WordPress AutoUpdates – Why Not?

It seems that my recent article about the WordPress AutoUpdate feature has garnered some feedback from another author at this site.   I feel compelled to respond to some of the points that Rhys has made.

Minor Update…

Rhys said:

WordPress’ automatic updates are only activated for minor releases. Minor releases are when you go – for example – from 3.8 to 3.8.1 (which was the latest update). Major releases will be when WordPress goes from – say – 3.8.1 to 3.9.

My contribution to this site was by personal request from a site owner here.  As the request was spontaneous, it wasn’t my intention to write a complete tutorial on the WordPress AutoUpdate feature. That being said, I read a lot of this sort of thing at the thread I started on the WordPress.org forum.  For me, that argument fell flat.

None of the software that I’ve written, nor the sites that I own or am obligated to maintain, failed with this update or any other update.  I’ve always done regular backups beyond the backup done at the time of the update and not having the opportunity to do that snapshot backup prior to the rollout of the update was disturbing.

Should Not Break…

Rhys said:

These minor releases should not break any functionality of themes and plugins, as no functionality is ever removed or changed, but rather to fix bugs. Whilst Marj’s post did seem to suggest that minor updates had broken functionality, I cannot recall a time when such an issue arose (in fact, the only issue I could remember from my 8 years in using the software was when functionality changed that broke a lot of lazy coding – and yes, it broke some of my plugins too).

I was moderately amused by this because, in one breath Rhys said he hadn’t seen a problem with minor updates in 8 years and, in the next breath, he was citing problems and pointing at a cause. With all due respect, I rest my case.

Major Piece of Software

Rhys said:

WordPress has become a major piece of software now.

WordPress IS major software now. That is precisely my point!  As such, I hold them to the standards of other major software companies.

In the forum thread, I suggested that WordPress handle updates using a method similar to Microsoft Windows.  I even shot a video to explain what I was suggesting.  I pointed out that with Microsoft Windows, the update process does a RESTORE POINT BACKUP before applying the software updates.

Now, I will  soften my position by saying that I do understand that WordPress development is mostly a volunteer effort.  As such, delivering updates in a way similar to Microsoft won’t be happening any time soon. I get that.

CMS vs. Browser

Rhys said:

I guess you could compare it to another piece of software that automatically updates without you realising it – Google Chrome.

I do realize that some browsers like to update automatically.  In every instance on every computer in my home office, I have disabled this feature.

Throughout the course of the exchange at the WordPress support forums, I rolled my eyes when people compared the WordPress AutoUpdate feature to Chrome updates. I would offer here that there is a massive difference between a browser and a CMS on which you are running your business.

Who Really Said They Have no Common Sense?

Rhys said:

A point raised by Marj was that a decision to it not be a checkbox and have more control, and suggested that the majority of WordPress users didn’t have enough common sense to switch on or off a checkbox.

I want to be clear that it was the WordPress moderator who suggested that users of their CMS didn’t have enough common sense to make an informed decision -not me. WordPress developers have put a lot of energy into having the software positioned as a CMS.  I know that the software has “arrived” because I’ve yet to find a project request that cannot be fulfilled by the WordPress platform.  Yet, in the exchange at the forum, moderators wanted to describe the software as a blogging platform.  That sort of boggled my mind.

But back to my point.  After years of supporting WordPress and learning its internals so that I’m confident in recommending it as a platform for my clients’ businesses, I have seen them quickly grasp the methods and means of operating their own sites. As their developer and instructor, I have made them aware of the risks of not keeping their software and plugins up to date.  Whether or not the client has retained my services to perform regular maintenance for them is a business decision for them, but none of them are incapable of understanding the risks.  I found the inference of the moderator off-putting.

Decision Not Taken Away From Us?

Rhys said:

The decision to not auto-upgrade isn’t taken away from us. By adding one line of text to the config file you can disable auto updates.

Yep. One line of code which I have implemented at all sites that I own and operate as well as the client sites that I’m obligated to maintain. Here is a link to the complete instructions, if you choose to disable WordPress Automatic Updates.


Until WordPress has a mechanism for rolling back an update, which I can access and use independently, I will continue to leave the fate of my business and my client’s businesses to the processes that have worked for me for years.

The most important reason for me to not embrace this new feature is that the site is on a private domain hosted on a private hosting account and I don’t believe that WordPress software has any right to impose updates to a site in that environment. That is trespassing, at the very least, in my book. They can do what they want on WordPress.com… on my site, where I pay the hosting, they can’t.

Additionally, there can be any number of reasons why updating at the pleasure of an external schedule determined by WordPress Core might not be a good idea.  Here are a couple that I can think of:

  • New features are under development at the site
  • An advertising campaign is active

Here are links to some issues raised during the rollout of WordPress 3.8.1:

As you can plainly see at those links, not everyone was thrilled with the rollout, and despite claims that the update wouldn’t apply to the site if the software predicted failures, there were some failures.

Beta Testing Before Update Release

In closing, Rhys said this:

And finally, and this is where I differ from Marj (though I totally understand what she is saying), regarding “waiting and watching” on upgrades. WordPress goes through a massive release cycle, and furthermore, I test most of my plugins and sites before WordPress is released. You can do this by setting up locally or on a test site the WordPress Beta Tester. That way, you can be prepared for any eventualities that arise from the upgrades.

Yes, the option does exist for evaluating releases before they are rolled out. My final thoughts at the forum thread closed with, “I’ll see you on the other side.”

But the truth of the matter is that the nature of my business, given the client roster that I support and am developing new WordPress software for, does not lend itself to dedicating that much time to testing out the releases. This is exactly why I do a snapshot backup prior to updating any site under my purview. Having 10, 20 or 50 clients screaming in panic because a minor update that “can’t cause any problems” can destroy not only my work schedule, but my credibility with my clients.

Ultimately, some users love the new feature.  Others don’t.  Neither position is wrong for everyone, and I want to make that clear. However, neither position is right for everyone, either.

I’ve been around software for too many years to take it on faith that WordPress can imagine and code around every possible scenario and server configuration on which their platform runs. Even if they had any right to implement changes without permission.

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