WordPress 5.5 Features Overview – Automatic Plugin & Theme Updates (And How To Disable It!)

Welcome to the second part of our series covering some of the new major features released in WordPress 5.5 “Eckstine”. In part 1, we covered lazy loading images and XML sitemaps. In this part, we’ll be taking a look into another major WordPress 5.5 feature: automatic plugin & theme updates – plus, how to disable them if you need to.

Automatic Plugin & Theme Updates

Automatic updates is a new feature added in WordPress 5.5 that allows site administrators to toggle automatic updates on or off, for individual plugins or themes. This means that as soon as a new version of a plugin or theme is available for download, your site will automatically download and then install the new version of that plugin or theme, without any human intervention. There have been plugins or built-in features of plugins that have offered this as an option in the past, but this is the first time it’s been built into core WordPress functionality. And as you may have noticed by now, particularly if you read part 1 in our series, WordPress 5.5 seems to be all about adding a com

mon plugin or external functionality into stock-standard WordPress installations.

At first glance, automatically updating your theme and plugins seems like a great idea, right? And it definitely can be. WordPress itself, and its themes and plugins are always evolving – which means that new security vulnerabilities are introduced daily. One of the most important aspects of owning and maintaining a WordPress site is ensuring that it’s kept as up to date as possible to prevent it from being susceptible to new exploits. However, many WordPress users don’t have the time or inclination to log in and frequently update all of their site’s plugins and themes. Because of this, enabling automatic updates for your plugins and themes can be a huge positive.

But what are the potential downfalls of automatically updating everything, with no human intervention? If you’ve managed a WordPress site for any long period of time, you’ve likely installed your fair share of updates – whether that’s updating WordPress itself, your plugins, or your theme. And you’ll probably know that it doesn’t always go to plan. As much as keeping your site as up to date as possible is absolutely essential, you’re also just as likely (if not more likely) to break your site from an update going wrong.

If you’re manually running all updates on your site, you have the added benefit of being nearby to check your site immediately after updating it. For example, if you see a 500 error just after running an update, you can check your server’s error_log to help identify the cause, and more often than not you’ll be able to identify which plugin is causing the issue. 

From there, it’s usually a reasonably simple matter to resolve. When running automatic, unattended updates, there’s always a risk that they will run when you least expect it and break your site. Maybe you’re about to show off your site to a client or colleague in a demonstration, or maybe it’s an eCommerce site and you’ve just launched a big promotion. These times would typically be the absolute worst time someone would manually run an update on their site, in case it introduces new issues. With automatic updates, you don’t have the safety net of choosing when to run updates. It can be even worse if you don’t have any form of uptime monitoring on your site and an automatic update runs, as you may not be notified that your site is down at all until someone reports it to you.

If you’re concerned about automatic updates in WordPress 5.5, the good news is that they’re all opt-in. All plugins and themes have the new automatic updates feature disabled by default.

Whether you choose to use automatic updates or not is a totally personal preference. There are definitely pros and cons between security and stability, and it’s up to you to weigh them up and determine what’s best for your site.

Disabling Automatic Updates

With all that being said, you may be interested in removing the automatic update functionality from your WordPress site altogether. Doing so is quite simple, and it can be done with only two lines of code in the functions.php file of your child theme. As always, if you’re not familiar with modifying your site’s files, we strongly encourage you to consult with a web developer. You should also ensure that a backup of your site is taken prior to making any changes.

To disable the automatic update functionality on your site, place these lines of code in your functions.php file:

// Disable all plugin and theme automatic updates introduced in WordPress 5.5

add_filter( ‘plugins_auto_update_enabled’, ‘__return_false’ );

add_filter( ‘themes_auto_update_enabled’, ‘__return_false’ );

Once that’s done, go ahead and refresh your plugins list. You should notice that the “Enable auto-updates” toggle next to each plugin is now gone. The same is true for your themes.

Enabling Automatic Updates For All Plugins & Themes

Some WordPress users may want to take another path and enable automatic updates for all plugins and themes, without having to toggle each one on. The following code will enable all automatic updates, even for new plugins that are installed later on.

As above, this code should go in the functions.php file of your child theme. Please ensure a backup is taken before modifying any files.

// Enable all plugin auto-updates

add_filter( ‘auto_update_plugin’, ‘__return_true’ );

// Enable all theme auto-updates

add_filter( ‘auto_update_theme’, ‘__return_true’ );

The WordPress team has a very helpful post on the ins and outs of automatic plugin and theme updates, which you can find here. It also includes many additional tips that we haven’t covered in this post.

Conclusion

This concludes our series on some of the new major features introduced in WordPress 5.5 “Eckstine”. We hope that this has clarified the new automatic update features, as well as some of the pros and cons. If you haven’t yet, we recommend checking out part 1 of our series for an overview of the new lazy loading images and XML sitemaps features too!

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