WordPress themes are comprised of code files that control how your website content is displayed. WordPress has a built-in alert system the lets you know when theme updates, and other updates, are available. But many of you have told us that you’re hesitant to update WordPress Themes for fear of breaking your website.
It’s very important to keep all code used in your WordPress site up-to-date. So read on…
Why WordPress Theme Updates Are Important
Theme developers release updates to:
- improve security, bug fixes and performance issues
- ensure compatibility with WordPress releases and major WordPress plugins
- introduce new theme features
Automatic WordPress Theme Updates
To solve the maintenance problem, auto-updates have been added in WordPress 5.5. By default, this is turned off, but you can go to the Themes page and enable auto–updates for individual themes. You can also turn on auto-updates for plugins. Before you turn this on, read the rest of this post to make sure you understand the potential problems you may encounter when you update WordPress themes.
Why Hesitate to Update a WordPress Theme
A reason to hesitate is this; if you added custom code directly to your theme files—updating will overwrite your changes and your website will revert to the standard theme appearance. You’ll overwrite the files and lose any modifications made directly to a theme’s functions.php file or CSS styling changes made to the style.css file. Updating will lose these customizations.
The way around this is to create a Child Theme.
What is a Child Theme?
A WordPress child theme inherits the functionality of another theme, called the Parent Theme, and allows you to modify or add to the functionality of that parent theme. A child theme will contain a functions.php file and a style.css file. Your web developer adds any modified files to the Child Theme folder.
Updating the Parent Theme won’t change the files in the Child Theme.
That’s why we create your Child Theme in the WordPress Mastery Course.
Which is Your Current Active Theme?
First off, determine which theme is your active theme. Go to Appearance →Themes
In this screen you can find all the themes installed on your site. The first one is the active theme. If your theme is a Child Theme you must also have the Parent theme Installed. You will also see inactive themes here.
It is Safe to Update Your Theme if:
- the theme is not active (like the Twenty Twenty and the Twenty Nineteen in the screenshot above). The updates won’t affect your website appearance → go ahead and update the theme, enable auto-updates, or delete it from your installation, you aren’t using it
- you are using a theme and you have not modified the theme files in any way → if you have a site backup, you can go ahead and update the theme
- you are using a child theme and that’s where you’ve made your modifications → if you have a site backup, you can go ahead and update the parent theme
It is Not Safe to Update Your Active Theme if:
- your theme files have been modified directly. First, move your modifications to a child theme before updating
- you don’t have a backup of your website. Make sure you have a way to restore your site if something goes wrong with an update.
Before You Update:
- Always make sure that you have a backup of your site before doing any updates.
- Know how to restore your site if you do run into problems.
- Have FTP access (get this info from your host company).
- Ideally, update your website in a staging site so you can test out any impact updating will have on your website.
Are Auto-updates a Good Idea?
As we said at the outset of this post, it is important to not ignore WordPress updates. You will need to weigh for yourself the pros and cons of turning on auto-updates.
For the most part, we like to do updates manually so that we can ensure we have a current backup and so we can update all plugins, themes, and WordPress core files at the same time.
It would be preferable to turn on auto-updates than to ignore updates altogether.