WooCommerce update

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How to Update WooCommerce the Right Way

Performing a WooCommerce update should be given the respect it deserves. It should never be a case of hitting the ‘Update’ button and hoping for the best. Doing so could reduce your website functionality, or worse, completely break your live site.

But there’s no need to take this risk. With the correct processes in place, you can ensure each WooCommerce update is nothing but a smooth transition process that doesn’t negatively impact your site.

This article will run through what that process looks like in a simple step-by-step format. By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll know exactly how to update your WooCommerce website the right way. All so you can keep your WooCommerce store running smoothly.

Why you should test/check a WooCommerce update before updating

Many WooCommerce store owners make the mistake of rushing headlong into an update without checking and testing the update first. This leads to all kinds of issues that can take a long time to unpick.

It’s possible that some items on your website will break as a result of the update. Even though the team at WooCommerce do their best to catch issues during beta testing, it’s possible something in your particular site won’t sit well with it.

That’s why it’s always worth waiting a short while before hitting the ‘Update’ button. By biding your time, you can read up on the new features available in the version of WooCommerce. Then, prepare yourself for how they might affect your site’s functionality.

You can also use this time to review, research, and educate yourself about known problems occurring during the update’s early days.

If you give yourself enough time, you’ll find that both plugin and theme authors (as well as WooCommerce themselves) will release fixes/patches to any common bugs and errors, saving you heaps of time during your WooCommerce update.

How to update WooCommerce safely

Now we’ve stressed the importance of testing, it’s time to take you through the step-by-step process of safely updating your WooCommerce site. The first step is creating a staging website.

Step #1: Create a staging website

You cannot safely perform a WooCoomerce update without a staging site. In case you are unfamiliar, a staging site provides a safe testing environment where you’re free to break things (usually without repercussions). 

Therefore, you need to set up a staging site initially to run the new update, perform the necessary tests, and evaluate the visual changes that have taken effect.

Most WordPress hosting companies these days offer one-click staging areas. By merely clicking a button, a cloned version of your live site will be created on a testing domain.

WooCommerce update
Image source Kinsta

Some of the WordPress hosting companies that offer this are:

While you could use a plugin such as Duplicator, using a hosting provider is the easiest way to create a staging site. You’ll also benefit from testing your website in its current state and on precisely the same server stack as your live site.

Step #2: Test your updates

The all-important testing phase is crucial to ensuring that nothing breaks when you carry out the WooCommerce update on your live site. There are a couple of handy tools you can utilize during this process.

However, we’ll start with the manual method you can use to perform tests yourself. It’s important to note that you should probably skip this method or outsource it to your web developer if you’re not comfortable with coding.

1. Create a staging version of your live site.

2. Make sure WP_DEBUG_LOG is enabled.

3. Update WooCommerce and any other WooCommerce plugins via the WordPress admin Plugins tab.

4. Turn your payment methods to sandbox/testing mode so you can test checking out.

5. Manually run through your customer journey and check for any errors/issues. As you land on each page of the journey, check the error log (located at wp-content/debug.log) for any errors.

6. Any time an error appears, use the error message to help you track it down and fix the issue. Most likely, you’ll be seeing PHP warnings, as most WooCommerce updates will be backwards compatible.

Whether you carry out this process yourself or not, either you or your web developer may also want to use tools that can help spot problem areas caused by the update on your staging site. 

Visual tools

If you run a large WooCommerce store with over one hundred pages, how do you uncover small changes such as formatting, subtle font changes, or widgets not displaying correctly?

The answer may come in the form of visual comparison tools such as WP Boom.

WP Boom
Image source WP Boom

With this plugin, you can take a snapshot of your website before hitting the ‘Update’ button before taking another one immediately afterwards to decipher any visual changes to your site.

End-to-end testing tools

While visual comparison tools can help you quickly spot changes in your site’s formatting and design, end-to-end testing tools test the actual functionality of your site.

Not only do they provide more clarity concerning whether elements are functioning correctly, but they can automate a lot of the manual testing described above.

Going through the process of adding items to your cart and completing the entire customer journey can become tiresome for each WooCommerce update. However, with tools such as Ghost Inspector and Usetrace, you can run your staging site through numerous tests with just a few clicks.

Step #3: Apply WooCommerce update to your live site

Once you have carried out all of the necessary testing, and you’re happy that you’ve discovered and rectified any issues, its time to apply the update to your live site.

Before you do, ensure that you take a backup of the current live site to ensure you can revert back should anything not go to plan. Your hosting provider should give you a range of backup options, or you could choose to use a dedicated backup plugin.

With the backup out of the way, it’s time to sync or publish the changes made on your staging site to the live site.

Depending on how your staging and live environments work, you may only need to click a designated button such as ‘Publish’ or ‘Update.’ Or you may have to run through the updating process again, but this time on your live site.

kinsta staging site
Image source Kinsta

Either way, once you’ve updated your live site, it’s time to carry out as last-minute checks again to ensure everything is working correctly in the live environment. Start by checking the error logs and verify that you can access the admin dashboard.

If you’ve found something has gone wrong, it’s time to return to that backup you took and start the troubleshooting process. Otherwise, if the transition has gone smoothly, then excellent. Enjoy your updated WooCommerce store!

Updating WooCommerce the right way

There you have it. You’ve learned how to update WooCommerce the right way.

Once again, we cannot stress enough the importance of testing in a secure staging environment to iron out any issues that may catastrophically impact your live site.

By testing WooCommerce updates on the same server as your live site, you can spot any errors within the customer journey without affecting your live site’s stability.

The hosting companies we recommend are: 

So tell us, do you have any tips for updating WooCommerce safely? Are we missing anything in this guide? Leave us a comment below.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

James is the founder of Iconic and an experienced WooCommerce plugin developer.

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5 Comments

  1. Saud Razzak says:

    Nice guide! But I am surprised you didn’t mention Cloudways. Cloudways also offers 1-click staging areas as well as 3-day free trial, which is actually very good. So if users want to check out the latest WooCommerce update, they can easily check that on Cloudways.

  2. Hi,

    You can create a staging site with a few clicks from a site that’s hosted with any hosting company by using UpdraftClone, which is part of UpdraftPlus – https://wordpress.org/plugins/updraftplus/ . (I’m the lead developer). It’s a service that clones your site without you having to do anything (no need to buy hosting, no need to deploy your own VPS, etc.). You have to purchase tokens, or use the ones you’ve already got if you purchased the premium version.

    David

  3. Reuben says:

    Good stuff James. I don’t have super large sites that I manage but I really like what you said about using WP Boom for taking screenshots before and after. Typically what I do is open a few pages to compare after the update.

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