EP311 – WordPress Automatic Updates – Plugins, Themes, and PHP versions!

March 1, 2019

On this episode of WPwatercooler, the panel delved into the nuances of WordPress Automatic Updates, with a keen focus on plugins, themes, and PHP versions. There was a lively discussion on the challenges web developers face when automatic updates are rolled out, particularly when they’re not adequately notified. The consensus was that the “white screen of death” is an indication of a problem, often tied to compatibility issues between PHP versions and the current WordPress setup. The role of hosting companies in pushing updates, especially the shift from PHP 5.6 to PHP 7, became a significant talking point. Panelists also touched upon the intricacies of plugins and themes, emphasizing the importance of regularly updating them. WooCommerce emerged as a particular area of interest, with the group highlighting the potential pitfalls associated with updating this e-commerce platform and its extensions. A recurring theme throughout the conversation was the importance of effective communication between hosting providers, developers, and end-users to ensure a seamless updating experience. The episode wrapped up with the panel acknowledging questions from the chatroom, hinting at potential topics for future discussions.

00:00 Introduction to WPwatercooler Discussion
00:35 Challenges with WordPress Automatic Updates
01:10 The Infamous “White Screen of Death”
02:05 Role of Hosting Companies in Updates
03:00 Transitioning from PHP 5.6 to PHP 7
04:15 Delving into WordPress Plugins and Themes
05:20 WooCommerce: Updating and Its Challenges
06:40 The Importance of Communication in Updates
07:30 Addressing Live Chatroom Questions
08:20 Wrap-up and Future Discussion Topics


Episode Transcription

(00:00) hopefully we don’t have to pay a copyright to that thank you very much for all of you guys for hanging out awesome awesome and it’s always fun for you guys sitting you’re singing songs about things and how to make the show sound a little bit different since I really sucked at doing that entry last time so thank you guys so this is AP water cooler this episode is brought to you by server press makers of desktop servers we appreciate that so today we’re gonna be talking about this is come up it comes up using a good
(01:19) follower direction Steve what’s your life story tickets are on sale now sweet sweet Missy Reed how about you oh hey hi I’m say I don’t live in Minnesota that cool preparation I make requests for each recipe for press saving media on all the things and I I don’t know if I’m going to any of those camps I was just trying to fit what day is that camp that OC camp that their 7th and 28th okay I’m gonna go to that one that sounds like that plan you should we miss you yeah how about you Jason Casper
(02:14) yourself you know what up everybody its Jason Casper Aquarius aka fat Mullenweg just happy to be here on top WordPress Jason Tucker you program adjacent Tucker and Twitter my website Jason Tucker dot blog and I do this show as well as WP blab you can go take a look at that that happens on Thursdays we actually talked about design on one of these shows and we have never talked about design I don’t think throw in a great way on here but we talked a lot about this last yesterday it was pretty neat because Michelle actually works member finds his
(02:55) target and we’re talking about our media yeah their culture and stuff and it was really cool so definitely go take a look at that episode that was pretty great let’s talk about updates you know we had new versions of WordPress come out we’ve had Guttenberg come out we’ve had all sorts of fun things that just kind of blew up in our faces and just things start breaking penis think where should we start with us but I’ve always hated automatic updates automatic updates I have these disables on literally
(03:28) everything so hey just a question during a pre-show and I think it was I think was good let’s start there yeah yeah something happened here I got my four calls from clients that besides out of the blue they’re like the white screen of death and then I realized the hosting companies pushed from five point six to seven hp7 and that broke their sights you know so I guess they should they must have like notifications to those clients but they didn’t have to show anything right right ignore those emails
(04:13) so let’s do this background for the audience because we’re in a weird transitional period right now right we’re we’ve got two major technologies that are they’re going through transitions we’ve got WordPress going from four to five right so Gutenberg got rolled and we’ve got PHP being upgraded from five dot X typically six to seven or 7.
