Ahh yeah, WordPress just rolled out another update to version 3.1.1. If you’re able to upgrade via the Admin, updating your site(s) should be a piece of cake: just log in, click a few buttons, wait a few minutes, and done. The convenience of automatically updating the WordPress core, plugins, and themes is awesome, but things can go wrong once in awhile and auto-updates can fail. If this happens, getting back on track is a bit tricky, so here’s a quick guide to help restore site functionality and ensure a proper update.
What an auto-update failure looks like
After initiating the auto-update of the WordPress core (say, from 3.1.0 to 3.1.1), the “Update WordPress” screen will begin displaying the status of each step, beginning with these messages:
- Downloading update from
- Unpacking the update…
- Verifying the unpacked files…
- Installing the latest version…
So far so good, but even if it gets that far, there’s still a chance of failure, as seen in this recent screenshot:
The status message that appears just before “Installation Failed” explains what WordPress thinks is the issue, but there are cases where things go wrong and no messages are displayed. In either case, the user can get locked out of the site. When this happens, trying to load any of your pages – admin, blog, login, etc. – gets you the nothing but the WordPress maintenance page:
Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance.
Check back in a minute.
Very frustrating, and very difficult to fix things when you can’t log in to Admin. Fortunately, you don’t need Admin to fix it and get back in. Just FTP your way to the root directory and delete the
.maintenance file. The name begins with a dot, so if you don’t see it using your FTP program, try logging into your server’s control panel and using the file manager to find and delete. Here is a screenshot showing the
.maintenance file in the root installation directory:
This file contains a variable that is used by the
wp_maintenance function. It looks like this:
<?php $upgrading = 1302115706; ?>
If you get locked out of your site, deleting the
.maintenance file will fix the issue and get you back into Admin and other areas of your site. Once there, WordPress may remind you of the recent update failure by displaying the following message:
An automated WordPress update has failed to complete – please attempt the update again now.
At this point, you have (at least) two choices: keep trying with auto-updates or download the latest version and upload manually. Even if you decide to upgrade manually, you may want to resolve the issue and get auto-updates working for future versions.
Check File Permissions
Proper file permissions are the key to smooth auto-anything. On the Codex Page for the Dashboard Updates SubPanel, the Troubleshooting section advises the following:
Make sure that your entire wordpress directory is owned by the username under which your Apache server runs. For example, if your server runs as https, and your files live in /var/wordpress do a “chown -R apache.apache /var/wordpress.”
In addition to this advice, you may also try changing the permissions of your
/upgrade/ directory. As seen in the following screenshot, WordPress uses the
/upgrade/ directory for a temporary file used during the installation process:
For the temporary WordPress file to be created, the
/upgrade/ directory needs to be writable by the server. To see if this is the issue, try setting the directory permissions to
777 (or CHMOD equivalent) and trying the auto-update again. If it works, you’ve resolved the issue, but you should always use the most restrictive permissions possible. This may take some research, experimenting, and/or a Help ticket with your host, but once you get it, you’re all set for auto-updates. Here is an Online CHMOD Calculator to help with the conversion process.
Turn Off Safe Mode
If possible, disabling Safe Mode may help to get auto-updates working again. According to the PHP Manual, Safe Mode is deprecated as of PHP version 5.3.0:
This feature has been DEPRECATED as of PHP 5.3.0.
Relying on this feature is highly discouraged.
Disabling Safe Mode is done in a variety of ways. If disabling through your server’s control panel isn’t possible, you can use this snippet in your
safe_mode = Off
Or this snippet in your Apache configuration file:
<Directory /var/www/public> php_admin_flag safe_mode off </Directory>
Just add that code to your
httpd.conf file and restart Apache.
Define FTP Variables in wp-config.php
As discussed, another way to get auto-updates working is to define the requisite variables in your wp-config.php file. There are numerous variations on this technique, so you’ll need to do your own experimentation to get a set of definitions that work for your situation. Here is what works for me on Media Temple’s (dv) server:
define('FS_CHMOD_FILE', 0755); define('FS_CHMOD_DIR', 0755); define('FS_METHOD', 'ftpext'); define('FTP_BASE', '/httpdocs/'); define('FTP_CONTENT_DIR', '/httpdocs/wp-content/'); define('FTP_PLUGIN_DIR ', '/httpdocs/wp-content/plugins/'); define('FTP_USER', 'username'); define('FTP_PASS', 'password'); define('FTP_HOST', '123.456.789'); define('FTP_SSL', false);
Place that in your
wp-config.php file, just above the line that says, “That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging.” Don’t forget to edit the username, password, and any other variables with your own information.
If you’re asking yourself why bother with all of this information, it’s because WordPress auto-updates features is SO awesome that it’s worth resolving any issues to get it working. Together with automatic plugin and theme updates, auto-WordPress updates have saved us many hours of work. For some sites, auto-updates works perfectly, for others, not so much. Just remember what you’re playing for here – it looks like this and will make keeping up with WordPress updates a much more enjoyable experience.