If you’re running a WooCommerce store, you likely have come across notifications that prompt you to update to the latest version. Ever wondered if it’s safe to go ahead and click on ‘update now,’ especially if your store is online and have customers visiting it?
Updates are a common sight in the WordPress dashboard. From the actual WordPress software to themes and plugins, we regularly see update notifications. And as a WordPress site owner, you should be responsive to updates.
But are all updates as simple as they appear? What if (and that’s a big if) an update goes wrong?
In some cases, an update can mess up your entire website. From design elements to more complex functionality such as denial to add to cart, issues during payment processing, and so on, you’d suddenly be facing a dysfunctional website. Not to mention, a lot of unhappy customers!
What if you had an alternate solution? What if you had a solution to fall back on while you fix the problem caused due to the update?
This article will explore an effective way to update your WooCommerce store and save you from skipping a heartbeat if your store goes down!
Whether it’s to add new features or fix existing bugs, developers continuously release new updates. Skipping an update is something we don’t recommend.
Ensuring your WooCommerce plugin is updated is no different. As a store owner, when you update WooCommerce, you’re ensuring you have the latest version of the plugin on your store.
WooCommerce is a very popular eCommerce platform with millions of users across the world. Using the WooCommerce plugin, you can convert a basic WordPress website into a full-fledged online store.
Here are a few facts to back our claim,
- WooCommerce is the most popular plugin on the entire internet, with a 68% usage distribution
- 4,414,537 live websites are currently using WooCommerce
- 93.7% of all WordPress eCommerce websites use the WooCommerce plugin
(Source: Hosting Tribunal)
The team behind WooCommerce continuously works towards improving the plugin. To ensure your online store functions better, they keep adding new features, fixing bugs and addressing issues. Most importantly, they continuously improve the overall security of the platform.
That last point is incredibly important!
These new features are released to WooCommerce store owners in the form of periodic updates.
With every update, your site improves in one way or another, and you’d have the most secure version of WooCommerce installed. All the more reason for you to run every update as soon as it is available.
But is updating WooCommerce really required? How will it help?
Let’s discuss a few reasons that would convince you to update WooCommerce.
One of the most important reasons to update WooCommerce is your store’s security. Delaying or putting off the process for too long could put your store at risk.
As indicated earlier, 93.7% of all WordPress eCommerce websites use WooCommerce. Considering its popularity, WordPress and WooCommerce are prime targets for hackers and data thieves.
If a security vulnerability is reported, the core WooCommerce team works towards fixing the issue. They then release a new updated version that resolves the issue and publicly state what has been fixed.
If you’re not using the latest updated version of WooCommerce, you are using versions with known security vulnerabilities and can become a victim of an attack.
Hackers can also exploit not just WooCommerce, but the WordPress software, themes, and plugins. You need to make sure that everything is kept up to date.
Check out the 10 best WordPress security plugins you can use.
With each major WooCommerce release comes new features and updates.
For instance, one of the enhancements included in the WooCommerce 5.0 update was creating additional download permission for simple downloadable products.
Similarly, some of the enhancements in the earlier WooCommerce versions, i.e., the 4.9 update, included avoiding unsupported updates based on the PHP version. In the 4.8 update, WooCommerce added support for the Twenty Twenty-One WordPress theme.
In addition to the few enhancements mentioned above, there were several fixes, tweaks and developments.
The WooCommerce 5.0 release also solved localization issues such as including states for the Dominican Republic, updated the Indian state name ‘Orissa’ to ‘Odisha,’ fixed the name for a state in Guatemala, and a few other fixes.
So, would you want to miss out on an update? If you are using an older version of WooCommerce, your store experience would be different from someone using the updated version.
The team at WooCommerce is continually making their platform better and faster. New releases can often bring performance enhancements.
Here’s a list of enhancements in some of the earlier WooCommerce releases.
