How to update your WordPress theme

(for non-technical people!)

Have you been receiving emails form your theme provider alerting you that a new version of your theme has been released? Have you been Googling the answers only to find a plethora of web developer forums that speak languages you have never even seen let alone understand!? Although delving into new territory may be daunting if you haven’t updated a theme yourself before, it is vital that you don’t ignore these emails.

You may have hired a web developer to build your website, and now you’re left wondering if you need to continue to hire that web developer every time an update is released. Or you may have built your website yourself but this is the first time you have received an update email.

Well the good news is, you can absolutely do this yourself! And this blog post will outline every single step.

The tricky thing with updating a theme is that if you are using multiple plugins with your site, certain elements are likely to clash. Your new theme update might not be compatible with your version of Revolution Slider or vice versa. Don’t let this put you off! Ignoring these problems will likely to lead to even more complex and frustrating problems in the long run. By following this very systematic approach to updating your theme (for non-technical people) you can learn how to do it yourself and troubleshoot any issues along the way! So here goes:

Step 1: Backing up your website

If you are learning to do this the first time, there is every chance that you may make a mistake (and that’s ok!). As long as your mistake is reversible, you can feel free to test the waters and learn on the fly.

There are a bunch of options when it comes to backing up your website. You can go directly through your web hosting company, you can set up automatic back-ups (highly recommended) or you can use a plugin.

I’m going to show you how to backup your website using a plugin. This is by far the easiest option for us non-techs!

The plugin I use is called Updraft. To install Updraft:

  1. Login to your WordPress Dashboard.
  2. Select Plugins> Add New from the menu on the left hand side.WordPress Developer
  3. Search for ‘Updraft’ in the search bar and you should see Updraft plus in the results.WordPress Developer
  4. Click the Install button.
  5. Once the plugin is installed, you will have to activate it.
  6. You should now be able to see Updraft plus in your list of plugins.WordPress Developer
  7. Select Settings.
  8. Select the Backup now button and let the plugin work it’s magic. This may take a few minutes.
  9. Once the backup is complete, you should see a log message that the back up succeeded.WordPress Developer

Now you have your website backed up, you are free to attempt your first theme update without the worry that you will break everything!

That brings us to step 2.

Step 2: Updating your theme

There are actually two popular ways to go about updating your theme and I will cover them both here.

But first, you might be wondering why you need to update your theme in the first place. You see, WordPress is continually developing and improving their platform. They release updates on a regular basis and as such, theme developers will often have to make updates to coincide with the WordPress update and ensure everything is compatible. Although it is time-consuming to update your website every time a WordPress or Theme update is released, continuing to run out-dated versions will make your website vulnerable to hacking attempts and malware. This is the safest way to ensure your website runs smoothly in the long run.

WordPress themes can be updated via the WordPress interface itself, or through a file transfer program such as FileZilla. While updating via WordPress is easiest, I often encounter issues with this method and end up resorting to FileZilla. Here are the step-by-step instructions for both ways:

Updating your website via WordPress

  1. Download latest ‘All files & documentation’ file from your theme provider (Note: if you are using Themeforest, this can be found in the ‘My downloads’ page).
  2. Extract it and locate your theme zip. As an example, my theme is called Flora.zip.
  3. In the WordPress dashboard, select Appearance > Themes.
  4. Select the Add new button at the top of the page.
  5. Select the Upload theme button at the top of the page.WordPress Developer
  6. Select Choose file and find your .zip theme folder on your computer (e.g. flora.zip). Upload the .zip file.
  7. The theme will be uploaded and installed.
  8. Go to Appearance > Themes and activate it.WordPress Developer
  9. Please note, if you are using a child theme and the child theme is already activated, it will automatically use the templates from the updated parent theme and there will be no need to activate anything.

Common Problems

While trying to install the theme, are you getting this message?: “Are you sure you want to do this? Please try again” ?

This message means that theme zip file is larger than max upload file size allowed in the configuration of your server. You can fix this by either increasing that limit or uploading the theme via FTP (see the next step). To increase your max upload file size, you will need to get in touch with your web hosting company.

