Justin Tadlock · July 8, 2020 · 17 Comments

It has been a long road. Eleven long years. WordPress will finally allow end-users to update an installed plugin or theme by uploading a ZIP file. After over a decade, most people who had hoped to see this day have likely moved on. However, for those of us still waiting for this long sought after feature, it will land in WordPress 5.5.

A little patience never hurt anyone. Over the years, we have seen plugins crop up to handle this missing feature. There has been a clear and present need for it. Easy Theme and Plugin Upgrades by Chris Jean has over 200,000 active installs. Update Theme and Plugins from Zip File by Jeff Sherk has another 20,000. The community owes the developers of these plugins at least a small bit of thanks for taking on a job that should have long ago been a part of the core experience.

There was a time when this feature would have been one of the most important tools to land in WordPress. This was a time when one-click updates were not a thing. This was long before the idea of automatic theme and plugin updates, a feature that is also coming in WordPress 5.5, was conceived. While it is still exciting to finally get a feature that has long been on the waiting list, it is far less useful than it once was.

This missing feature has also likely at least partially spurred commercial theme and plugin shops to come up with custom solutions. This represents arguably one of the largest segments of users that still need the feature, at least for those using products from shops that do not provide one-click or automatic updates.

Updating themes via a ZIP file is a bit old-school, but there are scenarios where that is the better or preferred option for some users.

I routinely use a third-party plugin to handle this for various sites I am involved with where I might maintain a custom theme. This is particularly true if I don’t have FTP or other access to the server. It is simple to upload a ZIP file in those cases.

Despite less of a need for this feature in 2020 than in 2009, I can still use it. Judging by the download numbers of existing plugins, a couple hundred thousand others can too.

The new feature is not immediately apparent. However, it is more of a power-user feature that users will need to know about before attempting to use.

Updating a theme or plugin works in the same fashion as uploading a new one. By visiting the Add New plugin or theme screen in the WordPress admin and clicking the upload button, users can drop the ZIP file from their computer. After clicking the Install Now button, WordPress will direct users to a new screen that compares the currently-installed extension with the uploaded versions. Users can then choose between continuing with the installation or canceling.

Steps to updating an existing plugin.

After clicking the “Upload Plugin” button via the new plugin screen, the uploader currently reads, “If you have a plugin in a .zip format, you may install it by uploading it here.” There is no mention that users may upload a plugin that is already installed. A tweak to the language could help make it clear.

The comparison feature is a welcome addition, which should curb users accidentally uploading something they already have installed or rolling back when they already have a newer version active on the site. Some of the existing solutions from third-party plugins do not handle this feature, so this should make for a good upgrade.

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