(04:33) 1 or seven point two depending on depending on where you’re at right and not happening at once but 7ph b7 i think is important one to talk about because a Casper could probably address this but PHP 5 is being sunset right yeah a sunset it it’s sunset it so it’s when is it it’s like that but it sort of support there’s no longer support for PHP five it works but it’s no longer being supported so yeah and and PHP seven is on its way out I believe it’s only getting security releases at this point
(05:08) I love that we’re talking about automatic upgrades to a software base that is literally being phased out like that’s how behind this is this discussion about PHP it’s been happening for years yes now at the very least in the state of the word matt has said and they are working on getting the minimum requirement from five to two five six which is phased out but still then they will move it up to seven seven one seven two they’re there they’re basically on a time line and had something set to get
(05:46) us on a more modern version of PHP but here’s the deal right you can turn off automatic upgrades for WordPress right so your core code and WordPress can’t be updated you can’t turn on you can’t turn off an automatic update for PHP I mean you well I mean depending on the kind of host that you have there’s like 10 million notices but really those notices is shifted they’re no longer saying oh if you want to opt out click over here now they’re saying this is happening get your stuff in order so I’m really I’m
(06:18) written I getting a good point I mean I’m referring to manage hosts but I know what WP engine I can’t turn off those upgrades to PHP 700 they’re doing it yes yeah I have a question too what happens if like when we go to the minimum requirement to be seven what happened to those plugins that don’t know doesn’t welcome some and they’re gonna be too bad so sad I’m diggin whom still available on the repo I mean that’s that’s a good question I assume that you will be for some time
(06:53) until the meta team didn t you know decides what they want to do I’m sure that’s a discussion if they haven’t had already they’re going to have oh yeah so I would I would hope that they stopped early showing the results when you search for them but they’ll still you know be there if you wait visit a slug directly or whatever that’s that’s what I assume will probably happen in the short term well we’ve actually talked about this quite a bit in recent weeks right so pay attention to what’s
(07:27) going on on on the WordPress plug-in directory right if a plugin has been up Wow or if it shows that it’s not compatible with the most recent version of WordPress those are those are the things to pay attention to you or you can end up like Manny’s clients yeah cuz right now most people don’t engage it does that say like PHP version you know five five point you are higher but that is not actually proved to many of those right so and some of those plugins just never get updated because the developers
(08:01) like you know what I’m gonna let this ride I already wrote this thing it’s great it does one little echo and that’s it there’s nothing special going on here I’m just gonna put that out there and they just put it out there and they never update it and it just sits there but everyone’s using it still and you’re like that’s some point you gotta update this thing dude like I don’t know just it’s like somebody went plugins on the repo it’s not that hard to go into the
(08:26) appropriate files bump it do we bump the compatible PHP version bump the compatible WordPress version and then basically save it out do a subversion check in which is about probably the hardest part and then you’re good yeah do guys think this happened because the foundation is to running on this old source control software instead of github yeah no I don’t think that has much to do with it I mean it’s it’s fairly straight forward from it like cost percent if you’re a developer that that even knows a little and go into the
(09:05) subversion page on WordPress and figure it out it’s not it’s not difficult has nothing to do with the version with the the type of code repository that’s running on though what I think is that look there’s just plugins that have been abandoned right that’s just what happens it’s like people throw plug-in and they just they don’t manage anymore and we can’t expect they will they’re doing this on their own time and unknown on their own dime so it’s it’s really up to
(09:33) us as developers and up to site owners to pay attention to these things right to see if your plugins are update oh please say I was just gonna say it’s not just about code right I think we obviously everything you know starts with code but if you are just using a plugin that you’ve been using for a client for the last two to three years or plugins that you have been using for various clients and you don’t go back and look at it and say hey you know hey there’s two more plugins that are doing
(10:05) this thing that you know I don’t have to do a workaround for or just go back and examine the space you know I I’m always so pleasantly surprised when I go back to stuff like do research on different plugins and different solutions even six months later and especially right now since so much new stuff is coming out constantly in conjunction with PHP 7 in conjunction with you know Gutenberg 5 whatever you know whatever we’re calling it now it’s good to go back not just for the code is my point it’s good to go
(10:34) back and look at that stuff and not just get complacent with the plugins either because so much new stuff is happening so I did a kind of a tangent but related to this I did a site review this week and they were using a theme a theme for theme called bridge that I had never encountered before right was called it was called bridge and the theme itself was two and a half years old right so the part my point here is this is not just a plus this doesn’t just apply plugins have also applies to themes so the theme that they were using
(11:03) released in June of 2016 right here’s the problem is this theme also forced visual composer I’ve never seen this before forced right so what this thing did is it actually takes visual composer out of your plugins listings in the plug-in directory you don’t even see that it’s installed and forces it to be active that’s what this thing does now personal visual composer that they were using was version 4.
