Upgrading WordPress DIY

Sick of that annoying notice on your dashboard when you login to WordPress reminding you to get the latest version?

Some quick DIY instructions on how to upgrade to the latest version.

Why you should upgrade

Upgrading your WordPress build is especially important not just for the cosmetic and feature changes, but also for security reasons. Keeping the security up to date stops hackers from getting in and taking over your website. The last thing you want is your readers to be affected with a nasty virus. So remember to keep up to date as possible.

First things first..

Check Requirements

First you have to check that your current web hosting provider that your system requirements meet the requirements of the latest WordPress version. You can find the requirements on the WordPress Website here, they have even given you a blurb you can copy and paste into an email to ask your host if you’re not sure.

Check with your Web Developer

On very rare occasions, a Web Developer may delve into the core of WordPress to customise some settings. This is not advisable from a development perspective and it’s not something I do, but I have known other developers to do it. It’s best to double check with who installed your WordPress, just in case.

Check your Plugins

You need to double check that the Plugins you have installed that are integral to your Website are going to work with the latest version of WordPress. Sometimes a WordPress upgrade does change the system substantially, which can break plugins if they are not updated.


This is the most important and really you should be doing this regularly. There are two main areas that you need to back up – your content (images, styles, plugins) and your database (where all your post data is stored ie. text).  The WordPress website has a basic post on how to take backups, but I will quickly go over in detail one way of doing it.

Content Backup using FTP

You need to get a copy of the folder ‘wp-content’ from your server.  This folder stores all your images, files you have uploaded, plugins, and the overall style of the website.  To do this we need to connect to the server, so if you don’t already have an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program FileZilla is a good place to start (yes it’s free).

When you open FileZilla, you will see two panels – the left panel is your local directory – all the files on your computer. The right hand panel will show all the files on your web hosts server – the files of your website. To connect you will need your FTP connection details, which are usually provided to you when you sign up to a hosting provider. This will consist of a username, password and host,  your host is generally your web address, eg. www.nickimckay.com but it also can be an IP address. You will know you are connected when you see in the top panel “connection successful” and the right panel will be populated with directory listings.

You will find your “wp-content” file in the root directory of the website. Depending on your server this could be available when you first load up, or could be inside a directory called www, httpdocs or public_html. To get a copy of your “wp-content” folder, all you need to do is drag and drop from your Web Host Files to Your Files (see diagram below).

You will know when it has finished when in the bottom panel, the queued files equal 0.  Double check that your folder has been fully downloaded by opening it up in Explorer/My Computer/Finder (there should be a folder for themes, plugins, and uploads).

Data Backup using phpMyAdmin

Basically you need to login to the your hosts administration panel. You might be familiar with it if you have ever had to set up email addresses.  There are a bunch of systems out there such as Parallels Plesk Panel, Cpanel, Direct admin etc. Finding your phpMyAdmin may be the tricky part, but what you need to look for is the section that should be labled Database, MySQL Database or Database Admin. What we are looking for specifically is phpMyAdmin and it should look like the image below.

Once you have found it you will need to select your database name so it shows the list of tables. Then you are ready to Export, Select the “export” tab in the top navigation bar.

Now make sure you have selected, SQL as the type you want to export as, and select the check box “save as file” and select GO.

The downloading can take a little while if you have a lot of posts in your database. Make sure you save this file in a safe location as this is the most important information you need (it’s a lot easier to upload your images than retype all your content!).

Upgrading the files

Automatically Upgrading

OK so this is easy, you can select the annoying message that is nagging you to update from your dashboard, or you can go to tools -> update (or upgrade if you have older versions).

It will take a little while, but if it works successfully you will get a message saying ‘update complete’ if it fails or starts to hang I suggest you try the manual update.

Please note: If you have customised the default or classic themes without renaming them, you should not use the automatic upgrade, as it will overwrite your changes – you should use a manual update instead.

Manual Upgrading

Go to the WordPress website and download the latest version. Unzip the files.

Back to FileZilla we go, within the your files section navigate to the newly unzipped wordpress files. Connect to your webserver and upload and replace (drag over) all the files except the “wp-content” directory.

Need Help?

This process may be a little daunting to some but once you have done it a few times it will become second nature (and if you are a regular blogger you should be getting backups regularly!).

If in doubt seek professional help, a WordPress upgrade shouldn’t take a professional any more than an hour to complete and in some cases it can be money well spent.

2 thoughts on “Upgrading WordPress DIY”

  1. great advice and I have already completed the back up steps. The instructions are spot on as I am very new to webhosting, wordpress and “ftping” files.
    I havent done the upgrade yet. I have gone into tools>upgrade and then seen a list of plugins all of which are 100% compatible wih version 2.9.1 (what I have currently installed) but “unknown” with version 2.9.2. There is an option to flag for upgrade and then click on”upgrade plugins”. Should I upgrade each one at a time, test it and then do the whole upgrade or do you think I can just do a bacth upgrade of all my plugins?
    I have to admit I’m a bit scared of doing the manual upgrade in case i over write the wp-content file by mistake!
    Best Regards

  2. Hi Charley,

    As long as you have got your backup copy of your wp-content file you will be fine. Just take it slowly, drag over each folder or file one at a time.

    It should be fine to upgrade your plugins all at once as well.

    Let me know if you need a hand.

Comments are closed.