How to Safely Upgrade to WordPress 5.0


WordPress 5.0 is here!
This post was written with it.

It’s critical that you always keep your site up-to-date so it remains healthy and secure. That’s a little more complicated with the update to WordPress 5.0 because it contains a major new feature that may not be compatible with every plugin and theme. But you can do it! Here’s how.

If you don’t know about WordPress 5.0, take a minute to read the last post that included a brief primer on the new editor feature in this major update.

Install the Classic Editor Plugin

At this time, it’s likely that you may want to avoid using the new editor or at least choose to use it selectively. Even if you’re eager to use the new editor, it’s prudent to wait for at least a few bug fix versions to arrive like 5.0.2 and 5.0.3. If you want to be extra conservative, wait until at least version 5.1.

To defer or limit your use of the new WordPress editor, install and activate the Classic Editor plugin before you update anything else.

With the Classic Editor plugin, you get to continue using the same text editor you’re used to. Once installed, you’ll get two new options on the Settings > Writing screen of WordPress 5.0:

New options for "Default editor for all users" and "Allow users to switch editors"
The current settings for NonprofitWP.org in December 2018.

Research Compatibility

Even 30 minutes of research can quickly help you determine the likelihood of problems when you upgrade.

First, check the site where you downloaded your theme. See if you can find information about WordPress 5.0 support. Look for mentions of “Gutenberg” or the “block editor” which are the same thing. If you can’t find anything, write to the theme author or post in the support forum.

The Jetpack plugin shows it has compatibility for WordPress 5.0.

Next, review the site for each plugin you have installed. Again, look to see if there’s any mention of WordPress 5.0, Gutenberg, or the block editor. If you’re looking at the public free WordPress.org plugin repository, check the “Tested up to” version and click the “Developers” tab of a plugin to see it’s “changelog” of recent updates.

Back. Your. Site. Up!

Another pillar of website health is having backups that you know you can restore.

Do not upgrade to WordPress 5.0 without backing up your site files and database first.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to back up your site:

  • Your Host – Both recommended hosts on Nonprofit WP—SiteGround and WP Engine—provide tools to backup and restore your site.
  • Plugins – There are lots of backup plugins including the recommended BackupBuddy (paid) or BackWPUp (free).
  • Backup Services – The backup service from Jetpack is both affordable and independent of your hosting and web server.

Even if you think you have backups, confirm that and how to restore one should something happen.

Make a Copy of Your Site for Testing

Now it’s time to test the update on a copy of the site. A copy of your site used for testing is often called a “sandbox” (fun but messy!) or “staging site” (where you prepare to launch). While there are free plugins to set up staging sites, I recommend either relying on your host (again SiteGround’s GoGeek plan and WP Engine offer staging sites) or using a paid service like WP Stagecoach.

If you use a plugin to create a staging site that is on your website’s server (e.g. your site is example.org and your staging site is example.org/staging/), it is important that you either keep that site up-to-date for as long as it’s live or delete it once you’re done testing. A hosting account is only as secure as it’s least-secure site. This isn’t an issue with how SiteGround, WP Engine, or WP Stagecoach work.

Once you have a copy of your site, you can update all plugins, your theme, and WordPress itself in that order safely on this new copy of your site. Many popular plugins like Yoast SEO, Jetpack, Advanced Custom Fields, and WooCommerce will work well with WordPress 5.0 but only if updated to the most recent version.

What & How to Test

Now it’s time to see how things went. You should generally explore your site as a visitor would and try to edit the key features of your site as you look for problems. You should test with the Classic Editor plugin activated and deactivated so you learn about the new editor.

Here are some specific tests and things to look for:

  • Any visible errors or warnings. You may see scary looking code or notices in the WordPress admin. Investigate each one to determine if it’s a problem and how to resolve it.
  • Visit the “front end” of your site as a normal website visitor would. Specifically look for pages that are visually broken.
  • If you are using the new editor:
    • Create a new page or post. To start, copy and paste this blog post into it! Once you publish the new page, does it look right?
    • Now write a new page yourself. Are you able to make paragraphs, links, lists, headings, images, etc.? Test every common type of formatting you’re used to.
    • Finally, open an existing page made before the update in the new editor. Is it properly converted. When you save it and view it, does it look the same?

Update Your Live Site

Once you’ve completed testing, chances are that you’re ready to update. The bigger question is how much of the new WordPress you’re ready to use. (Only testing can tell you that for sure.)

Thanks to the Classic Editor plugin, if the new features aren’t for you or cause problems, you can avoid using them for at least the next few years. Everyone should have a plan for how they will eventually use the new editor though!

Assuming you don’t identify major problems, try to at least use a hybrid approach, using the Classic Editor for all your pages but the new “block editor” for all new blog posts.

Good Luck!

Feel free to ask questions in the comments and share how this process works for you!

Once you see the new editor, you’ll experience the future of WordPress and realize the photo at the start of this article is the old WordPress editor! 😜

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