Is it safe to update WordPress or my plugins myself? What about my theme updates?

This is something I often hear from WordPress website owners: “I was going to install my updates but I didn’t want to break anything.” This trepidation is not unfounded. Updates seem to have a way of breaking what we’re attempting to maintain, on occasion. Not always, but sometimes.

The truth is that a WordPress update can cause something to break for may reasons. This can any time an update is applied, without warning. The best course of action to deal with these issues is to have a complete website backup secured and accessible, ready to be restored if needed.

The below information is aimed at helping you understand the various aspects of a WordPress website which must be considered in order to backup your website completely so that it may be restored with ease if the need ever arises.

Backup The WordPress’ Database

WordPress uses a database to store information. The information that is stored in the database includes, but is not limited to, user account information, page and post information and content, menu settings, WordPress theme settings, WordPress Plugin settings, WordPress Core settings, etc. The database stores the majority of the data which comprises your website’s content and configuration. Without a backup of the WordPress database all of this information can be lost.

Backup The WordPress’ Files

The files for the WordPress theme, WordPress plugins, as well as uploaded images or other media are all stored on the server as files within the /wp-content/ directory by default. In addition to backing up the database as noted above, without a backup of your WordPress files, specifically the /wp-content/ directory itself, your not going to be able to restore your website easily. Although the /wp-content/ directory is the most vital to have backed up, it is recommended that you backup all of the WordPress files for your installation. If you opt to only backup the /wp-config/ directory, the remaining WordPress files and directories can typically be installed via a fresh instance of WordPress.

WordPress Backups: How To

There are several different website hosting configurations which could render the below information useless. If you’re new to WordPress and want to make certain you’re taking good backups, I recommend you get in touch with me directly. I will look over your website’s setup and help you understand how best to backup your assets.

WordPress Database Backup with cPanel

If you’re using cPanel, login and select the PHPMyAdmin option. Once done loading, click on the WordPress database in the left-hand side of the screen. Next, click on the Export tab and follow the prompts to download an export of your database. It is recommended that you do not change any settings unless a) you know what you are doing or, b) you were told to do so. Save this database backup file in a secure location.

WordPress Files Backup via FTP

Login to your website’s hosting server via FTP client. Here you have the option of downloading the website in its entirety, or only the /wp-content/ directory. By downloading the entire website your restoration process will be easier, but your backups will be larger. Conversely, downloading only the /wp-content/ directory will serve to backup all of your uploads, plugins, and theme files, but none of the WordPress Core files. In almost all cases, if performing a restoration from a backup which only contains the /wp-content/ directory, a fresh download / installation of the WordPress software will allow your website to function. Simply do not upload the default /wp-content/ directory and instead upload your backed up /wp-content/ directory in its place.

Verify WordPress Backups

Though not always a simple task, it is recommended that you verify the integrity of your backups on a regular basis. After all, a non-functional backup is largely useless. I say largely as opposed to completely as a skilled developer may be able to edit your database backup file or your backup files themselves in order to restore functionality. As such, even if a backup appears to be useless, it is recommend that you do not delete it. Instead, get in touch with me or another WordPress developer to ask what your options are.

Managed WordPress Hosting and Backups

Bellingham WP offers a managed WordPress website hosting and backup solution. As a feature of this service we take complete WordPress website backups twice monthly and keep up to 12 months worth of prior backups on hand. These backups are stored on Amazon S3 servers and not on your hosting server itself. This is important as if your website were to be compromised the hacker may gain access to the backup files stored on your server, allowing them to be deleted. By storing them on Amazon’s secure servers we eliminate this possibility.

Get in touch if we can help!

About Rick D'Haene

Rick D'Haene is a self-taught web developer, with a degree in website design, who has extensive knowledge of internet marketing and organic search engine optimization (SEO). He and his lovely wife Melissa reside in Bellingham, Washington, and have a few fun pets to keep them company.

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