This has been a confusing week for casual WordPress users everywhere. For those of you keeping score, three WordPress updates were released between Tuesday and Thursday.
The messy details: On Tuesday version 4.1.2 was released, two days later version 4.2 was released, and a few hours after that version 4.1.3 was released.
As a WordPress trainer, I get LOTS of questions from confused site owners. Here are a few of the questions I’ve heard this week:
Q: Do I need to upgrade to 4.1.3 before upgrading to 4.2?
A: No. Version 4.2 includes all of the changes in 4.1.3. This is true for all WordPress releases. The major release will always include updates from the minor release (see the explanation on WordPress releases below).
Q: Why was 4.1.3 released *after* 4.2? Aren’t version numbers supposed to get bigger instead of smaller?
A: Not everyone is ready to upgrade to version 4.2. The 4.1.3 update was for sites that are still running version 4.1. Realistically, that’s probably most WordPress sites given the timing of the release.
Q: Why was 4.1.3 installed automatically? Why not just update everyone to version 4.2?
A: Version 4.2 is considered a major release, while version 4.1.3 is a minor release. Because minor releases sometimes include critical security fixes, they’re installed automatically. It’s up to the site owner to install major releases.
How WordPress version numbers work
The first two digits (#.#) represent the major release numbers — as in 4.1, 4.2, etc.
Major releases include new features and changes to the underlying code that developers use to create themes and plugins. There’s always a chance that a major update might break something on your site.
As a WordPress site owner, it’s up to you to perform major version upgrades manually. It’s not hard. Just click the one-click “upgrade now” button on the WordPress dashboard. It’s best to test major releases on a copy of your site before upgrading your live site. At the very least make sure you have a current backup of your site, including your database.
The presence of a third digit (#.#.#) indicates a minor release — as in 4.1.2, 4.1.3, etc.
As noted, these releases fix bugs and patch security problems. Security is a top priority for anyone running a website these days. That’s why these releases are installed automatically. Minor releases ensure that your WordPress site remains secure and stable. In theory, this type of release should never break a plugin or theme.
Major releases come out on a four to five-month cycle, while minor releases come out whenever they’re needed. Sometimes — as happened this week — major and minor release converge and create a whole lot of confusion for casual WordPress users.
While we’re talking about WordPress version numbers, you should also know that the first digit doesn’t have any special meaning. The jump from 3.9 to 4.0 was just like any other new version of WordPress.
And finally, for those of you complaining about the frequency of WordPress updates… Keep in mind that the security updates protect you and your site from hackers. While it’s true that other web publishing systems may not be updated as frequently that doesn’t mean they’re more secure.
It’s good to know the core WordPress team is on the ball and addressing security issues in a timely manner.
Monday Morning Update: We’re on a roll. Version 4.2.1 and 4.1.4 (in addition to patches for earlier branches) are being pushed out now. This is in response to a very critical security issue that was announced earlier this morning. Because this is a minor release (though very important from a security perspective) your sites will be updated automatically.