Plugin maintenance is part of maintaining you WordPress website. If you download your plugins from the free WordPress plugin directory then you will automatically be advised if there is an update available, but you need to manually check for plugins that are never updated.
This article is part of a series on regular website maintenance that you can do yourself.
A plugin is simply a little piece of pre-packaged functionality developed by someone else – like a contact form, or a backup. As I write this the latest statistics show that more than 16% of the web is running on WordPress and almost all of these use one form of plugin or another.
Plugin maintenance – automatic and easy
WordPress will indicate when there are plugins ready for update with a number in a bubble beside the Plugins Menu. Below is an example of what is shown for a plugin with an update. You will also see many of these links for plugins without updates and you can check when they were last updated and decide if they are in need of replacement.
I normally check the new version details to see how big the change is and decide if I want to do it on the test site first. I also follow the ‘WordPress.org Plugin Page’ link shown on to the right and look at reports from other users and known problems.
If all looks good and I have taken a backup of the website before starting then it is usually a simple matter of clicking ‘update now’ and letting the WordPress updated take care of the hard work.
Plugin maintenance – manual checks
Not all plugins are from the WordPress directory. Some third party plugins will be clever enough to let you know when they need an update – you should follow up with the author if in doubt.
Also, not all plugins are supported or up to date. Besides checking for the latest updates you should check now and again to see if the plugin is still supported. This can be a little hard to tell but look at: when it was last updated, if the support links still work, comments from others in the directory. (A dead give away is if the plugin is no longer in the directory!).
If you find an unsupported plugin you don’t necessarily need to panic but I would recommend looking for an alternative. It won’t be updated for security problems, it is more likely to stop working unexpectedly when you update WordPress. Or worse – I recently found a plugin on a client site that performed backups but was so old that it did not include important tables. If the backup had ever been needed then it would have been useless.
Make sure you take a backup of your site and database before you do any updates – most times an update will not cause any problems but if in doubt update on your test site first – particularly if you have complex plugins.
You may also want to check the reports on the WordPress directory for problems or known issues with the plugin. The WordPress team have been doing a lot of work to improve the directory and make it easier to tell a good plugin from an average one.
With a little care and attention your plugins will work happily together and keep your website looking great.
Check my website maintenance summary page for other articles and ideas on keeping your website running smoothly.