- Improved the speed of the admin dashboard (version 3.7)
- Improved speed of the variation in the lookup function (version 3.6)
- Improved the speed when fetching downloads for customers (version 3.6)
- Added a visibility term for out of stock products to speed up those queries (version 3.0)
- Improved searching for orders (version 2.13)
- Speed enhancements in various places (version 2.13)
Considering speed and performance a significant factor in SEO, you must keep your WooCommerce store up-to-date.
‘To err is human, but to really foul things up, you need a computer…’ A quote we saw online!
OK. On a more serious note, despite the various testing processes that go into a release, a bug or two may slip through the cracks. That’s why you have minor WooCommerce releases.
For instance, after the WooCommerce admin 1.8.0 release, they came up with a minor release, 1.8.1, which fixed the snack bar dismissal bug.
Again, this reiterates the point that you must update your WooCommerce plugin as and when a release is made available.
Manually testing and then updating your WooCommerce platform can be time-consuming and overwhelming. The good news is that there are tools to help speed up the process.
Here are some tools we recommend using to help test your WooCommerce platform with the latest updates.
Simply stated, a staging site is a clone of your live site. We always recommend that you carry out testing on your staging site. If all looks good, carry out the same process on the live site.
The staging tool allows you to duplicate your website easily. Experimenting on your live site could have serious consequences if an update goes wrong. Not to mention the chances of your site going down completely!
Staging sites provide the ideal testing environment to run and test new updates without worrying about any repercussions.
We also recommend you create a staging site on a subdomain instead of a subdirectory.
For instance, if your domain name is yoursite.com, we recommend you create a staging site on a subdomain such as staging.yoursite.com rather than a subdirectory such as yoursite.com/staging.
And the reason is straightforward.
A subdirectory is still under your live site. Any update to the staging site under the subdirectory will have repercussions on the entire live site. Whereas the subdomain is a fresh WordPress and WooCommerce installation and in no way will affect your live store.
Most hosting service providers offer you an easy-to-set-up staging tool.
For instance, SiteGround has a staging tool accessible through the site tools in your SiteGround control panel.
By default, all installations made through the SiteGround WordPress auto-installer will be listed. However, if you’ve manually installed WordPress, you’ll have to add it to the Staging tool yourself.
You will then find a dropdown with all the domains associated with your hosting (SiteGround) account. If you’ve installed your subdomain, simply select the domain you’d like to clone and then type in your installation path (subdomain).
Click Add to complete the process. You’ve just set up your staging site.
What if your hosting provider doesn’t offer you a staging tool? Well then, use a WordPress staging plugin.
Before you ask the next obvious question about how to use the staging plugin, well, we’ve got your covered. We’ll walk you through step-by-step to update your WooCommerce store using the staging tool and the plugin a little later in this article.
How long will it take you to complete the testing of your entire WooCommerce store after a new update? And we’re not talking of only the look and feel of your store. But all the functionality, such as add to cart, checkout, product updates, order details, among many other things.
What if we say you could complete the entire process of testing your site in a matter of minutes? Yes, it is possible with the various testing tools that are available!
With these tools, you can automate the entire process of testing your site end-to-end, allowing you to focus on the business side of your store.
One such testing tool is Ghost Inspector.
While this is a premium tool, you could start with a free trial.
With Ghost Inspector, you can ensure your website is working correctly. And the best bit, you needn’t have any experience in programming or testing!
Ghost Inspector is an automated testing tool that monitors and checks your website for any problems. To ensure your website is working properly, Ghost Inspector carries out the test in a browser, the exact way a user would during their journey through your website.
Simply install the Ghost Inspector extension on your web browser, start recording a test scenario, run the recorded tests, and get notified via email or their third-party integrations.
We will learn how to run tests using Ghost Inspector a little later in this article.
Some other popular testing tools are Usetrace, Protractor, Cucumber and Eggplant Functional. While tools such as Ghost Inspector and Usetrace are cloud-based testing tools, the others are UI automation and desktop automation testing tools.
Whether you are updating a plugin or not, you should be taking periodic backups of your site. Most service providers offer automatic daily backups as part of their hosting plans.
You can also run manual backups for your store. You have several WordPress backup plugins to choose from. Some popular plugins include UpdraftPlus, WP Migrate DB Pro, BackWPup, WP Database Backup and Jetpack.