(11:35) 1 to which the current version is like five point seven and was seriously out of date and there were all kinds of problems right and so these things exist say I can’t we can’t hear you muted which is the way we like it but no I was going to say that shocking I’m surprised that that was not running smooth composer went well as well right Steve you guys everybody here knows how I feel about visual composer it lets you drag and drop very cool no no no tell me I actually have a question not to like totally tangental with this
(12:19) but you just did that code review haven’t done the the you know fix it yet but is your recommendation to go through an upgrade process for that pit to get it working and then convert to something else or are you like scrap this thing this is update visual composer bridge that’s all that needs to be done with the same what could I don’t know like adds like a stepping stone or do you just like as a friend Steve I want to I want to make sure that I’m helping you out do you need a wicks or Squarespace
(12:56) the recommendation is to move on to a more modern theme right and strip out visual composer right the the other part of this theme that it’s doing is it’s not just original composer it installs its own let me give you a list here I’m surprised that a theme that bundles and for visual composer did something else wrong you know it also includes a custom post type for portfolios testimonials sliders carousels and a masonry gallery so it installs all of this technology and the client wasn’t using any of it
(13:31) plugin or are they like those things are actually all built into the theme Wow nothing is following best practices sorry Casper go ahead I was gonna say I see why the client wants to use it because it’s just how it’s everything the old version of visual composer aside and I think in 5.
(14:00) 0 they did a full rewrite of visual composer which dated yeah exactly well and also the theme hasn’t been updated in two years so that’s a yeah interestingly to to steer things back to too many I know that with PHP upgrades for you know like your your course ayats and everything else there is from my old employer friend friend of the show WP engine and they have a PHP compatibility checker that is absolutely I mean at liquid web we use it because it works and it works well it it does catch some stuff that isn’t always like
(14:51) it does catch some false positives but the level of false positives especially since it has been a plugin and they’ve added false positives to check for or you know to kind of to gloss over it’s it’s become very good and works quite well I mean it’s sometimes we have to have interesting discussions with customers who are like hey why is there this WP engine they built the tool they built a good tool so game recognize game you know one of the things they do the other things they do at WP engine is inside of your
(15:27) control panel there is actually a button where you can just say preview my site under page p7 no really like it or not it’s pretty cool yeah and in the liquid web portal basically you have your option five six seven and seven one seven two and if you’re on five six and you click the southern two button it doesn’t just go okay here on 72 now it makes a copy of your site puts it on seven two then sees how it runs on seven two with the PHP compatibility checker checks for errors etc if it’s successful
(16:02) then you’re good to go like then you’re smart but I feel like managed hosting if you’re doing an automatic update right that’s kind of what has to be done so I’m curious Manny not to like out your who you’re hosting with or whatever but like this doesn’t sound like that was happening because I was you know shouldn’t they maybe got notification just by email you’re saying that there was something wrong but they did it anyway they didn’t like put it back I was wondering rhymes
(16:43) with site Brown did this big push to I think it’s seven point two I think the default mode system will they allow you to go back to five point six and then you know fix out everything that you have to fix Evan and then you know change the thing you know I understand why they’re doing this a nice even berry notes the site is so much faster on page P seven now that I think even though the client that like this because the cyclists know for a while now they see that this the super knows so much faster that they like it you know that is
(17:28) running PHP server oh please say that I was going to take us in a little bit of a different direction so that’s why I was saying please say but okay I actually think it is interesting because something that we go through as a managed wordpress house and not every managed host does is that we offer plugin upgrades and we actually have a management commerce product where yes we offer plug-in upgrades but upgrading WooCommerce core can sometimes be a little problematic like if you automate these things that are central
(18:10) to your site’s experience you know what commerce especially you know an update between you know this version of the next there there could be some small breaking changes that you know the whole set of extensions of that you’re running haven’t quite updated for this yet haven’t quite like they should because WooCommerce is bringing about offering released candidates and stuff like that before they actually offer the upgrade but it’s not always the case and you know many maybe kind of frame this originally has
