Automatic Updates – Types of Updates for WordPress

Auto Updates Types of Updates

When it comes to automatic updates, there are several types of updates. I will go over the different types of updates and how they relate to your WordPress install.

A Quick Note About Semantic Versioning

Semantic versioning is a goal to strive for when releasing software.

For example, going from 1.0.0 to 2.0.0 is considered a backwards-incompatible change. A backwards compatible release would be going from version 1.0.0 to 1.0.1.

A backwards compatible release that introduces features would be 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc.

WordPress updates do not necessarily follow semantic versioning. The popularity of WordPress is that it strives to maintain backward compatibility. Yes, certain features of WordPress are deprecated with reach release, but for the most part, what worked 3 years ago will still work today.

When it comes to plugins or themes for WordPress, some follow semantic versioning. It’s up to the individual plugin or theme author to decide which versions introduce new features and which break some form of compatibility.

WordPress updates typically follow this versioning paradigm.

Backwards CompatibilityChangesTypeVersion
Some functionality deprecatedNew features and bug fixesMajor5.5, 5.6, 5.7
Generally always backwards compatibleSecurity, maintenance, and bug fixesMinor5.5.1, 5.5.2, 5.5.3
Minor and Major WordPress Releases

WordPress Core Updates

There are two types of WordPress core updates:

  • Major releases
  • Minor releases

Major Releases

Major releases are considered point releases. Point releases in WordPress land are when WordPress goes from, for example, 4.9 to 5.0.

Another example is going from version 5.5 to 5.6. These are considered major releases as a lot goes into a major point release.

Major releases introduce new functionality and are often well-tested and vetted releases. However, no major release is perfect, which is why there are minor releases.

By default, these releases are not auto-updated.

With managed hosts, these major releases are usually tested before rolling these out to customers.

Minor Releases

Minor releases are releases between each major release and often have bug and security fixes. An example is WordPress 5.5, which is a major release. If 5.5.1, 5.5.2, or 5.5.3 releases, these are considered minor releases.

Minor releases are auto-updated unless a user or host disables these. Minor releases are more important than major releases as they often contain fixes in-between major releases.

Plugin Updates

Plugin updates and semantic versioning are usually the wild-west. Some plugins follow semantic versioning, while others treat version numbers rather arbitrarily.

Plugin updates are typically not auto-updated unless the WordPress Plugin Directory discovers a security update that is updated automatically. Security updates where automatic updates occur are a rare occurrence.

It is, however, a good practice to keep your plugins up-to-date, especially in the age of Gutenberg where change happen rapidly.

Theme Updates

Themes hosted on the WordPress Theme Directory are released periodically and are not auto-updated automatically.

Since themes can be updated automatically, it is highly recommended to use a child theme so that your changes are not lost upon a theme update.

Translation Updates

Translation updates are typically auto-updated.

. └── wordpress/ └── wp-content/ └── languages/ ├── es_ES.mo ├── plugins/ │ └── advanced-custom-fields-es_ES.mo └── themes/ └── twentyfifteen-es_ES.mo

Translations hosted by the WordPress Directory follow the structure above. Core WordPress translations are stored in a languages folder inside wp-content.

Plugin and theme translations are stored in a plugins and themes folder respectively.

Third-party plugin and theme translations usually are included within a languages folder defined by the individual third-party plugin and theme.

Third-party Plugins

Third-party plugins are plugins not hosted by the WordPress Plugin Directory. Some call these premium plugins, but I prefer to call them third-party plugins.

Third-party plugins usually include some type of license to ensure the update can be applied manually or via automatic update.

Third-party plugins typically are not auto-updated unless the plugin has its own auto-update mechanism. Plugins such as Gravity Forms and Rankmath allow for automatic updates within their options.

Third-party Themes

Also known as premium themes, these are also not auto-updated by default. Many third-party themes do include some type of auto-update mechanism built into their theme.

Like third-party themes, these require some type of license in order for users to update their themes.

As with themes hosted on the WordPress Theme Directory, it is important to use a child theme so that your changes are not lost in-between updates.

Conclusion

There are several types of updates within the WordPress ecosystem:

  • Core updates
  • Plugin updates
  • Theme updates
  • Translation updates
  • Third-party plugin updates
  • Third-party theme updates

Up next we’ll start diving into some code and what tools in WordPress are available to assist in automatic updates.