Because it’s better to be safe than sorry!
We know how simple it is to update a plugin in WordPress. Simply click on the update link against the respective plugin and you’re done.
But, is updating your WooCommerce plugin as simple as updating the other plugins, such as a form, image compression or URL redirects?
For instance, WooCommerce creates its own custom tables in your database. It also works in tandem with various extension plugins. This means a problem with one WooCommerce extension can, in turn, cause problems for the entire WooCommerce platform.
Even if it were a small faulty update, it can result in messing up your entire store!
And while you resolve the issue, you’ll probably have your store in maintenance mode. Depending on how long it takes to fix the issue, you are losing money every second it’s down.
To avoid situations like this, you should take some practical precautions when updating your WooCommerce store.
So what are some precautions that we can take?
Now that we’re aware of the importance of updating WooCommerce, it’s all about carrying out the update in the best possible manner.
Before you update WooCommerce, here are a few precautionary steps you can take.
1. Stop Automatically Updating WooCommerce
But, by this point in the article, you’d know well enough that’s not the recommended approach. Avoid enabling the auto-updates. Especially if your store is live.
You wouldn’t want the latest release automatically installed onto your store while you are away or without your knowledge and causing any issues!
2. Never Push Updates Directly to Your Live Store
As suggested earlier, we recommend creating a staging site. You then carry out the updates and testing here and run the updates on the live site if all works well.
A faulty update could end up breaking your store. From your store’s general look and feel to the cart functionality, your customers could end up with a negative shopping experience.
Fortunately, you can create a staging environment and carry out all our testing without worrying what happens in the front end.
3. Verify the WooCommerce Version Details
Which version of WooCommerce are you using? Is it the latest version?
Not only do you get information on the latest WooCommerce version, but you also get information on the versions of WordPress and PHP that are required.
From the above image, you’ll notice the latest version is WooCommerce 5.0, and your website will require WordPress 5.4 or higher and PHP version 7.0 or higher to run WooCommerce.
4. Update WordPress to the Latest Version
Similar to updating WooCommerce for the latest version, WordPress too has to be up-to-date.
WordPress is also updated periodically for the same reasons, i.e., to improve speed and performance, tighten security, enhance functionality, and fix bugs.
If you were to update WooCommerce while running an older version of WordPress, your store will most likely become incompatible and perhaps stop working.
Our site is currently running on version 5.6.1, which is fine!
If you are not, you’ll have to update your WordPress version.
Again, while it is easy to click on the ‘Update Now’ button, you’ll have to update WordPress similar to updating WooCommerce, i.e., by backing up your site, creating a staging site, running the update, and testing.
We’ll cover the entire process later in this article.
5. Check PHP Version
The next is to check the PHP version. Remember, based on the requirements set by WooCommerce, we need a PHP version of 7.0 or higher.
WordPress uses a programming language called PHP. And like WordPress and WooCommerce, PHP must also be updated periodically.
As shown above, in the image, the PHP version currently installed is PHP version 7.3.27.
Since we’ve met the basic requirement, we can safely proceed with our WooCommerce update.
6. Check WooCommerce Database
Head over to WooCommerce > Home in your WordPress dashboard.
If so, you will have to update your WooCommerce database. Some WooCommerce updates require you to update the database too.
To update, click on Update WooCommerce Database.
Again, we are assuming you carry all this out on the staging site and have a backup in place.
After completing the update, you’ll find a success message, as shown above.
7. Check Changelog Details of the Update
Before you run an update, you could check the Changelog.
The Changelog lists all the update details. Whether the update is related to a bug fix, enhancement in speed and performance, and so on. The exact details will be indicated in the Changelog.
And how do you check the Changelog?
The Changelog tab, as shown above, will display the details of the update.
Another method is by visiting the plugin’s development page in the WordPress repository.
8. Check WordPress Forum Support
The WordPress support community is huge. Another reason why WordPress is so popular!
