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The Zen of Blog Software Maintenance: Upgrading WordPress

Ying Yang

(Note: Long Post follows, and it may seem depressing at times; but all’s well that ends.)

WordPress (WP) released version 2.6 “Tyner” this week, and I decided it was time. Time to get all the blogs backed up and get one common version of WP running across the board. I manage 8 sites where WP is the CMS software of choice, so I knew I was in for a long afternoon.

No problem. It didn’t take that long. it took A Lot Longer. <sigh>

First, a word about the information environment I’m doing these upgrades in. I use GoDaddy as host, and I’m pleased with them. They’ll even configure WordPress for you on a new blog; I tried that out a month ago when WP 2.5.1 was all the rage. (I stay with GoDaddy because of their phenomenal phone service.) I’m using CuteFTP 8 Pro, which is fast and easy. I’m sitting on a very fast pipe (fast enough that my Wireless N adapter is probably the limiting element). And I’ve used WordPress since WP 1.5 days.

Unfortunately, GoDaddy doesn’t support automatic upgrades. Additionally, I’ve read too many horror stories about the WordPress Automatic Upgrade Plugin to want to try that just yet. Call me paranoid, but I don’t want to risk my revenue streams with this activity. I decided to go the manual upgrade route. (I see that the Automatic Upgrade has a nice new version out; I’ll certainly try it next time.)

I had upgraded the Chile Underground when WP 2.5.1 came out, so I decided to start there; I figured moving up a baby step would be easier, and I knew I had current plugins and such, so I didn’t expect any restart issues. In fact, I had already spent time getting rid of the Widgets folder and moving everything into the Plugins folder on this site. All this pre-work hadn’t been done for most of my other sites, which were in states from WP 2.2 to WP 2.3 somewhere.

There must be a Murphy’s Law which states, “Never try the easy upgrade first.”

I’ve set up my wp-contents folder so that I don’t need to worry about it during any upgrade. I unpacked the WP 2.6 files into a folder on my drive and then copied the current rand.php file into the wp-includes folder; I use the Randomizer plugin for header banners and stuff, so I really need that function. I got rid of the config-example.php file in the download. I was ready to go!

I fired up my hosting control and backed up and verified the databases for all sites. While I was at it, I backed up my user files for each site using my CuteFTP interface. Images, theme files, whatever needed refreshing locally.

I opened the Chile Underground FTP site and moved the local pane of CuteFTP to the WP 2.6 folder. I’ve learned from problems before to erase files on the server rather than simply overwrite from the local copies. So I did that. I made sure my .htaccess file was present, and my config.php. The only (important) folder I left alone was the wp-content one.

After marking and dragging files from the local WP 2.6 over to the server, I sat back to watch the e-pipe pumped bits and bytes by the bucket. Some minutes later, CuteFTP showed the server as ready.

Time to complete the install.

I opened Firefox 3, my new “standard” browser, and hit the site. Of course, you have to go to the /wp-admin page, just opening the site doesn’t get you anywhere much. I got the expected “WordPress needs to upgrade your database” page; I clicked. A few seconds later I got the Continue button; one key hurdle cleanly passed.

Next was the login page. I tried to log in; no dice. I opened a different tab and went directly to the site; it was down hard, as expected.

I re-read the directions carefully. One suggestion at this point is to clear the browser cache. I did that; in fact, I exited the browser and reloaded as well. This time, I went directly to the /wp-login function (like http://www.mysite.com/wp-login, no closing / on there) and tried again.

No dice. Not even one.

After many throes and woes, too many to keep this site PG-rated, I reverted the site. Then I sat quietly with an adult beverage to regain my composure. Could all the other WP upgrades have this much trouble? Hardly. It had to be me. I sat down at the computer and, with fanged heebie-jeebies nipping at my incipient ulcers, I worked my way back through the installation steps.

The “problem” was reproducible, at least. This time, I tried to get the site to send me an updated password; that didn’t work either. Oh, it sent a password okay; just didn’t work. Time to get some Very Big Help; I searched on the Web. (I know, I’m a slow learner.)

Seems you should also “clear the cookies” in your browser as well. I didn’t want to clear ALL my cookies, I’ve got some that would be hard to replace.

I found the offending cookies inside Firefox 3 on the Tools / Options / Privacy tab. Halfway down the dialog there’s a “Show Cookies” button. I opened that and searched for WordPress. Of course, there were a large number of cookies, some for each of my WordPress sites. I cleared only my Chile Underground ones, as I wasn’t sure I’d be upgrading any other sites at this rate.

I closed all the dialogs and the site tab in Firefox, then reopened the site login. (I didn’t need to do that last bit, as it turns out, but my practiced paranoia was in full swing.)

I got in! Hurrah! Sir Edmund couldn’t have felt better than I did at this point. (After all, he’d only climbed a mountain, and I’m sure he was tired and oxygen-starved. Come to mention it, that pretty much describes my state.)

Opening the site (in a different tab) at this point gave an unexpected result, including a link that asked, “add some data?” So I clicked, and the page loaded partway. Progress!

Back to the dashboard tab. I restarted all the plugins, then toggled back to the site tab and clicked a refresh.

The Underground was back. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Because I took it slowly and went down so many dead-ends, I’d used three hours on this endeavor. I don’t upgrade blog software for a living, so I forget many essentials. Needless to say, I made pages of notes this time.

After the Chile Underground was running smoothly I tried another site, one of the older ones. First I had to correct the file structure in the plugins, eventually eliminating the widgets folder. I did the upload and refreshes, and this time got straight in (after eating the cookies; electronic ones, sadly). Some of the older plugins needed updating (I love that auto update feature!), and a couple were now deprecated by features in WP 2.6. But after only a bit more housecleaning, that site was up and humming.

I got the plugin folders ready for all the other sites, then called it a day. The next morning I loaded and restarted the other six sites, in about four hours. All of them are working as I expect, although I’m sure there are dusty corners to clean and links to rebuild, the usual site maintenance stuff.

Moral of the story is: Don’t Try This At Home! No, wait. Not exactly. More like: Don’t Try This At Home Without the Automatic Updater Widget! At the very least, I’ll be using something like that next time.

As a bonus for sticking with me this far, here’s a recipe for Portuguese Sausage Soup. This magic provender saw me safely through the long upgrade process. Meanwhile,

Enjoy the (Frustrating yet Satisfying) Heat!

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