How do WordPress Automated Upgrades Work?

January 8th, 2011
LinkyLoo, WordPress, WordPress FAQs

Have you ever wondered how WordPress handles the automated core, plugin, and theme upgrades? Well, it’s time for some quick weekend education!

Long-time support forum volunteer, Ipstenu, has done all the thinking for you and has clearly laid out the inner-workings of the automated upgrade process.

It’s a quick read, and you might leave with a new respect for the automated upgrade system, and a new understand for why you should create a child theme if you want to modify your own theme.




  1. Joel (4 comments.) says:

    That’s a very interesting read, thanks. In the past I can tell what it was doing by looking at the modified dates of the files, but it’s nice to know where I can see exactly what it’s doing. Great process too, most of the time :)

  2. Vincent Parker (3 comments.) says:

    That was definitely a good read, which led to another, and then another… whew.

    I’ve never had an update break a blog. Even though Ipstenu assured me several times it WILL happen eventually. I always back up everything and then, with shaking fingers, hit that update button.

    Still, it’s definitely given me a lot to consider. Number one, yay for backups. But then child themes? Hm. Perhaps one day I can get over my PHPwhatsit fear and do some real customizing. Who knows? :)

  3. Ipstenu says:

    That explains the influx of comments and hits ;)

    I’ve never had the upgrade break everything, and I admit, I don’t always make a great backup before I start, but then again, I rarely use the auto-upgrade tool. Still, every major release (like for 3.1) I make a massive backup of everything :) and I have an automated server backup every day, for when I don’t ;)

  4. Ryan (55 comments.) says:

    That article doesn’t give reasons for creating a child theme, it gives reasons for not modifying core files, ie: TwentyTen, which is a different issue altogether.

    • James Huff (109 comments.) says:

      The same issue affects other themes as well when you automatically update them from the Dashboard.

      For example, if you install P2 and directly modify the theme’s files, you will lose all of your modifications when the theme is automatically updated, as the files are simply replaced by the updater.

    • Ipstenu says:

      No but the link to the article on child themes does.

      Anything included in the main WordPress install, ie core code, Akismet, Hello Dolly AND Twenty Ten, get overwritten. But this wasn’t an article about child themes, So I tried to avoid Mellvillian digressions :)

  5. Emil Uzelac (2 comments.) says:

    Well upgrade could affect any theme not just TwentyTen or P2, that’s good reason enough to “protect” yourself with Child Theme.

    I work for an Insurance Software company in Chicago and since last year all of their Agencies are converted to a Child Theme. What I did was development of my very own framework and every time when new design is needed, the child theme is all I need to work with.

    If there is an issue, one theme (framework) is very much the only thing to deal with and that my friend is the God’s given gift to us who manage almost 40 WordPress sites at the moment.

    I also never had major failure since WordPress, yeah maybe once or twice in 2003, but that’s it. Backup is always needed regardless of your WordPress experiance. “Smart people write down and stupid remember” quote from my father ;)

    As far as the article, well done great resources!

    • Ipstenu (31 comments.) says:


      The CORE UPGRADE does not, cannot and will not affect your P2 theme. Now a theme upgrade will always affect you, but the core simply doesn’t have that power. The one and only theme you can screw yourself over with in a Core Upgrade is TwentyTen. Period.

      • Emil Uzelac (2 comments.) says:

        I don’t think that you received my message correctly. What I meant was that any theme that does not get updated and while WordPress is could affect you.

        So if I have let’s say one of the older P2 themes, the upgrade will affect me. http://themes.trac.wordpress.o.....r=priority P2 gets updates just like any other theme out there. Affecting didn’t mean deleting your WordPress files.

        Anyways there’s no need to jump like that, I didn’t mean anything bad at all :(

  6. Paul says:

    Well, the article left me a bit wonder.

    How come the fact that default-theme-get-auto-updated-too hasn’t been mentioned in WP’s official documentations, but instead appears on a personal blog ?

    At the very least, there should be a little note ( just one line ) on the auto upgrade page.

    Don’t get me wrong here, the article is good, it’s informational and educational but as I said, it’s a bit strange, it’s like going to get a Tylenol and it doesn’t come with description label.

    The guy over the counter says, hey I will give the full details on my personal blog post, meanwhile just go ahead and take it as is and see how it goes.

    • Ipstenu (31 comments.) says:

      I don’t work for WordPress :) I’m not the Guy Over the Counter, but more the crazy chick with a sign telling you the End Times are Upon Us ;)

      The thing is I’ve never questioned what the WordPress upgrade does, because to me it was pretty obvious. Anything that came down with the .zip file I downloaded will get overwritten. That’s how every single web-app I’ve ever seen works, unless you have one that says ‘Upgrade this portion only.’ (And yes, I’ve heard tell that WordPress is working on patch files – I can’t wait!)

      Mind you, anyone can update the WP codex, so one of us should probably get off our butts and put a warning there.

      • Paul says:


        So we need more of the Guy Over the Counter like you then :)

        Thanks again for the post, I’m sure lots of people will benefit from reading it.

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