Monday, Jeff Chandler published a post on WP Tavern called, “It’s Time For WordPress to Automatically Update Themes, Plugins, and Core by Default.” I have a huge amount of respect for Jeff and the WP Tavern team. I think they have a great handle on what is going on in the WordPress space and they are part of my daily rounds to keep up to date on WordPress as a product and community. But I think there is a huge component missing from the article on Monday that is a major argument against the idea of automatic updates to themes and plugins.
Enterprise is an area that is beginning to understand that WordPress is a viable solution in both website solutions and app platforms. However, there is still much work to be done from an image and PR perspective. There is still a lot to be done on a technology and development perspective as well. In my daily work, I am beginning to become a technical resource for answering more and more requests by enterprise level companies with questions about WordPress. Plugins scare them. Themes scare them. WordPress itself, scares them. Even fully custom themes and plugins scare them.
While things being scary is not a reason not to do something most of the time, I believe in this case it would kill the rising tide of enterprise clients looking to possibly use WordPress as a web platform. While there will always be those that are willing (mainly news and blog style organizations), creating a system that doesn’t give complete control (by default) to admins over what gets updated and when is a recipe for losing business especially at the enterprise level.
When we update existing clients, we go through a lengthy process of checking and quality control by both developers and QC analysts on a staging server. If everything checks out staging is then pushed to production. With as many sites as we currently run this can take a full workday or more if we don’t run into any major bugs or incompatibilities. If we do, it that amount of time can grow exponentially.
While an automatic update of plugins and core would solve the time issue (on one hand) it would create multitudes of other problems on the other. Even well written plugins that get updated regularly like Gravity Forms, WordPress SEO, Jetpack and more have the possibility (and some would argue the historical examples) of causing issues on upgrade of either the plugin or WordPress core itself. On a site that has millions of pageviews per month, that kind of loss of functionality or even complete site downtime is simply not okay.
A Way Forward?
While I do not agree that core updates are a good idea right now, I think one day they could be a possibility. But I think there would have to be radical changes to the plugin repository in order to make this possible. I already spoke about some of these here. But even more than that, a level of compatibility would have to be expected in order to remain in the repository. I ‘m not sure even then that this would be solved as you can’t exactly delete plugins that in active use.
I believe there is a solution out there. I’m just not sure in the current state of core and the plugin repository what that solution is. But I don’t want to just call out a problem either. I would love to partner up with someone and work towards a solution. I’m not the smartest, the best coder, a great designer or even the first to call this out. But I’m motivated. Let’s talk about a way forward.
I’d love to chat further about this! Leave a comment. Blog a rebuttal. Or maybe ping on twitter @mrpritchett.