One of the most popular requests we’ve received from our customers has been, “Can you please improve the theme update process?”
We agree, it’s not been easy (especially for non-technical folks) to upgrade your theme. Not only is it a hassle for our customers, it uses unnecessary support resources which could instead be applied towards other customer needs. So how can we improve this experience?
Since the recent additions to our development team over the summer, we started brainstorming on how best to tackle this. The objective was to provide a simple way for anyone to upgrade our themes. After many discussions, working prototypes, and days of trial and error, our theme scientists emerged from their lab with the solution.
Two Click Updates
Our new framework allows customers to update themes directly from the wp-admin. No uploading files. No renaming directories. No hassles. Everything is now streamlined. Update to the latest version with just a few clicks! (Pausing for applause). Of course you can still download the full version directly from your customer dashboard but that’s only really required for brand new installs.
This updater is the first of it’s kind and we’re darn proud of it. Having a development team with intricate knowledge of the WordPress core functionality certainly helps. It works by piggybacking on the native WordPress updater function and polls our API twice a day. If it finds an update, you’ll be notified in the wp-admin sidebar (under Appearance).
What About Theme Patches?
In the past we’ve provided theme patches (which include only files modified compared to the previous version) when a new version is released. While this has been useful for a handful of customers who modify the core theme files, it ends up causing more harm than good.
Just like core WordPress files, theme files should never be modified. It’s a big no no and not supported per our terms of service. We will, however continue to provide a list of all files changed/added/removed (compared to the previous version) in our release notes.
What If I’ve Made Theme File Changes?
You won’t be able to use the two click updater. If you do, it will blow away any customizations you have done. Part of the benefit of this change is to encourage our customers to build child themes and plugins instead of modifying our theme core files. This is the correct way to extend any theme – just like you wouldn’t modify core WordPress files.
In general, the direction our products are heading is similar to how WordPress is structured. A robust “framework” or “platform” that is designed for easy upgrades and add-ons. We want to empower the community and allow our ecosystem to continue to flourish by encouraging the development of plugins and child themes.
What’s the Correct Way to Make Changes?
Some customers would like to change the style and functionality of our themes. You can do it the same way you would with WordPress – using hooks and child themes. Our API has over 75 hooks built in and support child themes.
In addition to these changes, we’re also providing a daily development version of all our themes. This means customers who want to live on the edge will be able to download the latest development version even before it’s released to the public! You get a sneak peek into new features and the latest changes checked into our repositories. You can also help us QA to ensure any issues are resolved before we tag off a new release.
To quote WordPress from their nightly build page,
Development of WordPress moves fairly quickly and day-to-day things break as often as they are fixed. This high churn is part of our development process that aims to produce the most stable releases possible.
With that being said, keep in mind that what we provide is a development version and may be unstable so we strongly discourage using it in a production environment. You’ll find these dev versions available for download on your customer dashboard.
Stage Your Changes
WordPress users in general are quick to pull the trigger anytime a WordPress core, theme, and/or plugin update is available. Just like WordPress, the new AppThemes two-click update makes it easy to upgrade but tread with caution. Some updates can cause problems with others. This typically occurs with plugins after a theme has been updated.
Here’s our advice and general best practice:
It’s surprising how many people run a business without a staging site. If you fall into this category, please setup a staging site. It’s just an exact replica of your live site – a sandbox that allows you to test things before updating your production site. If your host provider allows add-on domains, it shouldn’t be too tough to setup. The WordPress Codex has a tutorial on “Moving WordPress” which can help you get started. Essentially all you need to do is setup another instance of WordPress and then import your theme and data.
We’ve seen too many people get burned or go in panic mode when they update their live sites only to discover it breaks. How the heck do you roll back? Exactly. Stage it first. It’s like an insurance policy. Measure twice, cut once. You’ll be glad you did, later.
That about wraps it up. We look forward to improving your upgrade experience. If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know below.