WordPress Instructions Themes

How To Update WordPress Theme (And Not Lose Your Customizations In The Process)

You log into your WordPress dashboard, and you’re greeted with a message:

Update Available

So, what are you going to do? Ignore the notification and hope for the best or take care of business like the responsible website owner you are?  

We certainly recommend the latter!

And if you have no clue how to update WordPress theme, don’t sweat it – we’ll guide you through the whole thing!

Keeping Things Up To Date: Why & How Often

Whenever there’s a new WordPress release, it leaves the users scratching their heads:

Everything seems fine as is, so why would I update my theme?

Well, we have a couple of solid reasons why:

Security Is Your No. 1 Reason

Okay, let’s start with the most important reason to keep things up to date – security.  

Being open-source software, WordPress attracts a lot of users and developers looking to extend its functionality. However, plenty of hackers will try and take advantage of its security vulnerabilities, too.

That’s why regular updates – which often include critical security patches – are a must for any website owner.

To find out more about keeping your website safe and hacker-free, check out our Absolute Guide to WordPress Security!

Regular Maintenance And Bug Fixes

Again, updates exist for a reason.

It’s not like the developers got bored and decided to bother you with updating your theme because they have nothing else to do.

It’s a matter of regular maintenance:

Each update will include data actualization and necessary bug fixes that will increase your website’s reliability and keep things running smoothly.

Improvements And Innovations

The best thing about running regular updates is that they allow your website to put improvements and innovations to good use – as soon as they’re available.

As long as you keep things up to date, you can be sure you’re not missing out on any cool new features.

Plus, it could improve your page loading times – a vital part of your website’s performance, as far as SEO is concerned.

Bonus Tip:

Aim to run both WordPress and theme, as well as plugin updates chronologically and on a monthly basis. That way, they’ll stay compatible with each other – and, in turn, ensure that everything on your website runs smoothly.

How To Update WordPress Theme: Two Easy Ways To Do It

Users are often hesitant about updating their WordPress themes – even with the benefits in mind – due to the fear of losing modifications and having to start from scratch.

So, before we go any further, we’d like to take a moment to discuss the scenarios in which you can update default WordPress themes – also known as “core themes” – safely.

  • If you created a child theme before making any modifications
  • If you haven’t modified the core theme files in any way, shape or form
  • If you have default themes installed, but none of them is active

Bonus Tip:

Delete themes you’re not using. These things start piling up fast, and if they’re sitting there, collecting dust, it makes sense to get rid of them. At least you won’t have to update them every time WordPress comes out with a new release!

Okay, now that we’ve got that covered, let’s see how to update WordPress theme – the easy way!

Method #1: Automatic Updates Via WordPress Admin Panel

Since our goal isn’t to overwhelm you with a bunch of new information, we chose to save the more complicated stuff for later.

Better to ease into it, right?

So, here’s the simplest – and fastest – way to update your WordPress theme.

Seriously, though, it only takes a minute – and that’s with a slow internet connection!

  • Login to your WordPress dashboard and go to the “Appearance” section of the sidebar.
  • Select “Themes” to see a preview of what you have installed. Keep in mind that any theme with an available update, whether it’s active or not, will have the same update alert banner.
  • Now, locate and select the active one – the theme you’re currently using – and click on the “Update Now” button.

There’s another handy way to do this, especially if you’re updating several WordPress themes at a time:

  • Again, login to your dashboard.
  • You’ll notice a red circle there, showing you the total number of available updates, be it for themes, plugins, or new WordPress releases.
  • Click on the “Updates” section to see more details.
  • Themes with available updates will all be listed here, so select the ones you wish to update and click on “Update Now.”

Sounds easy enough, right?

But – there’s always a “but” – here comes the kicker:

With automatic updates, there’s a risk of unintentionally over-writing your customized theme.

Sure, it’s one of those worst case scenarios, but it still happens. And if you already spent countless hours making sure everything is perfect and “up to standard,” why risk losing all your hard work with one update?

That’s why we have another method in store for you – so keep on reading!

Bonus Tip:

There’s a neat little trick we’ve picked up along the way that allows you to set your theme updates on autopilot. And yes, we’re willing to share it with you.

Interested in learning more?

Open the wp-config.php file and add the following filter to it (feel free to copy it from here):

{code type=”php}

add_filter( ‘auto_update_theme’, ‘__return_true’ );


That’s it! If you’re using a theme from their official directory, WordPress will now take care of things for you!

Method #2: Manual Updates Via FTP

Now, as we pointed out earlier, so-called “background” updates only work if your theme came from the WordPress’ native repository.

However, if you’re using a premium theme, you’re not going to have any luck with the auto-update approach explained in Method #1.

Don’t worry, though! It’s not the end of the world.

Now, we should probably warn you that this method does require some – although minimal – knowledge of using FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to, as the name suggests, transfer files.

It’s not overly complicated, though, and we’ll do our best to break it down into easy-to-follow steps for you.

Okay, ready?

Here’s what you should do:

  • First, download the newest version of the theme you’re using. Log in to your account on the theme’s website – the one where you initially purchased your premium theme – and download the .zip file from there.
  • Once it’s downloaded, unzip the file and take a peek inside. You should find a folder named after the theme. That’s where you’ll see the theme files; the one containing the style.css file is your root folder.
  • Next, download your current WordPress theme, too. You can’t do that from your WordPress dashboard – use FTP software, instead. Our vote goes to FileZilla!

Now that you have both the current and the updated version of your theme locate the customizations you made to the former and transfer them to the latter.

Assuming you can’t remember the changes you made, you should download comparison software to do the job for you – WinMerge for Windows, and Kaleidoscope for Mac. Both these tools are free and, most importantly, easy to use!

Now, the following steps are vital for preserving previous customizations, so pay close attention:

  • In your comparison tool, open both themes you previously downloaded, and you’ll get full insight into their content – including directories, new files, and such.
  • To locate your customizations, right-click on the file and select the “Compare” option. The differences will be easy to spot.
  • Copy these changes to the updated version of your theme.
  • Repeat the last two steps for every file and folder listed in your comparison tool to make sure you don’t miss anything important.

Okay, stay with us, we’re almost done!

  • Use FTP to upload your new, updated theme directory to WordPress – “drag and drop” the folder into the FTP program and upload it to the desired destination.
  • The program will warn you that there’s an existing file with the same name, at which point you have to choose the “Overwrite” (or “Replace All”) option.
  • Make yourself a cup of coffee while you wait for your theme to upload!

Congratulations, you’ve successfully updated your WordPress theme without losing any customizations!

Now, enjoy your cup of coffee – you deserved it!

Bonus Tip:

Once you update your theme, remember to clear both website and browser cache, as it will prevent any possible errors from occurring.

Final Thoughts On Updating WordPress Themes  

Now that you know how to update WordPress theme don’t be a website owner that underestimates the importance of regular updates and ends up with a crashed website.

Don’t be that guy.

By ignoring updates, you’re not only putting your website at risk – but your visitors, too! And that’s a huge no-no if you wish to build a serious and respectable business.

If you’re still struggling with updating your WordPress theme, don’t be shy – let us know in the comments, and we’ll do our best to help you out!