Updating your theme and using FTP

It’s really easy to update a theme when you installed one from the WordPress theme repository (the free themes) when you get a notification that there’s an update for your theme, as well as plugins. But what about themes that you installed yourself from outside of WordPress, such as Shaped Pixels?

Before I get into the actual process of updating your theme, let me take you through a few elements that relate to updating a theme, but also for plugins and even WordPress.

Update Options

It’s no doubt that the most efficient method of updating your theme is to simply click “Update” whenever a theme or plugin has one for you. So what are the methods currently available to you?

  1. Automatic Updates – Nice, but can be disastrous if something goes wrong.
  2. Manual Updates with a Click – Most common because after you log into your dashboard, you see updates to click and you’re done. Can also be disastrous.
  3. Manual Updates by Uploading – This is my preferred method. You download the updates and then upload them to your site replacing the existing theme or plugin…or even WordPress.

Everyone will have their own preference how they update their website, whether it’s for WordPress, a theme, or a plugin. There will always be pro’s and con’s to each method, but what is important is what works for you.

Back-Up your Site FIRST!

I cannot emphasize this enough…ALWAYS back-up your website first before you perform any kind of update. Even with simple small updates, are you going to take a chance that it’ll go 100% smooth without any problems? Always expect the unexpected because things can happen like:

  • The update introduces a new bug
  • The update gets corrupted during the process
  • Perhaps during the process, there was an interruption with the installation of it
  • Maybe the update includes new features and functions that are no longer compatible with your website.
  • There could even be conflicts with existing plugins or a theme (depending on what you are updating of course)

I could add more to the list, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Make sure you have a solid and reliable method to back-up your website, and I don’t mean just the theme, I mean the whole thing, including your media uploads, plugins, and database. Backing up your website takes only a moment of your time, so try to get into the habit of doing this before updating anything. Should anything go wrong, you will be happy that you can revert back to a state that things worked great.

Updating Just the Theme – You could just download your active theme to your desktop as a back-up. Doing so would allow you to re-upload it if something went wrong with the new version.

Read the CHANGELOG (Change Log)

I know this sounds tedious, but try to get into a habit of reading the changelog of whatever it is you are updating. In the case of this article, look for the theme’s changelog file which is usually found in the theme files or the download package your theme came in. Sometimes changes can be found from a blog post, newsletter, or from the developer’s social networking pages.

A change log gives you a rundown of what changes were made, a type of log of what was done and to what…hence the term “Change Log” or “Changelog” as it is commonly seen as one word. Reading what was done will give you an idea if you need to update now or later. You can sometimes determine if there might be a conflict or problem somewhere should you decide to update. The choice will be yours.

What is FTP and why is it Important?

FTP is an acronym for “File Transfer Protocol“, which is a standard network protocol used to transfer computer files from one host to another host over a TCP-based network, such as the Internet. Technically boring and confusing description, I know. In a nutshell, it’s a method that allows you to upload and/or download files, such as theme files, from one computer to another.

Having an FTP program on your computer is very important and everyone should have one so that you can download or upload files whenever you need to. Using your web host’s file manager feature is quite limited and it’s also a pain in the butt to always having to log into your host control panel to use it. If I remember correctly, using a file manager from your host does not allow you to upload or delete multiple files and/or folders; only one file at a time. Having your own FTP program allows much more and will save you time and effort; everyone should have one.

There are plenty of FTP programs available, some free and some paid. What you choose is up to you, so it’s best you check them out by doing a Google search for FTP programs. The most popular ones are:

  • FileZilla (free)
  • WS_FTP LE (free)
  • WS_FTP Pro (which is what I use)
  • CuteFTP

I’ve used all of these myself over the years. Each one offers advantages and disadvantages, but once again, it’s going to be your choice. To find out what one works best for you, perhaps try each of the free ones first, and then you can decide what program you like the most. For a free one, I would say WS_FTP LE, although many would say Filezilla. If you want one with more features and feel like a professional, WS_FTP Pro would be it. Both the LE and the Pro are fairly easy to use and the upgrade path from LE to Pro is simple, should you decide to opt in.

Now We can Talk about Updating your Theme

As I am sure you were bored with the first part of this article, now it’s time to get into details about updating your theme! Here is a nitty gritty step-by-step process of achieving this.

As a side note, your themes are stored in a folder called “themes” and is found here:


You will know you are there when you see other theme folders inside that like the default WordPress theme called  Twentyfifteen (if you still have that installed) which the location for that would look like this:


/twentyfifteen is where the theme files are found like style.css, header.php, index.php, footer.php, etc. This will be the same for each theme you have there.

  1. Download the new theme update and then unzip it to your desktop.
  2. Open your FTP program and log into where your website is located and then go into your “/wp-content/themes/” folder and download your theme to your desktop for safe keeping. For example, you would download the “twentyfifteen” folder. If it was for my theme Longevity Pro, then you would download the folder “longevitypro“.
  3. While your FTP is open, now you can locate your new theme version on your desktop, and upload the theme folder to replace the existing one. Make sure the folder you upload has the files like style.css, header.php, etc., inside it.
  4. When done, make sure your website is OK and also log into your site’s dashboard to make sure everything went smoothly. Check your theme version to ensure you have the latest version.
    Go to Appearance >> Themes, and then click on Details.
  5. I would recommend you keep your backed up theme on your computer for a while in case something didn’t go right.

Wasn’t that fun!

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