Why Software Updates Matter

Ian McIlwraith

Ian McIlwraith

I’ve been building websites for almost six years now, and in that time I’ve seen some pretty interesting websites. But recently, one site takes the cake for a poster example about why software updates are so important.
Let me preface this by saying that one of the primary reasons why people hire me is to fix a badly out of date website, so running into unmaintained websites is inevitable.

Anyways, let’s talk about this site. First off, it was running on Joomla, so right away I knew I was in for a treat. But what I didn’t realize going into this project was that the website had been built on the extremely outdated PHP 5.4, and the PHP version was never updated since that would break Joomla and the theme (read: too much work).

So, I came into the project and one of the first things I’ll do is start the transfer of the domain from the existing provider to Google Domains. At this point the client usually asks “will my website go down?” to which my answer has always been no, as I simply carry over the nameserver or DNS records. Little did I know, this situation was different.

As it turns out, the client had been paying for extended PHP support on that domain, and by removing the domain from the provider, that support had somehow been bypassed, and as a result, the whole site went down. Confusing, I know. You’d think that PHP version support would be enabled on a hosting server level not at the domain level of the platform, but alas, it was.

Long story short, I immediately got to work to come up with a solution for the client and we were able to publish a partially built website from several years ago while I started designing the new site.

But here’s the (potentially) money-saving lesson here: if you don’t update the software on your website on a frequent basis, you’re going to run into much bigger problems down the road. In this case, if the client had incrementally updated Joomla/PHP/theme software as updates were released, then this problem could have been avoided altogether.

The same applies for WordPress updates — I recently found a clients’ website that was also running PHP 5.4 (outdated hosting environment) and as a result, no new updates could be applied. While this didn’t break the front end, it opened up the website to a whole slew of potential security holes. Plus, I couldn’t install any new plugins or themes because of the outdated PHP version.

If you’re managing your own WordPress website, be sure to go into your admin dashboard and apply all the updates at least on a monthly basis. Provided your website was built properly (meaning no changes were made directly to plugins) then there is no damage in running updates. Of course, it’s a good idea to take a backup prior to running updates just in case something goes wrong.

As part of what I do in my ongoing website maintenance plans, I’m proud to say that I update all my managed WordPress sites at least once per week — sometimes more. If you don’t want to deal with the extra tasks of managing updates and taking backups, then simply reach out to me. I’m happy to help take care of your website maintenance needs!