How To Update a WordPress Theme

Updating a WordPress theme comes with benefits such as being less vulnerable to security attacks, getting up to speed with the latest coding best practices, performance optimizations, possibly some enhanced functionality, and more.

Being less at risk to security breaches & hacks is perhaps the primary motivation behind theme developers coming out with new versions, as modern technology and workarounds allow many bad actors to act with malicious intent.

Regardless, 99% of the time, updating a theme is for the betterment of your site.

Guidance on Updating a WordPress Theme

By nature, WordPress will routinely check for updates. Not only for themes but also for plugins, as well as the WordPress version itself.

If, for some reason, you have an interest in knowing what the current state of affairs is for all of the updates, head over to Dashboard > Updates. In there, WP will have a section for plugins, themes, and the version itself. (See screenshot below for context.)

The main WP updates page
The WP updates page gives an overview of whether your site has all the latest iterations installed for the following three items: Plugins, themes, and the WP version itself.

Updating a WordPress Theme on a Managed WP Plan

If you’re on a Managed WP plan or similar, such as those from GoDaddy, the chances are that your theme would be automatically updated. Once that’s done, your hosting provider usually notifies via email.

If this is the type of advantage you’re looking for, paying a premium price for an advanced WP plan that is convenient, customizable, and handles mundane day-to-day like updating WP themes and versions might be worth it.

These types of plans usually have an edge over regular plans not only with updates, but also because of other bells and whistles such as CDN, dedicated servers, staging sites, backups, etc. The idea is that you let the hosting provider manage all the extraneous, albeit necessary aspects of running a WP site, and you, the owner, can solely focus on writing and producing content or publishing new pages or products.

Updating a WordPress Theme on a Non-Managed WP Plan

If your WordPress website is not managed, it means you are responsible for ensuring your site remains current on all the themes, plugins, and WP versions. Although, it does mean that you have more control over things, and can dictate the timings of when you want the updates to take place, nonetheless, it’s something you would need to execute manually.

To update a WP theme manually, head over to Dashboard > updates, OR Dashboard > Appearance > Themes, and see if an update is available. (Remember, WordPress checks for this anyway).

If so, follow the prompts, and in 1-3 steps, you’d be all set. It’s pretty straightforward.

Caveats and FAQs Around Updating a WP Theme

Do I Need To Update My WordPress Theme?

No, you do not have to. But is it recommended? Most certainly! As alluded to, the main objective behind a theme update is usually patching the site with improved security functionalities and delivering new features. If you’re on a Managed WP plan, you might be able to build in a workaround where your themes do not get updated automatically; however, it is not advised. The last thing you want is to get your site hacked and lose all the hard work you’ve put into it.

Can I Update a WordPress Theme Without Losing Content?

Yes. Your posts and pages, media, comments, etc., remain intact when a theme gets updated. They do not get lost. Additionally, any tweaks & adjustments made via the theme customizer (Dashboard > Appearance > Customize) should remain in place too. What will get erased, though, are the edits or code changes made to the theme files themselves — for example, functions.php. The reason being is that when a theme updates — it will overwrite the old code with the new code for all the theme files.
Working with a child theme can prevent this.

Should I Create a Backup Before Updating My WordPress Theme?

Absolutely! Creating a backup can come in handy in other scenarios, too; for instance, when your site suffers from a critical error, you lose access or any different situation you hope you do not have to encounter. I can personally vouch that having a backup has saved my site on numerous occasions — the biggest one being when my site completely malfunctioned while updating a plugin. There are tons of backup solutions available (paid and otherwise) that you can research. Moreover, as mentioned before, going with a managed WP plan can ease this pain point. You literally won’t have to worry about it, as the hosting provider is already creating backups for you.

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In Closing

Updating a WP theme isn’t rocket science. Contrary to what many may think, it is effortless & simple, as shown in this post. Plus, being involved in regular theme updates is not only a best practice for your site, it transpires & hints at a few extra good signs such as:

  • Demonstrating that the theme developers are serious in serving their users and actively protecting your site against innovative security attacks.
  • Allowing you to get new features and enhancements that can enable you to get creative with additional methods of keeping your site users engaged.
  • Proving that the theme providers listen to feedback, resolve bugs, and follow through on feature requests.