WordPress development team has decided to skip the scheduled 2.4 release that was due on January 24 and move straight to 2.5 release. I guess after releasing 2.3.2 we can’t blame them and I’m quite greatful for this break. It gives us, bloggers using this superb platform a window of time we can use to have a harder look at our blogs…

So what exactly should you do right now? A hundred bucks question and perhaps this post will serve as an answer…

Each major release of WordPress introduces changes and enhancements that might force you to give up some plugins, change theme or be left behind. Not so good idea as besides enhancements and new functionality – security fixes are also part of the release.

But there are a few things you can do between releases to ensure you can upgrade with minimal pain:

1. Minimalistic Approach

One I personally would never use but for some people it might be most appropriate course of action. What it implies is that you simply use ONLY minimal number of plugins and theme that is well supported or perhaps even default that will be upgraded with each plugin.

This will ensure that you have the least worries and every upgrade will go smoothly. But as I mentioned – this approach is not something I personally choose because plugins, when used correctly, greatly enhance default blog functionality and I would never give that up. But that leaves us with second option…

2. Proactive Approach

This is one I use and advise you do same if you have a custom theme and number of plugins you rely on… Just because your blog goes beyond its original intent – doesn’t mean that upgrade should be a pain whenever new version is released. In fact – I never had issue yet that I was unable to resolve using this approach and all upgrades go nice and smooth …. just like it was intended!

But there are at least 3 steps required to be completed to take advantage of this approach:

  1. Keep your database clean
  2. Get to know your theme
  3. Get upclose and personal with plugins you use

Each step has its own level of importance and need to be done in order to be able to upgrade successfully to new version, when it becomes available.

Step 1: Keep your database clean

As I have mentioned in several posts I have a major issue with WordPress plugin developers not providing Uninstall functionality and actually described steps to work around it in this post. I’m glad that now I see a higher awareness of this issue with recent post on Weblog Tools Collection (one of the developers blogs). Hopefully in time it will become a part of the required functionality but for now – it is up to you to remove old and unused entries from your WordPress database.

Always backup your database prior to removing ANY entries or dropping unused tables from it. You never know what might happen…

There are 2 things that any new plugin that has been Activated does – adds a new record to wp_options table and sometimes creates new tables. Luckily both generally easily identified as author prefixes new entires with either name or abbreviation of the plugin each entry in wp_options table and new tables generally have plugin name. When you have backup of database – you can safely drop unused tables or entries. Follow this process to ensure success:

Backup Database -> Identify and Drop Unneeded Entries -> Test Blog Functionality

Do this often enough and you get to know your database to the point where it will be easy to identify new entries and remove them when plugin is not longer used. Nothing can replace knowing your database and cleaning it, until developers get their act together and provide us with uninstall functionality will become part of your regular maintenance.

Step 2: Get to know your theme

This one is equally important. WordPress provides us with great choice of themes to modify the look of our blogs but support of the released theme defers greatly. While one author continue to release any updates to ensure his theme compatability with latest code release – others will never touch it after initial release…

If you are not using a well supported theme (could be identified by simply visiting developer’s blog) – I recommend you have a backup plan. Locate a theme with similar functionality and look (yeah, there are plenty of copycat releases) and test it on your blog. If you don’t immediately pull the plug on your old theme – at least have something to fall back on, if needed. Testing new theme was covered in my previous post, have a look at it here.

Step 3: Get upclose and personal with plugins you use

This step is perhaps the most important because we get to rely on additional functionality provided by plugins and sometimes simply not willing to loose it in order to stay current release. I know I’ve been through it when 2.3 was released and I had to scramble to replace functionality lost with UTW plugin. It was my all time favorite and one that was heavily used on my blog…

Fortunately – when need arises, developers come through! WordPress plugins database is filled with options for any functionality and simply locating a plugin that replaces functionality is quite easy. You can also have a look at alternate location to find what you need here – it is organized into categories you can browse or simply search. Rather nice!

Here are my proactive steps to addressing plugins:

  • Use only well supported plugins. I try to never install plugin if I see that it hasn’t been updated to latest release or has a lack of response from developer on his home page.
  • Know which plugins you rely the most on. While we use many plugins – only a few of them actually an absolute necessity that a simply MUST HAVE. In my case it would include spam management and tag management plugins
  • Locate possible alternative and keep links handy. Once you know what functionality is must have on your blog I recommend you locate a plugin that could offer similar functionality. You don’t have to install it – just keep it handy. I generally have a Bookmarks folder wpplugins where I maintain links for plugins that I MIGHT need if one of my current critical to me plugins fails to provide update to new release. It could be as simple as disabling Spam Karma 2 and going with Akismet but I love to have a backup plan. Just in case…

3. Summary

I alway suggest you don’t limit your functionality and use plugins that you see essential to your blog – more interactivity on your blog creates more visits and better readers participation but been PROACTIVE instead of REACTIVE will ensure that your blog runs smooth and any updates to WordPress will not become a hair-pulling experience!