Be it regarding WordPress development or an issue faced after running an update, users usually post about it on the WordPress support forums.
If you don’t find a solution to a problem you are facing, go ahead and check out the support forums. Chances are you’ll find similar issues and the solutions for it too.
Once you have the above prerequisites to run a WooCommerce update, let’s proceed with the update itself.
We’ll cover how you can update your WooCommerce store safely over the next few steps.
As mentioned earlier in the article, whether you are updating your plugins or not, we always recommend taking a backup of your site.
Think of backups like insurance. They aren’t that interesting or important until you really need them. Then their value is almost incalculable!
Based on your hosting plan, some service providers carry out backups for you. Nevertheless, it’s an extra layer of protection if you carry out these updates manually too.
UpdraftPlus lets you backup your entire site immediately. The plugin also allows you to schedule your backups and store them on your local computer or in the cloud. Additionally, you can select the files you want to backup and restore easily from the admin panel.
However, to backup your store database, you would have to consider upgrading to the premium version of UpdraftPlus.
You can create a clone of your site in a matter of seconds, run your updates, test the site and once you’re done, delete the clone. It’s as simple as it gets!
Your backup process will begin.
Now that you have a backup in place, you needn’t worry if your site goes down. And we’re hoping it doesn’t!
We know by now that updating the live site is not recommended. If an update doesn’t go as planned, we’ll end up with a messed-up store and a lot of unhappy customers.
To avoid all that, we suggest creating a staging site.
Before you create a staging site, we recommend putting your store in maintenance mode. You wouldn’t want any customers purchasing while you are carrying out the staging or testing process. Maintenance mode can prevent that while showing the user a friendly message about site maintenance,
To put your WooCommerce store in maintenance mode, there are several plugins you could install. One such WordPress plugin is SeedProd.
Using SeedProd, you can also go specific by selecting which page is under maintenance instead of having your entire website in maintenance mode.
Once you have installed and activated your SeedProd plugin, head over to SeedProd > Pages in your WordPress dashboard.
The free version of the plugin allows you to set your store on coming soon or in maintenance mode. Enable the maintenance mode.
Once done, click on Save.
And that’s it. Your store is in maintenance mode!
Did we just mention that you can set a specific page in maintenance mode? Yes, we did! However, that’s available in the premium version of the SeedProd plugin.
Now that your site is in maintenance mode let’s go ahead and create a staging environment.
As indicated earlier in the article, most hosting providers allow you to create a staging site easily. In a matter of a few easy-to-follow steps, you’ll have your staging environment all set up.
For instance, if you are using SiteGround, you’ll notice the Staging under WordPress, as shown in the image.
Notice the staging URL created.
In our case, the URL is https://staging3.yourdomain.com/wp-admin/admin.php?page=custom-dashboard.php.
You can now run your updates on the staging site.
But what if your hosting provider doesn’t offer you the staging option? What then?
Well, in such cases, you can use a plugin such as Duplicator.
Duplicator is a very popular WordPress plugin with more than one million installations. It allows you to copy, migrate or even clone your site easily. It also serves as a backup utility.
Once you’ve installed and activated your plugin, head over to Duplicator > Packages in your WordPress dashboard.
Name your package (the build). You have the options to choose the files and database you’d like to back up and include in the package.
In the next step, a scan of your site is completed. Click Next if you’ve got ‘Good’ for all the checks.
You can now select the type of download, i.e., either an installer, an archive, or the one-click download. The one-click download has both the installer and archive included.
You can now upload the same to your staging site. Create a subdomain, such as https://staging.yourdomain.com, and have this package uploaded using an FTP client, such as Filezilla.
For more details, check out the detailed installation process.
Once you’ve completed the staging process, you could get your live site out of the maintenance mode. This is a choice you could decide on.
You could either wait until you’ve run the updates on the staging site, tested it and push the updates back on the live site or turn off the maintenance mode and continue working on the staging site.
Alright! We now have our backup in place and also created our staging site. We are free to do anything on our staging site, even break it if need be. And the good news is that it won’t affect our main site!
