How to Manipulate WordPress Automatic Background Updates

Not just another regular update, WordPress 3.7 made automatic background updates a reality. Gone are the days of manually updating WordPress to tighten up web site security or fixing bugs, background updates can keep your WordPress installation updated with this latest 3.7 release.

This is a fairly complicated process other than simply dumping a package onto the web server. It checks current WordPress installation thoroughly to find out if it can or can not update itself, and notify admin by email for the result.

The automatic background updates features is designed to update WordPress core to any version, minor (e.g. from 3.7 to 3.7.1) and major (e.g. from 3.7 to 3.8). But by default, automatic updates ONLY apply to minor updates. This is apparently a safe approach, and makes sense in real world.

Other than the reasons listed officially that stop a site from being updated automatically, site customization is the biggest concern to most developers and site owners. Unlike plugins available on public repository, customized code including customized plugin is only developed and tested for a specific project, on a specific WordPress installation. Problems may only be exposed when things changed, such as WordPress update.

If you don’t like take any risk on WordPress update, don’t worry, there are switches for this. WordPress site owners can control how they want this feature implemented on their own sites with the WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE constant.

# Disables all core updates:
define( 'WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', false );

# Enables all core updates, including minor and major:
define( 'WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', true );

# Enables core updates for minor releases (default):
define( 'WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', 'minor' );

You make the change in wp-config.php to change the default WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE behavior.

If you are very confident about your site, and are willing to extend automatic background updates to Plugins & Themes, please check out the new filters in WordPress 3.7 about Configuring Automatic Background Updates.

Speaking for myself, 2-month experience riding along with 3.7 automatic updates was a pure pleasure, no trouble at all. From 3.7 alpha to final release, I didn’t do anything after the initial setup.

To help users moving onto new version and benefit from automatic background updates, wordpressdotorg rolled out a new plugin called Background Update Tester to check your site for automatic updates compatibility and explains any problems.

Please be advised that, nothing beats a good backup in case things go wrong. Start implementing a good backup plan if you did have one on your site yet.