Recently WordPress 5.5 was released and one of the new features that has been rolled out is the ability to auto-update plugins and themes. There are mixed opinions on whether this is really a good thing or not, so here’s my take.
Firstly, how you can you enable this functionality? It isn’t enabled out of the box, which is probably a good thing, all things considered. It’s handy that you can control this on a per plugin/theme basis, rather than as a global setting or something.
If you go to the Plugins page in the admin panel, each plugin that supports auto-updates (including all those in the repository, but not all premium ones purchased outside of the repository) there will be a “Enable auto-updates” link beside it – click this to enable auto-updates for this plugin.
If you go to the Appearance > Themes page in the admin panel and then click on each theme, at the top above the description there will be the “Enable auto-updates” link (again assuming that the theme supports it).
Anyone that’s worked with WordPress for any amount of time will know that there are sometimes updates which cause conflicts or have bugs in them, and have probably been burned by this before. Many people prefer to wait to see if updates are pulled or re-updated shortly afterwards, because other people have caught bugs. Or sometimes the conflict is between your theme and the plugin, or some other plugin that you’ve got installed, and as this may not be a common combination, no one may have reported this issue.
If you’re a developer or WordPress maintenance/support person, you most likely test all updates on a staging system, to ensure compatibility and give you a chance to thoroughly test before installing onto the live site. If you don’t have someone doing this for you, you should contact me to see how I could help you with this.
However, leaving plugins and themes to fall behind on updates can be much worse, if vulnerabilities are found and exploited, you could have your whole site taken over, causing loss of earnings and trust, even having your domain blacklisted. So it’s important that you stay on top of updates, whether manually or automatically.
Overall I think the best advice I can give is to make sure that plugins involved in non-critical functionality should probably be set to auto-update, as if the plugin stops working, it’s most likely to only affect that functionality and the loss of it is certainly better than the loss of your whole site. More critical plugins, you should look to keep on top of updates manually (or have someone do it for you) to ensure that nothing is going to break.