version you’ll wipe out the changes you made and have to reapply them. It’s not the end of the world, you can do it with comparison tools such as diffmerge (or winmerge) but it is non-trivial work.

This is where child themes come in. A child theme is a separate theme that points to the parent theme and inherits the parent theme’s functionality. All you need is a new directory with the child theme name, a modified style.css and you are ready to go. Many premium themes give you a starter download to make it even easier. You make modifications by copying files over to the child theme directory and modifying them there. WordPress knows to look for the code first in the child theme before the parent theme. There is lots of info on child themes, the codex has a good page and here is an tutorial from webdesignerdepot.

After my first not so successful attempt on upgrading WordPress. I came up with a specific sequence of steps that worked well for me.

Updating WordPress, my theme and plugins – the sequence of steps that worked for me

  • Backup The first step is to backup your database and your theme files. Backing up your database is less daunting than it might sound. If your host provides phpmyadmin, your biggest challenge might be in remembering the password, but once in, select the database and hit the export button. Back up your theme files by using a ftp client to make a copy on your local machine or elsewhere on your server.
  • Bulk deactivate pluginsDeactivate your plugins An easy way to do this is by selecting all plugins and using the bulk actions drop down to deactivate them all at once. This is also a great time to delete those plugins you no longer use.
  • Make a copy of your parent theme Unfortunately you will not be able to update the theme in place, WordPress will not allow you to overwrite existing files. So you have to move it out of the way. Before you do that, activate temporarily twenty-eleven or a “under construction” theme so visitors won’t run into a problem. Then rename your parent theme directory to another name like “parent-theme-old” using a ftp client like Filezilla.
  • Update your theme In my case I downloaded the updated them as a zip file from the theme’s site. Then you can upload it into WordPress via the install themes tab and selecting the Upload link. Once you do that active your parent theme – not your child theme.
    WordPress Theme Upload
  • Update WordPress Once my parent theme was updated, I then used my host’s simple scripts to update WordPress to the latest version. You’ll want to do some checks at this point to make sure everything is working, check your home page, a post page and your category and tag pages are all display properly. If so you are ready to move on to the next step.
  • Update Plugins Update all your plugins to the latest versions unless you suspect it won’t work with the latest version of WordPress (information on whether the author says it works with the latest version of WordPress is now displayed for you).
  • Reactive all plugins Do some spot checks that the plugins are all working properly. For example: are your social buttons showing up? What about your related posts?
  • Reenable your child theme Visit the manage themes tab and activate your child theme. Check that your customizations now are visible on the site.

This time the only problem I ran into is that the WordPress upgrade “lost” my menu. To fix this all I needed to do was navigate to Menus under Appearances and re-select my menu name. This was likely theme specific, but at least it was only a few second fix.

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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