Once you’ve completed an update, how do you track if anything has changed about your store’s look and feel? It could be a change in font, color, or even the positioning of a text or an image.
If you have a single page or a small site, you may still be able to identify the changes. But if your site has several pages, it’s going to be time-consuming and rather difficult.
To help you out, use the WP Boom tool.
Using WP Boom, you can take a snapshot of your site before and after running the update and compare the two versions. The tool runs through the entire site and notifies you of the exact changes and the percentage of change too.
Once you have created a free account on WP Boom, simply add your site details once before running the update and once after running the update. And then run the comparison.
On being notified via email, run through the report and make changes, if required.
And this is as far as the look and feel of the website is concerned. How about the technical and functionality aspect?
That’s where testing tools such as Ghost Inspector comes into play.
Once you have created an account for yourself in Ghost Inspector, you’ll need to either install the browser extension or include the URL.
Click the icon and you’ll be prompted to start recording. You’ll, however, need to be logged into your account to access this option.
Once you click Start Recording, Ghost Inspector will start recording your actions and the toolbar icon will turn green. Additionally, the extension also records Assertions.
You can also enable the notifications via the email option under settings. This way, you will be notified if there are any errors or bugs.
For a detailed guide on how to test record on your browser, visit the test recorder for Chrome and Firefox guide.
So once you have created a staging site, run a test to ensure that your site works just fine.
Now, go ahead and update your site. Be it plugins, themes, or in our case, the WooCommerce plugin.
Once you’ve completed the WooCommerce update process on your staging site, it’s time to run a quick check across your store. Just to ensure everything is functioning fine.
Start by running a test yourself. Run a test of what your customer’s journey would look like. From viewing the products on your store to adding them to the cart, updating the price after adding more products, the checkout process, and so on.
If all looks good, here’s a checklist on what else you could test from your end,
- Check your store’s main pages, such as the home, about, store, pricing, cart, checkout, contact pages, and so on.
- Use the WP Boom tool to run a comparison report to ensure all looks good.
- Run a testing tool, such as Ghost Inspector, to check if there are any broken links and if all the store functionality is working fine.
- Check your store on how it runs on all major browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
- Check your store on all major devices such as desktop, laptop, mobile, and tablet.
All look good? Then let’s proceed to update our live site.
If you do face errors after the update, we’ve listed some common troubleshooting you could carry out in our Test your WooCommerce site after the update section.
It’s that time!
Now that we’ve run our updates and the tests, it’s time to push the WooCommerce updates from the staging environment onto the live site.
And the first option is the simplest!
Since you have updated WooCommerce on your staging site, simply go ahead and run the update on the live site as well. Considering your staging site is a clone of your live site, all you have to do is run the same update on live.
Another option is to use your hosting provider. Just as easy it was to create a staging environment from within your hosting control panel, it is equally simple to push the changes and the staging site to the live site.
For instance, using SiteGround, you have a ‘Full Deploy’ option.
Once you confirm, the live site will be replaced with the staging version. And it’s as simple as that.
Suppose your hosting provider doesn’t have such staging options. In that case, you can consider various backup and migrations tools such as UpdraftPlus, WP Migrate DB Pro, and so on to backup all your files, databases and migrate your staging site to the live site.
Like migrating the entire staging site, you can also migrate only the files, databases, and anything else that’s been updated.
Once you’ve selected the appropriate options, click on Next and complete the migration process.
This partial push process is beneficial if you know the files that have been updated and, importantly, if you do not want to alter any transactional databases in the live site.
For instance, while you have been running the updates on the staging site, let’s say you had transactions happening on the live site. In such cases, if you were to migrate the entire site, you would lose information relating to the purchase. Partial push helps in such cases.
Irrespective of which method you adopt to migrate your staging site to the live site, you must test your site to ensure it’s working correctly.
Yes, you’ve already tested your staging site after the updates. And you’ve just migrated the updates to the live site. Yet, we always recommend you re-run the tests on your live site after the migration.
