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Before an Automatic Update Fails

Today we can automate many of the administrative parts of WordPress — updating plugins, themes, and the core software itself. Most of the time this works smoothly. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t. The key is to be prepared before something goes wrong.

Three Ways to Prepare

It only takes a few minutes to prepare yourself and your site.

1 – Backup the site regularly

This schedule depends on how often you post, if you have ecommerce, and your comfort level. Check to make sure the backup completes and that your data isn’t corrupted.

Quick ways to verify a backup

  • Is the file size larger than zero? If you have other recent backups, is it similar?
  • Are the files you expect to see there? Can you open images? For WordPress, some key files are wp-config.php, .htaccess and your theme directory. Can you open the php files in a text editor and read them?
  • The database depends on the method used for backup, there’s many ways to do it. The result is likely in plain text. Check that the format matches at the end of the file(s).

2 – Know how to access the server files

Will you go through the control panel, FTP, or an SSH terminal? If you’ve made changes to the security of the server, do you still have access to all the tools you need?

3 – Review basic methods to diagnose and fix common errors

Some key things include knowing how to set WP_DEBUG, deactivate all plugins, reset to a default theme, manually update plugins or other files, and how to clear the cache on your server.


I hope this simple list helps you to prepare your site before something happens.

tower of jenga blocks starting to fall. The background is plain white.

Note: This is a 2022 update of a post initially published in 2012.