How To Upgrade Old Version of WordPress

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One thing I see in common with users who have a static WordPress website is that they don’t update and upgrade it on a regular base. Most of you don't know how to upgrade an old version of WordPress.

Note: Update means small changes like Security updates. Upgrade means that there are new functions and possibilities in the new version.

Now that you ended up with an older insecure version you need to upgrade before you can change it to a better and more mobile version. Most of the time that will also mean that your need to upgrade or change your WordPress Theme as well.

But before you can do the later, first let’s take care of the upgrades first.

So, how do you upgrade from an old version of WordPress? You cannot simply push the Update message if you are on a much older version!

That update function will only work between two consecutive versions like updating from version 3.9 to 4.1.x. It will not work if you need to upgrade from let’s say version 2.6 to version 4.1.1

The technical reason for this is that with each major WordPress version there are also changes made in the database structure. Skipping these upgrades will leave you with incompatible database fields.

That is why you need a step by step approach to make sure your database is also updated up to the latest version. That is not hard to do, but you need to follow the right sequence of updating.

If you skip one step your WordPress website won’t work anymore.

What Do You Need To Upgrade WordPress From an Older Version

There are a few things that you need to have in place before you start the upgrades.

Don’t worry! Upgrading from the previous version is not hard! It just takes a little time and effort.

  • Make sure you have a good back-up of you files and database, especially the wp-content folder! That folder contains your media, plugins and theme files.
  • All the major previous WordPress versions starting from the next version after your current version. So if your current version is WordPress 2.6 your first upgrade will be to WordPress 2.7.
    Older version of WordPress can be downloaded from https://wordpress.org/download/release-archive/
  • Access to your website via FTP or Cpanel file manager. You need to be able to upload files from previous WordPress versions
  • A program to unzip the files from the downloaded .zip or .tar files like WinZip or 7-zip.
    To upgrade from 2.6 to 4.1 you need to download all the major versions like 2.7, 2.8, 2.9, 3.0, etc. You don’t need the minor updates, so you can skip versions like 3.0.5, 3.0.6 etc.

Once you downloaded those version you need carry out a series of smaller upgrade steps to upgrade – eg: 2.6 -> 2.7 -> 2.9 -> 3.0 -> 3.1 -> etc.

To find out your current version, log into you WordPress Dashboard and look for the version under “Right Now” or “At a Glance”.
Identify WordPress Version 2-6

Identify WordPress Version 4-1-1
If you identified your current version you can download the upgrade versions you need to get to the latest WordPress version.

How To Upgrade Old Version of WordPress to Latest Version

Once you have all the previous requirements in place, let’s do a step-by-step upgrade.

First unzip the next version you need to upgrade to, in this case 2.7, unzip the files from wordpress-2.7.zip into a separate folder.

After you unzipped the files open your FTP program (I use Filezilla) and browse to the local folder where you unzipped the files and open the other screen to point to your WordPress installation folder or the hosting server.

FTP Upgrade for WordPress

Click to Enlarge

Select all files in the Local PC Folder (Ctrl+A for Windows) and upload the files to the server folder. Use the overwrite files option during the upload.
If the upload is completed open your WordPress Dashboard again by logging in via /wp-admin or wp-login.php as you would normally do.

You should see a notification that your WordPress database needs to be upgraded.

WordPress Database › Update

Wait until you see the message that the update is completed and then click Continue.

WordPress › Updated

Your Dashboard should now show that you are on the next version.

Repeat all the steps above of the FTP file uploads for each new version. After each version you need to log in again into you WordPress site to run the automatic database update.

Take the upgrades step by step updating version by version 2.6 -> 2.7 -> 2.8 -> etc until you are completely up-to-date.

Now that your WordPress version is up-to-date you can update all the plugins and themes via the automatic update function.

Want to prevent that you forget to upgrade next time? Install the plugin https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-updates-notifier/

Set it to Daily, notification for Plugin and Themes updates and make sure to use the save and send a test email to check if that works with your hosting provider.

How To Downgrade WordPress to an Older Version

Why would you ever want to downgrade your WordPress version?

One of the reasons could be that you run into problems with the latest version of WordPress and some Plugins or Themes that are not upgraded yet and are incompatible with that latest version.

But it could also be needed if you skipped a version and updated from, as an example, version 2.9 to 4.1 and now you site is not functioning anymore.

Downgrading is just as easy as upgrading. First, you get the latest version you used the have from the release archive.

Then upload the old files via FTP like you did to upgrade, overwriting the newer files. Now log in again into your dashboard and confirm the Update WordPress Database option.

Click continue and check if you site is back on the previous version and working again. Once it’s up and running again you can upgrade using the correct steps.

Or wait until your incompatible plugins / themes are upgraded to the new version.

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