WordPress Automatic Updates: How to Enable, Disable, and Manage WP Auto-Updates

WordPress automatic updates can be hard to get a handle on. Do they work? How do they work? Do you need to use them for your whole site?


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Disabling these updates entirely leads to security issues and bugs. However, letting WordPress automatic updates run totally unchecked could result in your site falling apart.

Your plugins, themes, and WordPress versions may become incompatible, breaking your site. That could hurt your trust with customers and damage your bottom line.

Want to avoid all that? Read on to become an expert on how to handle WordPress automatic updates once and for all.

What Are WordPress Auto Updates?

WordPress auto updates are the updates to your WordPress site’s functionality that are installed on their own, without your input. Since WordPress 3.7, minor automatic updates for maintenance and security have been enabled by default.

Bigger updates to core WordPress functionality, as well as updates to plugins, themes, and translation files, are not automatic by default. However, you can set them to update automatically, and many do.

Confused? Here’s a quick guide to the different types of WordPress update:

Type of UpdateWhat It InvolvesAutomatic By Default?
Core updates

The vital WordPress files, including:

  • Core development
  • Minor core updates for maintenance and security
  • Major core updates for new WordPress features
Yes for minor core updates; no for all others
Plugin updatesAll plugin updates for improvements, new features, and bug fixesNo
Theme updatesAny updates related to WordPress themesNo
Translation file updatesImprovements to WordPress translation filesNo

 

So why do these updates matter? There are a number of key reasons to keep your WordPress site updated:

  • Protect your site: In 2019, 49% of all compromised WordPress sites were running obsolete versions of the core software. Updates often protect sites against vulnerabilities that bad actors can exploit.
  • New features: WordPress.org is always rolling out new features, such as interface improvements and interactions with other web services, which improve the experience for you and your users alike.
  • Better performance: Updates often increase the efficiency and loading speed of your website, which is a key factor in retaining visitors and converting them into customers.
  • Bug fixes: With improvements come bugs, inevitably. Keeping your site updated ensures you get fixes for any issues as soon as possible, improving user experience and limiting the need for troubleshooting and frustration.

Where To Manage WordPress Auto Updates?

There are several ways to manage WordPress automatic updates. In this guide, we give tutorials for using:

  1. The WordPress admin dashboard
  2. External plugins
  3. The wp-config.php file
  4. API filters

Some of these methods are easy for anyone to use, while others are more complex and advanced. Read on to learn which approach is best for you.

1. Use the WordPress admin dashboard (advised)

Managing WordPress automatic updates from the WordPress admin dashboard is the simplest way to handle things.

As we’ve discussed, minor releases for core updates are enabled by default, and you can’t disable them from the WordPress dashboard. That said, it’s fairly straightforward to manage your auto-update choices for major releases this way:

  1. Go to your WordPress Dashboard, then click “Updates”
  2. Scroll down to “WordPress Updates”
  3. Set your WordPress version to update automatically by clicking “Enable automatic updates for all new versions of WordPress”
  4. You will then see a message notifying you that automatic updates have been enabled
  5. If you ever need to turn off automatic updates, click “Switch to automatic updates for maintenance and security releases only”

WordPress Updates menu

As of WordPress 5.5, you can also adjust plugin and theme auto updates from the admin dashboard, though it requires a few extra steps. For plugins, navigate to the Plugins section of your WP-admin dashboard. For each plugin, the screen offers an option to enable or disable automatic updates.

For themes, navigate to the Appearance screen and click on a theme thumbnail. Click on the “Enable auto-updates” action link, found underneath the name of the theme creator, to enable auto-updates for this specific theme.

2. Use plugins

There are many auto update plugins for WordPress that handle your updates for you. In this section, we walk you through this process using the Easy Updates Manager plugin as an example.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Install and activate the plugin
  2. Click the new “Updates options” link in the sidebar
  3. Use the Easy Updates Manager dashboard to configure your chosen auto-update options for core updates, plugin updates, and more

Remember, you need to keep your auto-update plugin updated, too! If you don’t, you risk losing your ability to manage WordPress auto updates altogether.

3. Use the wp-config.php File

As long as you’re careful to use the correct code, it’s possible to manage WordPress automatic updates using the wp-config.php file.

However, keep in mind that the wp-config.php file is absolutely critical to the functioning of your WordPress site. Even a minor change can break your website, so edit carefully.

