July 28, 2008

Upgrade WordPress effortlessly with WPAU plugin

Author: Shashank Sharma

WordPress, one of the most popular blog applications, suffers the same fate as many other open source projects: Users often delay upgrades despite a steady release cycle. That's because upgrading WordPress carries the risk of losing your virtual personality in the case of a botched upgrade. The WordPress Automatic Upgrade Plugin (WPAU) makes the upgrade process much simpler, quicker, and safer by taking care of all the intricate steps.

Extension series

On the Internet you can find plenty of horror tales of botched WordPress upgrades where posts go missing, comments disappear, and plugins misbehave. WPAU provides an automated eight-step process and upgrades your blog to the latest WordPress version, no matter what version you're currently running.

To begin, download the latest WPAU plugin. After unzipping the file, upload the wordpress-automatic-upgrade directory into the /wp-content/plugins/ directory. After activating the plugin from the Plugins menu, click Manage -> Automatic Upgrade.

The WPAU plugin offers automatic and manual modes to upgrade your blog. I recommend the manual mode, where you are involved with each step of the upgrade process, so if anything goes wrong, you'll know what the error was. With the automated version, WPAU won't give you any errors if anything goes wrong, so you can't troubleshoot.

To start the upgrade process, click the "Click here so that we can start the upgrade" link. Read all the information on the screen as you go through the upgrade process. The plugin does not provide clearly marked buttons for moving between steps of the process. All you get is hyperlinks to download the backup files in step 1, and hyperlinks at each step that read "Please CLICK HERE to go to the next task" after the rest.

You can read about each process of the upgrade on the screen under the Task Output and Task Status headings. Under Task Output you will find information about the previous step, while Task Status displays a note suggesting what the next step will be. Here's what each of the steps does:

1. Download files: The plugin presents you the option to download a zipped backup of your files. It's best to keep a backup, in case you ever need it.

2. Backup database tables: It next shows you a list of database tables that will be backed up. You'll be presented with an option to also select the wpau_active_plugins_info and the wpau_upgrade_log tables. Although not critical, I suggest you select both these tables as well. Click the Start DB Backup button.

3. Download database: You'll be given the option to download the zipped archive of the database. You should download this file and keep it safe until your blog is successfully upgraded.

4. Download latest WordPress version from wordpress.org: Click the Get the Latest Version from wordpress.org radio button and click the Lets GO button. (By the way, this is not the only example of the developer's challenged spelling, as we'll see in a moment.) The WPAU plugin will download the latest version of WordPress from http://wordpress.org/latest.zip, unzip the downloaded file, and prepare for the upgrade. The option of uploading the latest version of WordPress from your machine instead of downloading it from wordpress.org is not available in the current release of WPAU.

5. Put site in maintenance mode: After this step, anyone who visits your site will see this message:

The Site is currently undergoing maintenance, Sorry for the inconvinience.
WordPress Automatic Upgrade Plugin provided by Techie Buzz.

6. Deactivate all plugins: The plugin deactivates all active plugins on your blog. Don't panic, it remembers all plugins that were active and will reactivate them in step 8.

7. Upgrade installation files: WPAU plugin updates all WordPress files to the latest version. In the next screen, you'll see this message:

Congratulations!!! All the files have been upgraded to the latest version. Please CLICK HERE TO COMPLETE THE FINAL STEP (opens in new window and will show you a upgrade link only if database has to be upgraded) and come back here to reactivate your plugins.

Click the link, and you'll either see a message informing you that your database is already up-to-date, or you'll be asked to update it. If you're required to upgrade the database, click the appropriate link on the page, and the database will automatically be upgraded for you. You can then return to the original window to complete the final step in the upgrade process.

The WPAU plugin stores the backup files it creates in the root directory of your site in a folder called wpau-backup. After you've completed step 8, you'll be given the option to run the cleanup process, which removes all the upgrade files created by the WPAU plugin.

8. Reactivate all plugins: WPAU will again provide you the option to download the backup files if you haven't already done so under the Task Output heading. After reactivating all plugins, click the "Please CLICK HERE to go to the next task" link to see a log of the upgrade process. The log contains information regarding each step of the upgrade process, so, for instance, you can refer to the second entry in the log, Task Name: getlatestfiles, to find out where WPAU downloaded and unzipped the latest.zip file from http://wordpress.org.

When you're satisfied with the upgrade, click the Clean up link on the last line under the Task Output heading to remove the upgrade files. It's not necessary to run the cleanup process, but the next time you decide to upgrade your blog, the WPAU plugin will ask you to run it before it proceeds. The log and files and database backup archives from steps 1 and 3 are stored in the root directory of your blog as wpau-log-data.txt, wpau-db-backupxxxxxxxx.zip, and wpau-files-bak-xxxxxxxx.zip, where xxxxxxxx are a random bunch of characters: wpau-db-backupfjfsnqsb.zip and wpau-files-bak-AkwDrdDt.zip. The cleanup process does not remove these files, but you can do so manually.

WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin is an excellent tool to upgrade your WordPress blog to the latest version even if you're still running a two-year-old WordPress version. I was able to successfully upgrade to version 2.5.1 from versions 1.5, 2.0, and 2.2. Compared to the frantic search on the Internet for the step-wise procedure to upgrade to the latest version from a much older release, using WPAU, the whole upgrade process is completed in a matter of minutes. Add to that the constant feedback of what's happening at each step, and you get the ideal way to upgrade your WordPress blog.

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