To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade

To upgrade or not to upgrade: details surrounding WP version 5.6

Over the years we’ve learned not to buy or “upgrade” to brand new versions of things. Many times there are still a few issues hiding under the covers that are worked out once real people start using the product. This runs from cars to technology, including computer programs… to websites running on content management systems like WordPress.

The brand spanky new version of WordPress 5.6 is a great example. Not because it is full of bugs, but because it’s going through a major change. So, let’s take a look at the “what and why” in English instead of Geek, and then talk about how to navigate an update that is this major.

A slight touch of history

WordPress (WP) was released in the spring of 2003 with its focus on blogging. Because of the ease of use, many people wanted to use it for regular websites, so the journey of WordPress expanded and soon you could add pages instead of just posts. Along with pages, the community wanted dynamic elements so sliders, galleries, and e-commerce options happened through plugins.

With the growth of what WordPress could do in conjunction with plugins, the use of jQuery was adopted. jQuery is a library of code that makes it easier for developers to use Javascript (a coding language) in their plugins and themes. The best part is with the jQuery library behind the scenes, the amount of code that you have to create is one line vs 3 or 4 (for example).

Current upgrades in the process

Fast forward with what feels like hundreds of years in web technology… To meet modern needs, the team of programmers that built out the jQuery library did a major overhaul to clean up the API (pieces that talk with other languages) and clean out the bugs. With this overhaul, all of the defunct (depreciated) stuff was removed.

Until now, WordPress has been using a plugin from jQuery — built into the core code to handle the migration from the older to newer versions of jQuery. But, they have started their own process of doing a major revamp of the core code that runs WordPress. This is taking place over 3 version upgrades.

With the first in the revamp (WP 5.5), they removed the old jQuery Migrate 1.x code. Because removing the code definitely broke themes and plugins that hadn’t adopted the newer jQuery changes WordPress published a plugin to bridge the gap.

The second step was to update to the latest versions of jQuery so they are in sync with the changes that the jQuery team made. And, this is where we are today with the release of WP 5.6.

The last step coming on 5.7 will be to completely remove the jQuery Migrate script so everything will be running on the current version of jQuery.

Why your site may break with this upgrade

There are hundreds of techy bloggers that have been talking about this for several months, so we’re not going down that trail. As a business owner, we think it is important to give you enough information to keep you out of the weeds, and also help you make informed decisions about your website.

When we upgraded sites to WP 5.5, for those that had older themes or plugins that hadn’t been updated, we were able to use the Enable jQuery Migrate Helper plugin which added the old jQuery Migrate code back in. It was a temporary fix to move forward.

From everything we’re seeing, with WP 5.6, because it’s using a completely new version of jQuery, the old migration plugin doesn’t work as a bridge. Instead, you’re able to downgrade to the older version of jQuery so things function.

Living in the “downgrade” mode isn’t good

The downgrade functionality is temporary — you don’t want to stay there forever. Why? Think about security. The old version of jQuery is no longer getting security updates. So instead of jumping to upgrade to WP 5.6, you’ll want to consider the following:

  • Has my theme recently been upgraded to use the newer version of jQuery?
  • Are the plugins I’m using current and have they been upgraded to use the newer version of jQuery?

If the answer to either is “no”, or “I don’t know” — pretty please, don’t upgrade!

The challenge that we’re finding is that some of the premium themes haven’t been upgraded to include these recent changes. Other themes haven’t had any updates over the last year which means they don’t include these changes either. And we’ve got a few cases where the theme we used to build a site is no longer available… which means there’s no way to upgrade it.

That means that for this upgrade, our approach is completely different, and we’d like to recommend that you consider the same process.

Finding an upgrade plan

The easiest is if your theme and plugins all work with the new version of jQuery without the Migration Helper plugin. If this is the case, you can follow the standard “wait until your plugins are compatible and the 5.6.1 update comes out” process. Then, take the normal safety precautions needed and upgrade.

You’re not going to want to stay at WP 5.5 with the jQuery Migration Helper plugin running forever. But, until you know that your theme and plugins have been updated to work with the new version of jQuery, this is the safest route to go. Stay at WP 5.5.x and don’t upgrade for a while — you’ll be ok for 6-8 months.

If your theme is no longer available, or hasn’t had upgrades in a year or two, and doesn’t get an upgrade within the next year, it’s time to move to another theme. This doesn’t mean a complete redesign of your site, but it does mean recreating the look and feel of your site from a current theme. Take this opportunity to consider doing a design refresh for your site, because it’s not going to be any less work to change to a new look than trying to copy the “old” look to a new theme.

The same goes for plugins. If you don’t see updates come out in the next few months that bring the plugin current, you’re going to want to find a different plugin that does the same thing.

What you don’t want to do is continue down the road of sticking with the old “working” themes and plugins because they create a huge security risk.

The good news is that you don’t have to navigate this on your own. One of the benefits we provide to clients that host with us is managing and navigating these kinds of upgrade situations. And, we don’t ignore you if you host elsewhere, we just need to know you’d like the help. And, when we reach a point where the site needs to move to a new theme because of the limitations we’ve talked about, we do have that conversation about the need to rework the site.


Your Online Partner… for Success

If you’re not hosting with us, but would like to have us support you through these changes, please reach out — we never charge for conversations! If you are hosting with us, let’s chat about where your site is at & what your upgrade path looks like.

We’ll help do the research and figure out where you’re at in this muddled pot of geek stew.