Here’s a great example of why automating updates in WordPress is only smart for non-business websites. As I write this, one of the WP plugins published by Facebook just released an update with invalid code.
Not just a bug — code so wrong that it crashes sites. Code that wouldn’t have passed basic testing.
I’m sure “Facebook for WooCommerce” will be fixed promptly. However, over 900,000 online shops use it. If they were all running automatic updates, almost a million shops would be offline right now.
Other WordPress Update Problems
This comes on top of the GADWP fiasco earlier this year, too. In that, ExactMetrics changed the nature of their popular plugin without warning, through an “update”.
Version 6 of the “Google Analytics Dashboard for WP” plugin was “redesigned from the ground up”. However, it removed some popular core features and started charging for others. The plugin got hundreds of one-star reviews overnight, as many switched to solutions that had not abused their trust.
Then there are the inevitable conflicts. With hundreds of thousands of optional WordPress components, it is impossible to test every combination. Some plugins rely on others that may need to be updated first. Others just don’t play well together. On top of that, professional WordPress development sometimes involves bespoke coding. Whilst testing that code with any current plugins is part of the job, it simply can’t be guaranteed to work with all future versions of those plugins.
However, it isn’t just WordPress that needs ongoing maintenance.
All Websites Need Maintenance
Underlying technologies (web servers, programming languages and so on) get updates, too. So all websites will fail without maintenance eventually.
WordPress just needs more maintenance because it provides far more flexibility. Flexibility creates complexity, even if the latter can sometimes be hidden.
Still, maintaining backwards-compatibility is a basic IT principle. Most systems try to give responsible developers time to catch up. So as long as we’re engaged to do the maintenance, and any licences are kept up to date, there’s no problem. It becomes a problem when site owners try to avoid maintenance.
Websites are marketing vehicles with lots of moving parts under the hood. They work hard to keep you in a marketing race in which the road conditions keep changing. You can’t expect them to keep working without maintenance. Nothing in this world does that.
Do Automatic WordPress Updates Make Sense?
WordPress websites are powerful tools, but outdated software is second only to weak passwords as a hacker exploit. So WordPress needs frequent updates to stay secure. That’s the price of the flexibility it provides.
Sadly, amateurs often ignore this. So insecure WordPress sites are common. Site owners often don’t even know their site has been hacked and is a danger to others.
That’s why version 5.5 of WordPress introduced a feature to enable automatic updates. It hopes to improve security on personal websites run by amateurs. As such, it’s a smart move. However, personal websites don’t risk losses when automated processes break them. Business websites do.