From running a manual check on all the major store elements, such as a cart, payment, checkout, and so on, to using WP Boom and Ghost Inspector tools, complete a full test run of your store. Then run a complete customer’s journey on your store.
Once you’ve completed all the above steps, you’ve successfully updated your WooCommerce store without breaking the site.
But, we all know that things aren’t rosy all the time. At times we face issues after running an update.
Here’s a list of commonly faced errors while running a WooCommerce update and how you could resolve them.
Running WooCommerce updates is very straightforward but can cause errors occasionally. Some of them may be easy to resolve, and some may break your site.
In all our years of experience updating WooCommerce and handling errors, we’ve seen some typical cases. Resolving them is usually simple.
- The WooCommerce update has failed
- The WooCommerce install does not exist
- A broken website or a completely blank white screen
- Only the store section of your website has crashed
- Certain plugins and WooCommerce extensions have become incompatible with the latest version of WooCommerce
- You get error or warning notifications
If these are some of the errors you’ve encountered, we recommend the following steps.
Here are some troubleshooting solutions:
Solution 1: WooCommerce Version Details
The first step is to check on the WooCommerce plugin’s version details. Have you installed the latest version? Head over to the WordPress repository and cross-check if you’ve installed the latest version.
Solution 2: WordPress Version Details
Likewise, check on the version of WordPress that you have installed. Is it fulfilling the minimum version requirements as stated on the WooCommerce plugin page? If not, update WordPress to the latest version.
Solution 3: PHP Version Details
Once you’ve checked the WooCommerce and WordPress version, recheck if you’re using a compatible version of PHP. To accomplish this, check the version of PHP in the control panel of your hosting provider.
Solution 4: Increase PHP memory
Consider increasing the PHP memory limit in WordPress. For this, you will need to access the wp-config file.
The ‘wp-config.php‘ file is a configuration file that stores your website’s most important settings. It also includes your website’s database information.
So, just to caution you, if you are updating this file, consider taking a backup first.
From the wp-config file, you can increase the PHP memory limit in WordPress.
To increase the PHP memory limit, you will need to add the following line of code,
define( 'WP_MEMORY_LIMIT', '128M' );
This line of code tells WordPress to increase the PHP memory limit to 128MB.
While a PHP memory limit of 128MB should be good enough, you could consider going up to a maximum limit of 256MB. (Source: WooCommerce)
That being said, you needn’t go overboard with the PHP limit. Once you’ve completed editing, save the file.
Solution 5: Update Themes and Plugins
At times, running older versions of themes and plugins with newer versions of WooCommerce and WordPress could create conflicts. To rule this option out, have all your plugins and themes up-to-date.
Solution 6: Contact Support
If you’ve completed all the above-mentioned steps and still find errors and issues on your store, consider checking the WordPress forum or WooCommerce support for similar issues addressed by other store and website owners.
While the above steps should do just fine, always remember to take a backup before starting any update process. Especially if you have a huge live store, it’s always best to create a staging site and run your updates. Use the staging site even to troubleshoot.
Running an update on the live site can be risky at times. And if things go south, you can quickly use your backup to get your site back up and running.
Consider using a roll-back plugin, such as WP Rollback, to revert to the WooCommerce plugin’s previous version quickly. The roll-back plugin, however, has to be installed initially.
Managing website updates can be time-consuming, yet we now know it’s important. From the WordPress software to complex plugins such as WooCommerce, updating as and when there’s a release is essential for your site and store to function seamlessly.
However enticing and straightforward it may appear, going ahead and clicking on the update link against a plugin, theme or WordPress without preparation is not the best option. While preparation can be time-consuming, it is well worth it.
From backing up your store, creating a staging environment, to testing and migrating back to the live site, this method saves you from repercussions such as a broken site, dysfunctional store, or worse.
In short, this method saves fixing and debugging your site and, in turn, guarantees a smooth WooCommerce update every single time.
So, how do you update your WooCommerce store? Do you set up a staging environment? And how do you run your tests?
If you’ve got any additional tips or even tricks to update WooCommerce easily, we’d love to hear from you. Do comment below and let us know what works best for you.