Just like any software that you have on your computer, mobile phone, or smart television, your website needs to be updated on a regular basis. That is, after all, what software is: an on-going collection of code that has been periodically improved and re-written to make it better, more secure, and fix bugs written in earlier versions. Examples of software updates in the real world include well-known companies such as Microsoft and their Windows operating system (Windows 98, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, etc) and other less-known such as your local mechanic installing a software update to your cars computer to help it run better. Televisions, satellite dishes, on board vehicle computers, mobile phones, and even thermostats require software updates from time to time to keep them running well.
What Is A Software Update, Exactly?
The idea of a software update may sound complicated at first (and it can be when we begin talking about how it works and what it is actually doing), but the abstract idea of a software update is actually quite simple.
Most software is a never ending collection of code that is constantly being tweaked, adjusted, and improved upon. Developers are always analyzing their code and adding, removing and editing it. Because software has the potential to introduce thousands of edits, it is not practical to release an update after each minor edit is implemented. For that reason, developers often release versions of their software, which includes all of the minor edits performed in a certain time period. For Windows – this is generally every couple of years, for mobile phone manufacturers – it is often once or twice a year, and for WordPress – it is typically every three months.
When a software update is performed, all that is really happening is the old version of the software is being removed, and the new version is installed in it’s place. The new version contains all of the old code that you were running, but also has all of the additions, subtractions, and edits that have been added since that previous version was released.
Types of Updates
Software developers release updates primarily for three reasons:
- To Improve or Add Features
As software matures, existing capabilities are refined and improved. To utilize the latest and greatest features, you have to be running the most up to date version. New features are usually great new things that will make your life easier, provide more functionality, or take existing workflows and make them better. Quite often, feature additions and improvements are things that actual customers/users like you and me have asked the developer to build-in to their software for future versions.
- To Fix Bugs
Software bugs can come in many shapes and sizes. A bug could be enormous, such as preventing users from using a plugin or it could be very small and only concern a certain part of a theme for example. In some cases, bugs can even be serious security holes. New updates can fix functionality bugs in your site. So if something isn’t working properly, you may just need an update. Regardless of their level of severity, software bugs must be fixed. When a software update is released that fixes a bug, you should update as soon as possible to have the most secure and stable versions of the product.
- To Increase Security
New security features prevent hackers from breaking into your website and inserting malicious code. This code can harm your site and cause it to lose position in search engine results. Search engines may even un-list your site.
Every piece of software is different, and with each individual security exploit, software updates can come out all of the time. Generally speaking though, website software releases can be classified into two categories:
- Scheduled Releases
WordPress, a popular content management system powering 23% of the web (and our area of expertise here at Lime), is usually updated every 3-4 months. This periodic release is designed to introduce new features and fix bugs. It is a planned release and contributing developers try to stick to that schedule as close as possible
- Security Releases
Security releases come out whenever the vulnerability is discovered. These can happen at any time. In fact, WordPress even implements a forced update process which does not even ask you to update and just does it in the background. This is reserved for the worst-case exploits and is not implemented very often.
Why is Old Software So Vulnerable to Attack?
As software is released, it gives users, developers and security experts time to poke and prod at it, figuring out where security holes and vulnerabilities are. This is a good thing as we want people to discover these vulnerabilities so that they can be patched. The problem is though, that when the developers release a patch for the exploit, they are announcing to every hacker and malware author on the planet how to take advantage of the vulnerability. It’s like a big red flag that says “Exploit over here!” Not a big problem if you are running the most up to date version, but if you are running an older version, you have a big target on you.
Our Update Process
At Lime Communications, we are big believers in keeping your website up to date. Not only so you can use the latest and greatest new features, but for security reasons as well. Backups are a great thing to have, but ideally we don’t want to ever have to use them. Keeping your software up-to-date is one of the most efficient and beneficial steps you can take to preventing any damage or downtime to your website.
Our update process includes:
- Reading/reviewing all update/change-logs
- Keeping up-to-date on software core development used in your project
- Keeping up-to-date on third party plugins used in your project
- Taking two backups before beginning the update process
- Updating software as soon as it is available
Updating your website site may seem cumbersome and perhaps unnecessary. You may think, it’s working fine right now, why mess with it? You’re right, it is working fine right now, and we want to keep it that way. New cars work great when you first drive them off the lot too, but as the miles are put on and time passes, some general maintenance is required to keep your car running int tip top shape. You don’t have to perform maintenance on your car, but that will likely cost you more money and downtime later.
We want you to seriously consider how much time and energy you have put into building your website and evaluate what you would lose if something bad were to happen. Keeping your software up-to-date is on the the best things you can to do decrease the chances of any down time, lost data, or a security breach.