What you should know before updating your website’s software

What you should know before updating your website’s software

Making sure your company website runs smoothly and doesn’t get hacked or defaced is a huge undertaking. To help mitigate potential issues or threats, staying up-to-date with the latest software is a crucial part of protecting any portal. So, anytime you see that “Update Now” link, it might seem like a no-brainer to click it.

But be careful. Updating to the latest software may not always work in your favor. Sometimes, updates will introduce new features and functionality. At other times, updates will change or remove certain functionalities, which could have serious repercussions if your website depends on any of them.

Before clicking that update button, make sure you know exactly what’s going to happen. 

How can you tell what’s in a software update?

Typically, software updates include detailed notes describing all changes within that update. These notes, usually called Release Notes, are often available within the update itself, but sometimes you’ll need to go to the software manufacturer’s website to find them. 

If reading all that techy jargon isn’t your thing, an easy trick to understanding what’s included is to look at the version number of the latest update and compare it to your current version number. Most software (e.g. PHP, MySQL, WordPress, Drupal) follows common versioning conventions.

Let’s say your current software version is 4.4.2.1709 and the update being offered is version 4.5.0.1830. What do all these numbers mean?

Let’s break it down.

Anantomy of a version numberPer the above breakdown, upgrading from 4.4.2 to 4.5.0 could include new functionality and maybe even remove or alter some existing features on which your website relies. Upgrading to this new minor version of the software could cause unexpected issues. So, you’ll want to make certain that you apply extra caution when upgrading and have an idea of what the update entails.

On the other hand, if, let’s say, the upgrade happens to be going from 4.4.2 to 4.4.3, then you’d expect the update to simply be a maintenance revision meant to fix existing bugs and patch up any new security issues. Performing this update is a lot less likely to impact your website’s functionality in any negative way.

Once you better understand what to expect from a software upgrade, you’re in a much better position to decide whether to update your software or not.

Always make a backup

If there’s one thing to take away from my advice on upgrading your software it’s this: regardless of what the update includes, back up your website first so that you can roll back to the previous version if needed. Either copy your entire website locally to your computer or contact your hosting provider to see if they can assist you with backing up and restoring your website.

Furthermore, if possible, you should try upgrading first in a test environment to allow ample time for testing and to fix anything that might break.

Managing a website can be a daunting enough task without the unexpected issues a seemingly simple software update might bring. Make sure to understand what’s included with any software upgrade so that you know what to expect and most importantly always back up before proceeding!

CRC Marketing Solutions is a Minneapolis, Minnesota, digital agency that creates and executes ideas for building business.