If you have an online store based on the most popular WordPress e-commerce solution, you probably have your own stories of updating WooCommerce. This post describes my own experience, how I’ve come to terms with major WooCommerce updates, and how to avoid (or at least minimize) significant problems after updating.
If you’ve been running a WordPress website for a while, you know the importance of keeping the WordPress core and all your plugins updated. Occasionally, you will see new features that make your life easier but most updates are small tweaks that fix little (yet often critical) problems or incompatibilities.
I usually recommend sticking to well-built WordPress themes and well-supported plugins. This practice keeps your WordPress website running smoothly, with minimal maintenance issues. It also makes it much easier to trust that when updates come out, they will not crash your website.
There was a time when I held my breath before pushing the update button on certain plugins. This fear was based on experience. Even though I made backups and could revert back to previous versions of plugins if something didn’t work, I knew I didn’t have time to work through the issues or incompatibilities.
After working with numerous WordPress plugins, I developed a formula for choosing quality developers and created a shortlist of common plugins (I will be publishing this soon).
Nevertheless, there’s one major WordPress plugin which still makes me cringe when an update is released. Ironically, it is one of the most popular WordPress plugins, one of the most reliable, and one that is now owned by Automattic, the company whose founder helped start WordPress.
Updating WooCommerce still makes me cringe
Don’t get me wrong. Both Automattic and Woo are way up on my list of trusted WordPress partners. I hold their developers in high esteem and trust them to create and maintain awesome products that make my WordPress consulting and maintenance work much easier.
Here are a few reasons I cringe when updating WooCommerce:
1. Updating WooCommerce often causes conflicts with WordPress themes
In my experience, WooCommerce updates rarely conflict with themes. Only when there are major updates to WooCommerce do I cringe, particularly when I have customized the theme.
Let me give you an example. I worked on a website recently where the theme was a WooThemes Storefront child theme, which I had customized. I expected no problems updating WooCommerce with a Woo theme designed for the e-commerce plugin. However, after updating the theme first, then WooCommerce, I noticed a few things out of place. After some digging around, I discovered some changes in the updated theme’s new style.css file that affected my CSS customizations. Once I found it, everything was fine. But it still took almost an hour out of my day.
So the solution (in my example) is to make sure to use a custom CSS file (e.g. Jetpack‘s Edit CSS) and a custom functions.php file. That way, I can customize the theme without worrying about hitting the update button when Woo releases theme updates. If something looks weird after updating, I can assume that either my custom CSS or functions.php files need to be tweaked to support the updates.
2. Updating WooCommerce often causes conflicts with other plugins
Because I use well-supported plugins, I experience very few conflicts when updates are released. Oddly enough, my experience with WooCommerce conflicts usually concerns WooCommerce extensions. But here again, because these extensions are developed by Woo or by third party developers who keep pace with Woo’s update schedule, avoiding conflicts is pretty easy. You just need to make sure all your extensions are up to date.
3. WooCommerce support is often slow to respond to support tickets
I don’t submit many support tickets with WooThemes. I find lots of support on the web simply by searching for specific solutions. I am constantly impressed by the knowledge, experience, and generosity of WordPress and WooCommerce developers, designers, and consultants.
But when I have submitted support tickets to Woo, I usually expect to wait for a day or two before I hear back. Sometimes a solution does not come for a week or more. I don’t think I’m alone in this. In fact, Woo has recognized their slower support response).
I’m in Pacific standard time, so if I submit a ticket on a Friday, I can expect to wait until at least Monday for a response. I understand that it is difficult to maintain 24/7 support for a freemium plugin, and that many support techs are based throughout the world, in various time zones. With that in mind, I choose support requests carefully. I only submit tickets when I’ve exhausted other avenues. Often, I have already found a solution by the time Woo support replies to my tickets.
That being said, I highly recommend contacting Woo for support questions. They’re great at answering problems and don’t assume too much. But before you contact Woo support:
- Make sure WordPress and all plugins are up-to-date.
- Exhaust other support avenues such as Google search or WordPress forums and groups.
- Be very clear about your problem; give as much detail as you can the you first submit the ticket.
- Be patient and courteous. Woo support staff are knowledgeable and hard-working.
Why does updating WooCommerce cause conflicts?
Update problems have little to do with lack of support or bad coding. Simply put, WooCommerce is a fully featured e-commerce plugin that performs many functions that keep thousands of WordPress website stores open for business every day. Minor issues are bound to arise.
WooCommerce does some very heavy lifting
Think about what WooCommerce does for your website. From organizing products into various categories, to checkout systems, to shipping and tax options—not to mention what you can add via WooCommerce extensions—there’s a great deal of work being done by WooCommerce. So you have to expect that every now and then there will be minor hiccups. Be patient. For every problem, there’s a solution.
WooCommerce relies on multiple extensions
As I mentioned earlier, WooCommerce extension developers usually keep pace with WordPress and WooCommerce updates. And they’re supposed to work together smoothly—in an ideal world. You might need to retrace your steps to figure out anything you’ve customized or changed recently in a particular extension. You also might need to reach out to the developer of the WooCommerce extension to make sure they are compatible with your specific WordPress setup.
How to update WooCommerce
When WooCommerce releases an update, you will see the update notice in your WordPress dashboard. If it is a major update, the notice will often include a warning message advising you to make sure you have a backup, just in case something goes wrong.
In my experience, something usually does go wrong. For the most part, it’s a minor incompatibility that can be quickly fixed. But there are times when I’ve spent a couple of hours trying to figure out why things are not looking or working the way they’re supposed to.
You can choose to update WooCommerce manually or using the one click update in your WordPress dashboard. I usually find the one click update is pretty reliable. But here’s some advice:
- Make sure you have a very recent backup of your complete site. In fact, a few weeks of backups is good, just in case. I have a regular backup strategy using iThemes’ BackupBuddy. There are other backup options, of course. If something goes wrong and you have a backup of your site, you can revert to a previous version of a plugin or theme.
- Put your website in maintenance mode until you know the update works as you expected.
- If it’s a major WooCommerce update, consider testing the update on a separate staging server or by using a local WordPress installation.
For a great overview on updating WooCommerce and some details on setting up a staging site and local WordPress install, check out WooThemes’ How To Update Your Site (complete with a cute video).
Here’s a quick guide to the order to follow when updating WooCommerce
Woo recommends this order to minimize conflicts (see Woo’s documentation for details):
- Update all non-Woo plugins
- Update all WooCommerce extensions.
- Update WooCommerce to the latest version.
- Update WordPress to the latest version
- Update your theme to the latest version
The update cringing will continue—for now.
While I will still cringe whenever WooCommerce updates are released, I highly recommend using the WooCommerce plugin, most WooCommerce extensions, and WooThemes Storefront themes.
Be patient, and be very careful. Your online store depends on it!
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