You’ll need an FTP client like FileZilla to access the file. Once you’ve opened it, follow these steps closely:

  1. Open the public_html folder
  2. Click the wp-config.php file
    wp-config.php screenshot
  3. Download the wp-config.php file, then open it
  4. Add the following code before the “That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging” line at the end of the wp-config.php file: define( ‘WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE’, true);
  5. Save your changes, then rewrite or upload the wp-config.php file in the public_html folder

Automatic updates should now be turned on. If you ever want to disable WordPress auto updates again, change the “true” value in your new line of code to “false”.

If you prefer, you can change the value to “minor”, which means that minor updates will still occur automatically, but major and developmental updates will not.

4. Use API filters (advanced)

Lastly, it’s possible to use API filters to enable automatic updates. This option is best suited to developers, and we don’t recommend it unless you know what you’re doing.

This approach allows you to automate all WordPress updates – core, plugins, themes, and translation files. It involves adding the API filters to the Must-Use plugin folder, located in public_html > wp-content.

The plugins won’t appear on the WordPress dashboard, so there’s no danger that anyone else responsible for your site will turn them off by mistake.

To make this work, add any of the following filters according to your needs:

  • To disable automatic updates: add_filter( ‘automatic_updater_disabled’, ‘__return_true’ );
  • To update the WordPress core: add_filter( ‘auto_update_core’, ‘__return_true’ );
  • To allow automatic plugin updates: add_filter( ‘auto_update_plugin’, ‘__return_true’ );
  • To allow automatic theme updates: add_filter( ‘auto_update_theme’, ‘__return_true’ );

4 Options for Automatic Update Management in WordPress

Now that you understand how to configure WordPress automatic updates, let’s take a look at the different approaches you can take to update your site.

Before we start, though, it’s important to note that you should always set up automatic backups before adjusting your auto-update settings. Ideally, your site should back up once a week. This gives you the option to revert your site to a previous version if something goes wrong.

Enable automatic updates for everything

The first option is to enable automatic WordPress updates for everything – the WordPress core, plus your plugins and themes.

Depending on your level of coding skill, you can use any of the above methods to turn on automatic updates in WordPress. While the simplest route is to use your WordPress admin dashboard, they all achieve the same result, so choose what works best for you.

The big advantage of this approach is that it takes all the work of updating your WordPress site off your plate. In theory, at least, your site will handle updates on its own, and you’ll always have the newest protections, fixes, and features in place.

However, if your site relies on WordPress plugins or external themes to function, we don’t recommend this method. That’s because plugin and theme updates usually respond to WordPress core updates, so they don’t all roll out at the same time.

The result? A WordPress core update that takes place too soon could break your site until the themes and plugins are updated to catch up.

Plus, because this approach takes everything to do with WordPress updates out of your hands, it risks encouraging you to feel complacent about your website, its efficiency, and its security.

It’s easy to trust that everything’s fine when you don’t have to pay attention, even if things could be working better than they are. To ensure that your WordPress website is performing at its best at all times, we advise trying other approaches instead.

Enable automatic updates for all WordPress version updates

With this approach, you enable automatic updates for all WordPress core updates but disable WordPress auto-update functionality for themes and plugins.

To choose this option, navigate to your WordPress admin dashboard and ensure that your WordPress version is set to update automatically. Follow the steps above to opt into all version updates, not just minor ones.

Then, whenever you need to update your themes or plugins, use the WordPress admin dashboard to update them manually.

This option ensures that you get the newest version of WordPress – with all the newest features and security fixes – whenever it’s ready. This means your website is always as efficient, up-to-date, and well-protected as possible.

That said, there’s still a danger that the latest version of WordPress won’t be compatible with your existing themes and plugins. If your website relies on plugins or themes to function, this may not be the best route to take.

Lastly, if you’ve made any changes to your core WordPress files, keep in mind that WordPress updates generally rewrite them. If you don’t have WordPress backups in place, you could lose all those changes every time a new update rolls out.

Enable automatic updates for minor WordPress version updates

With the third option, you enable minor core updates but disable WordPress automatic updates for all other elements: major core updates, themes, and plugins.

On your WordPress dashboard, this is the default setting. If you’ve changed your settings, all you have to do is ensure that your version update settings are set so that it reads, “This site is automatically kept up to date with maintenance and security releases of WordPress only.”

This is the default approach offered by WordPress for some very good reasons. First and foremost, it ensures that even if all other updates are turned off, you will always get the newest WordPress security patches and fixes for issues.

It reduces the likelihood that your site will be compromised by hackers or fall prey to a vulnerability, even if you aren’t installing new major updates the instant they go live.

Plus, these smaller updates are less likely to break your theme or plugins than major core updates (though that risk isn’t completely removed).

