Today is the day! After months of consideration and years of development, WordPress 5.0 is being unveiled to the world. Leading up to the release, there has been much debate about the timing and whether or not the software was ready. Many are claiming it’s not ready for prime time – the latest version of the software has over 250 bugs alone, as of the most recent count. It seems that the release date is meant to coincide with the upcoming WordCamp event, which is going to start on December 7th in Nashville. To top it all off, December is a stressful enough month with holidays in the United States and the world. Now, in addition to working through your shopping list, you have to contemplate a major software upgrade.
Whatever we all think of the timing and the general preparedness of the software, the date has come and just this afternoon the latest version was made available. Regarding what has changed, I wrote a post about WordPress 5.0 a couple of weeks back which details the differences in this latest iteration. The most significant change affects the most utilized tool in the system: the editor. The new release utilizes the Gutenberg editor by default. The classic editor is available now as a plugin. This will surely cause some level of confusion and compatibility issues. Other than this update, there are changes under the hood in addition to other, smaller features that have been added. Again, I’d recommend taking a look at our previous post for these details.
So, with the release now made available, what should you do as of right this second? I’ve assembled some steps that you can take to evaluate when you should upgrade – not if – as inevitably you will have to update at some point.
First, don’t panic...
There isn’t any reason to panic about this. The release is new, and it will take time for everyone to test and install the software. You don’t need to rush now and pull the trigger thinking that others have a competitive advantage over you for upgrading sooner. so, please take steps to consider what you are going to do carefully. What you SHOULD do first is contact your developer. There is no way you can run this upgrade with the flip of a switch –if your website is of importance to your business CONTACT YOUR DEVELOPER! This isn't a self-serving statement - no agency wants to be called after a failed upgrade attempt! Let them in on your plans early.
Waiting (a bit) Won’t Hurt
It’s worth noting a few things. First, as I had mentioned earlier, the release of Gutenberg is coming with 250+ documented and uncorrected bugs as part of the package. There will be updates released within days of this major release. It may make sense to wait just a bit. Secondly, there are some major flaws in the software –the biggest being a lack of accessibility (think ADA) off-the-shelf. If that matters to you on the CMS side, then hold off until that is addressed. Finally, it’s worth noting that the community is going to update WP 4.x with security improvements for the time being. So, the issue is not as urgent as first thought. However, this doesn’t mean you can ignore 5.0 –as I said, it will eventually be something you need to migrate to, so while waiting is okay, I wouldn't wait too long.
Check All Plugins for Compatibility
Before you do anything, run an audit on your site to make sure that all of your plugins are compatible. The leading providers of paid plugins have been issuing news releases and software updates in advance of this release, so there is a good chance you are already supported. However, sometimes there are other third-party plugins that augment other plugins where you may run into issues. We see this issue all the time on iterative WordPress updates, so we have no reason to believe otherwise with this major version release. At this point, if you find a plugin that is not compatible, do not proceed with the upgrade as this can cause any other number of issues.
If you have custom updates, it's hard to say what will happen. I think the majority will be fine, but, you'll know for sure after the next step.
Set-up or Restore Your Development Environment
Before you do run your update, you need to make sure you have a backup of your site. Then, you need to ensure you have a sandbox to run the upgrade in first. Please, please, PLEASE make sure you do not skip this step. You need a safe place to test the upgrade and ensure everything works. The reason for this is twofold. First, you can do a test run and predict any possible issues that will occur. And secondly, you'll have a base of files you can pull from should the live site fail. In addition, keep your backup handy of your live site handy should the need to revert present itself.
Run a test upgrade
With a sandbox in which to experiment and all plugins verified as compatible, now is the time to begin your test upgrade. This is meant to walk you through what your developer will most likely do, but, you can use this as a guide if you are the "DIY" type... The first test is to determine if the basics work. There is a good chance a site update can result in a global error – if your site and CMS are loading and accessible post-update – that’s a good first sign.
Upon login, you should focus heavily on the new editor. Is this something you can transition to or not? If not, you need to be prepared to configure the classic editor and test accordingly. For any existing site that wants to update quickly, we recommend taking this route and then taking your time experimenting with Gutenberg – it may not be something you can migrate to quickly. Not just from a technical perspective, but also the viewpoint of your content workflows - changing an editor will also change the way you use the system, create content and ultimately publish to the world.
From there, proceed to upgrade all of your plugins step by step and check for any errors on both the backend and frontend of your website. This must be as thorough a test as possible! Take the time to do a thorough QA to ensure no key functionality is dysfunctional.
Only when all of the above steps are satisfied should you deploy. For some, this could literally happen today. For others, it may take significant time and effort. Whatever you do, don't pull the trigger on this until you are ready. Ensuring that your installation is stable, plugins are all compatible, and you have ample backups in place is the key to a successful deployment. Again, there is no reason to rush this process - this upgrade is perhaps one of the most substantial in the history of the platform.
One last thing...
Don't forget my note above: with all of the bugs that are identified, you can expect a flurry of updates. And, it's a sure thing that another slew of bugs will be uncovered as the masses update to the latest version. Be vigilant during the coming weeks to keep up to date and for each update - follow the procedure!
If you need any help or assistance - please don't hesitate to reach out.