Updating your website via FileZilla

  1. Extract Flora.zip from your downloads folder (note: Double-click on the folder to ‘extract’ it).
  2. Locate the theme folder from the extraction. It should just be the title of your theme (e.g. Flora).
  3. Now we need to open download and open the program FileZilla.
  4. Select File > Site Manager.
  5. We are going to set up your website in Site Manager so that you can easily log back in again without having to retrieve login details each time.
  6. You will require your FTP login details. If you don’t have them, you should be able to retrieve them from your web hosting company.
  7. You will require your Host, Username and password. (Note: Sometimes the Port is required but not always).
  8. Your host should be ftp.yourdomain.com.
  9. Enter your user and password and select Connect.
  10. While this interface initially looks quite complex, it is not that difficult once it is broken down. The first window is really just a log of FileZilla’s activity.WordPress Developer
  11. The next two windows are where the bulk of activity happens in FileZilla. The first window is your local site (i.e. the files on your computer) and the second window is your remote site (i.e. the files on your website).WordPress Developer
  12. First, you will need to locate your theme folder in your local site (hint: They have the same set up as your computer files).WordPress Developer
  13. Then you need to locate your themes folder on the remote site (i.e. your website). This should be in: Public html > WP-content.
  14. Then you will need to drag your theme folder (i.e. Flora) into the Remote site folder titled ‘Themes’.WordPress Developer
  15. As you already have the original theme in that folder, a pop up window will appear, asking if you want to overwrite the files. Select Overwrite if the source is newer and tick always use this action. Don’t worry, you won’t lose any of your work!WordPress Developer
  16. Your theme should now be updated!

Step 3: Check that your update worked

If you’re anything like me, you may be slightly underwhelmed at the anti-climatic finish. Where was my ‘job well-done’ pat on the back? Am I missing something?

In order to confirm that you have indeed updated your theme to the latest version, you will need to check the version number in the style.css file.

  1. In your downloads, open the theme and navigate to the style.css file (note: you will need a program to view these files, I recommend the free program – Sublime text).
  2. The code in your style.css file should look something like this:WordPress Developer
  3. The theme version can be found on line 7. I am up to version 1.2.8 of Flora.
  4. Next, we need to compare this theme version with the version that is currently live on our website. From your WordPress dashboard select Appearance > Editor.WordPress Developer
  5. If you are using a child theme, you will most likely need to navigate to the parent theme to see your version. Select your theme from the right-hand side.
  6. As you can see, the version of my live theme is 1.2.8 and as this corresponds with the theme update that I just downloaded, I can be sure that my theme update worked! 🙂 Hooray!WordPress Developer

Step 4: Troubleshooting any problems

The first thing to note about troubleshooting is that you should only do one thing at a time. Otherwise, it is difficult to pin down what change is actually causing the problem.

As I mentioned earlier, there are often compatibility issues between various plugins and after an update, you may find that some parts of your website aren’t appearing properly.

Here are some steps to undertake in order to determine the problem:

  1. Immediately after confirming you have updated your theme correctly, view your website and take note of anything that looks out of place.
  2. In order to identify what is causing the problem, my first stop would be plugins. One by one, I would disable a plugin, view if that made any difference and then re-enable it if not. If you find that one particular plugin is causing the error, I would first let my theme developer know, they will likely fix this issue in the next update. However if not, you will need to weigh up the pros and cons of permanently deactivating this plugin. Is this plugin essential to your website? Is there an alternative plugin available? You might be better off without certain plugins if they continue to cause problems for you every update.
  3. If deactivating plugins didn’t solve your problem, your next step would be to submit a support ticket with your theme provider. My experience with theme providers is that they typically fix my issue within the next 24 hours. These are the instances you will be feeling relieved that you purchased a best selling theme with immaculate support (fingers crossed)!

And there you have it! Those are my steps for updating your WordPress theme for the average person!

If you need an extra hand updating your theme, please leave a comment below and I will do my best to help you!

2 Comments

  • Daniel Palmier

    Hi,

    I am a big fan of wordpress. I really liked this post. Yo have described all the points in a quite easy manner. Thanks for updating me, I’d visit your blog regularly for the newer updates so keep updating your readers with such valuable articles.

    Daniel Palmier

  • Melanie Gray

    Hi Daniel,

    Glad you found the post useful! Hope you find updating your WordPress theme much easier in the future!

    Mel

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