On the downside, however, you could be missing out on crucial new features if you don’t stay alert to new major updates. That means you have to keep track of their release schedules to maximize their benefits, which requires a lot of careful attention.

It’s also still important to pay attention to your plugins and themes, even if auto updates are turned off for major changes to the WordPress core. There’s always a chance that the extras you rely on could react poorly to any core update.

Disable auto update for WordPress

Finally, you could disable WordPress auto-update functionality altogether and rely on manual updates instead.

There’s no way to set auto-updates for everything to be disabled on WordPress from the dashboard, so you need to use other means. Here’s how to turn off WordPress auto update for everything using several different methods:

With this approach, you’re fully in control of when you install updates for every element of your WordPress site. That means you can update everything only when you’re sure it’s all compatible, reducing the risk of your plugins or themes breaking every time your site updates.

And if you’ve customized your core files, themes, or plugins, you don’t have to worry about unexpected background updates overwriting all your hard work.

Unfortunately, there are downsides. If you wait too long to install new core updates, your website security may be compromised, potentially jeopardizing customer data. If you’re stuck on older versions of WordPress, you may also miss out on new features that keep your site fast, efficient, and easy to use.

You can mitigate those challenges by keeping a careful eye on WordPress release schedules, so you get new updates as quickly as possible after they launch. But when you’re already balancing multiple responsibilities, this can be tricky in its own right.

The Better Option: Get WordPress Maintenance Experts to Manually Update Your Site

While we know none of these approaches are perfect, one option is better than the rest: Turning off automatic updates and updating your site manually instead. It offers all the benefits of regular updates without the dangers of auto updates that run unexpectedly.

There’s one downside: Manually updating your WordPress site is a lot of work.

Do you really have the kind of time it takes to keep on top of WordPress updates if the auto-update feature isn’t doing it all for you?


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Of course, if you don’t update your site regularly, you risk missing crucial security updates that protect your site. It’s a lot of pressure for a time-consuming, mentally taxing task.

That’s why we recommend hiring a WordPress maintenance provider to take over the WordPress update process.

An experienced WordPress developer can make smart, informed decisions about:

  • When to update your site
  • Whether an update is compatible with your site
  • Which updates to prioritize and which ones to delay

Our team of experts offers an all-around WordPress support service with 24-hour uptime monitoring for your site. Contact our team at any time, and we’ll respond within a day, guaranteed.

We have the know-how to handle WordPress updates manually on your behalf, so you never have to worry about release dates or unexpected version clashes ever again.

And with Proto, our WordPress dashboard, you can keep track of all changes to your site easily. It’s a one-stop shop for checking:

  • WordPress installation and core update status
  • Known WordPress issues and potential bugs
  • The version of all your plugins
  • The status of file and database backups

Proto maintenance dashboard screenshot

This way, you’re always on top of everything that’s going on with your site, even though you don’t have to do it all yourself. It’s the perfect recipe for peace of mind.

Sort Out Your WordPress Auto Update Settings Once and For All

WordPress automatic updates might seem convenient, but they often lead to unexpected errors that take time and energy to resolve.

The best solution is to have experts check and install updates for you, so you can rest assured that your site is always running smoothly.

That peace of mind goes beyond auto updates, too. With a solution like StateWP, experts handle any WordPress errors that arise, leaving you to focus on running your business.

Ready to learn more about keeping your site running at peak performance? Check out our guide to website maintenance here, or reach out today to see how we can help you manage your site.

WordPress Automatic Update FAQs

Still have questions about WordPress automatic updates? Read on for the answers to the most common user queries.

How do I automatically update WordPress without FTP?

If you don’t have an FTP client to automatically update WordPress through the wp-config.php file, there are several other options you can try. Consider using the WordPress dashboard to set your automatic update preferences or using external plugins to customize your settings further. If you’re confident in coding, you could even use API filters to adjust your automatic updates in WordPress.

Should I enable auto updates in WordPress?

Enabling auto updates in WordPress means your site will always receive the newest features, security patches, and bug fixes as soon as they are released. However, you risk creating clashes with themes and plugins that could break your website completely. Because of those risks, we recommend updating WordPress manually on a regular basis – or hiring WordPress maintenance experts to do it for you.

Why am I unable to update WordPress automatically?

If WordPress fails to update automatically, it could be a result of issues with file permissions, server configuration, an issue with your WordPress hosting provider, or conflicts between themes and plugins. Work around this issue by disabling auto updates and carrying out a manual update instead. Alternatively, if you’ve hired a WordPress maintenance provider, they can troubleshoot the issue for you.

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