Webmasters with sites that use blog software and content management systems ("CMS") often find that they have to update their software fairly frequently, sometimes as frequently as once a month. The developers of these software normally release a new update when they fix security holes or other bugs, and if you don't update your system, your site may become vulnerable to people exploiting those holes. Updating your software can be a tedious and time-consuming affair, particularly if you have customized the scripts on your site. This article helps you to minimize the amount of time you need for upgrading your WordPress installation.
Update: this article was written when the latest version of WordPress was 2.3.3 (or something like that). The current versions of WordPress automatically update themselves. You no longer need to use this method.
Instead of uploading the entire WordPress installation set every time it is updated, look for the list of changed files from the previous version and upload only those. This list is usually placed in the WordPress codex, and has a URL like "http://codex.wordpress.org/Version_2.3.3", where 2.3.3 is the version number you're upgrading to. Hence, for example, if a new version 2.3.4 is released, you should be able to find the list of changed files at "http://codex.wordpress.org/Version_2.3.4" (without the quotes, of course).
This procedure of only uploading the changed files assumes that you have been keeping up to date with your WordPress installation. If you have not, you will need to upload not only the files listed in the latest update, but also those that were changed in all the updates since the version you've installed.
If you are one of those who modify the WordPress scripts or theme files to get some custom behaviour, then you need to see if the changed files include any that you have already modified. In such a case, you will have to add your modifications to the new versions as well.
You should always keep a list of files that you've manually modified. If you have not done so, and cannot remember which files you've hacked to get the new behaviour you want, do a file comparison between the new version and the ones you've currently installed. A number of file comparison utilities can be found on thefreecountry.com's Free File Comparison and Differencing Tools page. They are usually easier to use than using the default command line "fc" or "diff" utilities that come with your system, since they display the two files side by side, highlight the differences and make it easier for you to go directly to the modified portions.
Updating only changed files allows you a shorter and faster way to move from one version of WordPress to another. This, in turn, makes upgrading a more pleasant task, ensuring that when the next update comes, you'll be more likely to apply it immediately than to put it off till you have more time.
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