(18:47) a white screen right I actually see a white screen as a good thing because then you know there’s a problem right and I can go in well I can look as a developer I can look at the PHP error log I can and typically it’s just a line or two of code that I need to make an adjustment for when I can fix the white screen the worst ones are when there’s a problem that you that’s not obvious you can’t see something that’s going on in the background and woo Conrad the reason I want to mention this because customer
(19:11) brought up in Congress what Congress has so many background processes right especially if you’re running recurring transactions that you may not know there’s a problem till weeks later it also has a lot of extensions that are third-party that are performing really crucial components of the purchase process you know so it’s not just WooCommerce running by itself ever that’s a back Oh many back WooCommerce add-on store is a show all by itself because they have their own set of rules that they run under right
(19:45) it’s not there their plugins aren’t vetted the same way as what’s in the plug-in directory it’s a whole separate deal right and the quality is not always there you can’t just install WooCommerce add-on and and count on the best it doesn’t work that way yeah I have a question for Jason when you guys do the plugin upgrades do you actually pass the website like all the possible scenarios and stuff like that no just you we do have a regression tester so effectively when the site gets upgraded
(20:16) we check the main page and a few other pages and actually do at least a very basic visual comparison so if you update the site and all of a sudden it says error stopping a database connection or even to the extent we’re saying that makes me or even your sidebar hops down 20 pixels it’ll go some things have changed so we didn’t actually upgrade these plugins and it’s a new a message like hey you might want to take a look at this and make sure that things are ok for you before you match the upgrade
(20:55) button like we go ahead and hand that back to you like ok you you push the button no I can’t your accountability back there you go there might be some problems I’ve I’ve heard customers speak about testing and especially about visual testing and that’s it’s really fascinating stuff if you if you’re not a liquid web customer or one of the other one of the SAS products out there that that I recommend is called Ghost inspector that kind of it does what what Casper’s talking about as well which
(21:25) will do a visual check of your site so that when code has changed you roll out something you can tell it you can set a percentage basically and say if this site is more than twenty first twenty percent different from what it was before then this rollout send me an alert right you can even we have a set up where it’ll block your code rollouts if if it if it fails goes yeah especially for I think warmest updates whenever we do like as updates and upgrades we actually we had to do with the whole Shack out we go
(21:58) we usually do that on stage and then you know that’s the whole thing which takes time and sometimes there are so many different scenarios that you have to test different products no this is a subscription this one is a variable product this one is a simple product and whatever you know so they operate takes time because of the testing that we have to do after that you know especially I have a question about that like wing so you’re you know you’re not a host right mini and obviously Steve you’re not a host right so like we were
(22:34) talking about the host notifying the customer that their PHP version was going to change and I’m assuming you know but I don’t know whether you guys have maintenance clients their contracts with your clients or how that works but you know a maintenance contract doesn’t necessarily count for PHP compatibility testing and upgrades so is that something that you you contact like like at what point do you tell your clients hey FYI PHP is coming out we’re going to need to upgrade all your stuff here’s
(23:03) how much that’s gonna cost and then like educate them on that the fact that like that’s just happening and they don’t really have a choice moving forward like what exact convert where when is that conversation taking place with you that’s a really good question I think it depends sometimes we do have we do do the hosting you know we would have like AWS account with ec2 instances for some clients but yes some of the clients they think that the most the site is up there that’s it you know you don’t touch
(23:35) the name one but I usually tell them like I compare like a house you have to maintain your house right you have to you know what the flick so many years you have to paint your house you have to do my tenants otherwise you know the house you know decorate down yeah and you have to otherwise something else bad could happen and then we actually do have to scare them a little bit right if the price to do this it’s this right a little thing yeah if the site crashes or something in anywhere in a hurry in it’s Saturday
