How to enable WordPress plugin auto updates (and when you shouldn’t)


WordPress is one of the most widely used website platforms on the market with a global market share of around 43%. It’s very user-friendly and can be configured for almost anything (from simple blogs to much more complicated ecommerce sites).

As someone who manages multiple WordPress sites, I’ve seen the good and the bad. This is especially true for plugins, which present a double-edged sword. On the one hand, without plugins, WordPress is pretty much limited to serving as a blogging platform. When you start adding these plugins, the platform blossoms.

On the other hand, plugins can bring you endless problems. To make matters worse, this problem can sometimes come in the form of a rock and hard spot.

Consider it:

My official author site ( has hosted so many plugins and features over the years that I’ve lost count. This site has been around for decades and has served me well (for the most part). However, on more than a few occasions, a single plugin has completely crippled the site. Most of these cases occurred when either WordPress or a plugin was updated, causing a break between the two. I’ve seen it go both ways (a WordPress update that doesn’t jibe with a plugin, or a plugin update that doesn’t want to work with WordPress).

That’s one side of the coin. On the other side of the coin, WordPress sites have been hacked because of an outdated plugin.

At this point, you’re probably realizing that the whole WordPress/plugin issue is a not-so-fun game of whack-a-mole. That, my friends, is the dilemma you will find yourself in. Are you updating a plugin or not?

It’s all about backups

After a number of cases where a malicious plugin update crashed a WordPress site, my saving grace has always been backups. If you have a recent backup, you can restore it even if a plugin crashes your site. Without a recent backup, you could be out of luck.

For WordPress backups, one of the easiest tools to use (you guessed it) is another plugin. The plugin I use for WordPress backups is UpdraftPlus. But no matter which plugin you use (or whether you back up your WordPress site manually), it’s important that you run the backup regularly. The last thing you want is a plugin crashing your site only to find your backup is out of date. Of course, backups can take up some of your already busy day. But not taking that time would be a grave mistake.

So before you do anything with automating WordPress plugin updates, make sure you have a solid backup strategy in place first.

you have been warned

Now read the warning again, just to be sure.

Another warning

Here’s another warning. It’s hard to know which plugins to consider for automatic updates. While one plugin will never give you any trouble, another might. So here is my best advice:

Always play it safe.

Seriously…if in doubt, no.

If that’s not good enough for you, then consider this. If a plugin is updated frequently (and is either offered by a reputable company or development team, or is an official plugin), it should be a good candidate for automatic updates.

On the contrary, if a plugin is not updated frequently, was created by a single developer, or is a custom plugin designed specifically for your site, I would strongly advise against setting up automatic updates.


  • If a plugin is official or developed by a team (or company), chances are it’s safe for automatic updates.
  • If a plugin is a custom job or developed by an individual, I would either contact that developer (to find out how safe it is for auto-updates) or just never set it to auto-update.

Okay, that’s the final warning. Let’s figure out how to set up an auto-update plugin.

Before I do that…reread and heed all warnings.

Enabling auto-update for WordPress plugins

Now that you have been fully warned, let me show you how to enable WordPress auto-update plugins. I use this for any plugin that I’m sure doesn’t cause problems with my WordPress sites.

Even with the problems that could As a result of a failed update, I tend to rely on these updates because it ensures I don’t have outdated plugins with vulnerabilities that can be exploited. And as long as I have regular backups, I know I can always restore if something goes wrong.

So how do you enable automatic updates for a plugin? It’s really very simple.

First, log in to your WordPress site as an admin user. If you’re not sure how, go to http://DOMAIN/wp-admin (where DOMAIN is the domain for your WordPress site) and log in with your admin username and password.

In the left navigation pane, click Plugins > Installed Plugins.

The WordPress plugins submenu.

Accessing the WordPress plugins menu from the dashboard.

Image: Jack Wallen

In the resulting list, find the plugin that you want to add to the automatic updates feature and click Enable automatic updates. Continue going through your list of plugins and check any/all you want to add. However, remember to play it safe and only enable automatic updates for the plugins you trust.

A WordPress plugin list.

Enabling automatic updates for a WordPress plugin.

Image: Jack Wallen

And that’s all there is to enabling automatic updates for WordPress plugins. Remember, make these regular backups in case a plugin update shuts down your site. As long as you are prepared for such an eventuality, you should be fine.

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