How to Enable Automatic WordPress Plugin Updates (And When You Shouldn’t)


WordPress is one of the most widely used website platforms out there, with a global market share of around 43%. It’s very user-friendly and can be configured to do just about anything (from simple blogs to much more complicated e-commerce sites).

As someone who manages multiple WordPress sites, I’ve seen the good and the bad. This is especially the case with plugins, which are a double-edged sword. For one thing, without plugins, WordPress is pretty much limited to serving as a blogging platform. It’s when you start adding these plugins that the platform flourishes.

On the other hand, plugins can give you endless trouble. To make matters worse, sometimes this problem can take the form of a rock and a hard spot.

Consider this:

My official author site (jackwallen.com) has hosted so many plugins and features over the years that I’ve lost count. This site has been around for decades and has (for the most part) served me well. However, on several occasions, a single plugin completely took down the site. The majority of these cases occurred when WordPress or a plugin was updated causing a break between the two. I’ve experienced it both ways (a WordPress update not matching a plugin or a plugin update not wanting to work with WordPress).

This is one side of the coin. On the other side of the coin, I had WordPress sites hacked because of an outdated plugin.

At this point, you probably realize that the whole WordPress/plugin thing is a not-so-fun game of Whack-A-Mole. This, my friends, is the dilemma in which you will find yourself. Are you updating a plugin or not?

It’s all about backups

After a number of instances where a malicious plugin update crashed a WordPress site, my saving grace has always been backups. If you have a recent backup, even if a plugin crashes your site, you can recover. Without a recent backup, you might find yourself out of luck.

For WordPress backups, one of the easiest tools to use is (you guessed it) another plugin. The plugin I use for WordPress backups is UpdraftPlus. But no matter which plugin you use (or if you back up your WordPress site manually), it’s crucial that you run the backup regularly. The last thing you want is for a plugin to crash your site only to find out that your backup is outdated. Of course, backups can take a while out of your already busy day. But not taking that time would be a big mistake.

So before you do anything with automating WordPress plugin updates, first make sure you have a solid backup strategy in place.

You have been warned.

Now re-read the warning just to be sure.

Yet another warning

Here is yet another warning. It’s hard to know which plugins you should consider for automatic updates. While one plugin will never give you trouble, another might. For that reason, here is my best advice:

Always err on the side of caution.

Seriously…if in doubt, don’t.

If that’s not good enough for you, then consider this. If a plugin is updated frequently (and is either offered by a legitimate company, team of developers, or is an official plugin), it should be a good candidate for updates automatic.

On the contrary, if a plugin is not frequently updated, if it is created by a single developer or if it is a custom plugin designed specifically for your site, I strongly advise against setting up updates. automatic updates.

To sum up:

  • If a plugin is official or developed by a team (or company), chances are it is safe for automatic updates.
  • If a plugin is a custom work or developed by an individual, I would contact that developer (to find out how safe it is for auto-updates) or just never set it for auto-updates.

Alright, that’s the last warning. Let’s find out how to configure a plugin for automatic updates.

Before you do so…read all warnings and be careful.

Enable auto-update for WordPress plugins

Now that you’ve been fully warned, let me show you how you can enable plugins to auto-update in WordPress. I use it for every plugin that I’m sure won’t cause problems with my WordPress sites.

Even with the problems that could result of a failed update, I tend to lean into these updates as it ensures that I don’t have outdated plugins with vulnerabilities that can be exploited. And as long as I have regular backups, I know I can always restore if something goes wrong.

So how do you enable automatic updates for a plugin? It’s really very simple.

First, log in to your WordPress site as an administrator user. If you don’t know how to do this, go to http://DOMAIN/wp-admin (where DOMAIN is your WordPress site’s domain) and log in with your admin username and password.

In the left navigation, click Plugins > Installed Plugins.

The WordPress Plugins submenu.

Access the WordPress plugins menu from the dashboard.

Image: Jack Wallen

In the resulting list, locate the plugin you want to add to the automatic update feature and click Enable automatic updates. Keep going through your list of plugins and activate any that you want to add. Remember, however, to err on the side of caution and only enable automatic updates for plugins you trust.

A list of WordPress plugins.

Enabling automatic updates for a WordPress plugin.

Image: Jack Wallen

And that’s all there is to enabling automatic WordPress plugin updates. Remember, keep doing those regular backups, in case a plugin update takes your site down. As long as you are prepared for such an eventuality, you should be fine.

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