(24:13) night and I’m on that date with my girlfriend the price right screen is going to on Saturday night this fYI I I think I think it’s fairly interesting that that you can say like okay you know things things are going to break things are gonna happen you know over the course of maintenance an easy way to spend some of those maintenance like okay I want to do maintenance or have you set up on a maintenance contract for your clients you can effectively say to them like especially to get some pushback on that think of it like you’re
(24:52) in an office building right now probably you know the office pays somebody to come through and empty the trash every day pay someone to come through and vacuum the carpets once a week you can do that yourself in the morning or and potentially you know forget about that trashcan on the back and all of a sudden that’s you know not vacuum for a few weeks and the next thing you know you’re you’re tracking dirt you know into the rest of the office don’t care or whatever so there’s a problem which i think is a great
(25:29) extension of this analogy yeah yeah exactly pay for our house we pay to have an exterminator come through we don’t have a bug problem he sprays for all the bugs and it’s it’s insurance there are two different types of updates right that is like just like the feature upgrades and then the security updates which is I think usually when the security months they push and run away then okay if it’s gonna break it or not right because it would affect all the clients well and the security updates come in minor point releases normally
(26:06) and you know minor point releases had broken things in the past they’ve broken smaller things but they’ve still managed to to break things but then at that point they push another release that that has the the fix for that thing when they just broke I think it’s also like the street out front of your office that is being updated you have no control over that at all but they’re resurfacing the street that’s maintenance but it has nothing to do with you but as everything to do with you and that’s just you know that’s PHP
(26:37) being upgraded that’s all that sort of stuff so yeah there’s a control an initial analogy of the house right the way we the way we typically talk about maintenance is just set those expectations right up front with the wind with all our clients so in part of our kickoff meeting we let them know hey these are things that can’t change on your website that are out of our control right and so they will have to be dealt with and and and we’ve got your back and that’s what that’s what maintenance this
(27:04) works so in this in this case with PHP 7 like are you contacting their clients and saying hey we need to do some extra testing and make sure this works or is it included are you doing that as part of your ongoing maintenance testing or so what we did we didn’t talk about is the emails that come out constantly from WPA right host right is it sends out all these warning emails and I have my clients set up their own relationship with the hosting company right so they get these emails right so I actually don’t have to do much I get the emails
(27:43) recording I am saying okay what are we gonna do about it especially when the the words like imminence are in there I mean that’s kind of like a good thing between like a good host could you know encourage the person and say hey this may break your site you should go talk to the person who made your site for you and you know there’s kind of that relationship where it’s like the host can then empower yeah the guy must value the that you are being a’practice right you are telling them you know up front was it gonna have
(28:20) after the fact you know I’m saying that that’s what the gif is Ben being a professional in an amateur right absolutely and and we you know we have a process where we’ve we have a weekly meeting with all of our clients and so this is something we did mentioning for six months or even longer year we’re framing all of our all of our clients are already PHP 7 compatible so once the clients have gotten these emails right we’ve already informed them they know what’s happened yeah good good
(28:57) radio we have people in the chatroom that are asking all sorts of questions and doing some stuff one in particular which we’ll probably have to talk about in a future episode that it sounds pretty interesting is this idea of someone else’s code running on your customer server and having to explain to them that you you aren’t WordPress and you’re also not all the plugins two weeks two weeks all right yeah it’s so good such a good idea it’s like this you are not your plugin that’s what we
(29:36) should call it you are not you’re one of the one of the joke tag lines we have here at sea is quality is not our problem coming on the show and hanging out with us I really appreciate it it’s good to see you again Casper it’s always good to have you on Steve you know whatever the folks that are in our chat room in your talking about stuff so you’ve got leaked into the chat I feel bad ignoring everyone but I’m not used to the chat yet so my thing of being over you guys up with that so / subscribe that’s where you learn about
(30:29) subscribing to this content here no later all right

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5 responses to “EP311 – WordPress Automatic Updates – Plugins, Themes, and PHP versions!”

  1. I like this show!










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