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04Oct2021

10 things you can do today to make certain you can update your Joomla! website

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346 hits Updated: 04 October 2021 Blog
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Install Joomla! the right way

Disable the FTP layer

Check the PHP environment

Enable the System - Joomla! Notification plugin

Update Sites

Disinfect the website

Backup the website

Use a separate site for testing

Keep those third-party extensions up-to-date

Use the Joomla! Update component

Joomla! is a popular way for people to build their websites: it’s easy to installI produced a video tutorial a few years ago that shows how to create a basic Joomla! website in under 15 minutes. and it’s easy to maintain.  So why do people have trouble maintaining their Joomla! websites?

In a previous article, we discussed the importance of having a maintenance strategy so that you won’t wake up up one day to see months or years of hard work suddenly disappear with inexplicable HTTP error messages or remnants of your craft indistinguishable from a jig-saw puzzle with half the pieces missing.  This article contains the top ten things that you can do today to make sure you will be able to maintain your Joomla! websites for many more months or years to come.

1.  Create your Joomla website the right way

Everyone knows how to create a website using Joomla, right?  If that were true then we would not see thousands of people creating their websites in ways that are not recommended; we would not see thousands of people creating their websites and seek help when it comes time to updating them.  A significant cause in these problems stems from people using so-called “quick installations”Your webhosting provider may offer you the ability to create your Joomla website using scripted packages powered by Softaculous, Fantastico, Installatron or SimpleScripts.  If your website offers these packages (e.g. via cPanel or Plesk) then you should understand that the websites you create with them are not the genuine Joomla! product. or “demo packages”Many third-party template developers often create packages that demonstrate their products; some of these packages include a built-in version of Joomla!  These packages are for demonstration purposes only; they should not be used if you are creating a website for actual business purposes..  The big problem with these packages is that you don’t know what is inside them:  they may contain references to extra “features” that are not included as part of the package; they may be missing important core Joomla functionality; in general, they are not the latest version of Joomla supported by the developers.  If you see references to Softaculous, Fantastico, Installatron or SimpleScripts then take note:  (a) you have been warned; (b) don’t rely on them; (c) you will probably have to rebuild your websites again when things don’t work.

It takes less than 10 minutes to install Joomla if you follow the basic steps:

  1. Download the latest version of the Joomla installation package from https://downloads.joomla.org/cms.
  2. Create a folder on your webhost and upload the installation package there.
  3. Extract the files within that folder, point your browser to the folder and the installation procedure will automatically begin.

2.  Disable the FTP layer settings

Years ago, before many webhosting providers understood how to properly configure their systems to allow their customers to maintain their own web assets, it was sometimes necessary to workaround some hosting problems by having to configure the settings for System » Global Configuration » Server » FTP Settings.  My advice is to disable the FTP Layer The FTP Layer setting does not exist in J! 4.0. setting.  If it is needed, edit the file configuration.php (at around line 28)

public $ftp_enable = '0';

While we’re discussing “advice” from webhosting providers:

I was reading this article teaching how to enable SSL on Joomla sites, it mentions that after enabling SSL, $live_site variable in configuration.php file should be set to "https://mysite.com".  I wonder if this is necessary.  On all of my production site, this variable is set to an empty string.  So how is this variable being used in the application life cycle and is it necessary to explicitly set it?forum user, Joomla Forum, 19-Oct-2020

Unless you are running Joomla in a non-vHost environment this setting is totally unnecessary and will only create problems.  If needed, edit the file configuration.php (at around line 39)

public $live_site = '';

3.  PHP Environment settings

In order to update Joomla it is necessary to have a connection to the internet and it’s necessary that your webhost has sufficient resources to upload the upgrade package on your website.  The J! 3.x update packages can be fairly large (up to 12 MB) and the J! 4 update packages can be twice as large.  It is typical in many webhosting environments to have some PHP settings wrongly configured.  These settings are

  • Max. Upload Size:  this should be at least 32 M
  • Max. POST Size:  this should be no less than Max. Upload Size and, preferably, double that value
  • allow_url_fopen:  this should be enabledSome webhosting providers strongly advise against enabling the allow_url_fopen directive because they consider it a security risk.  On the other hand, if this is not enabled, you won’t be able to update from one version of J! to another; if the webhosting provider restricts you from enabling allow_url_fopen then it’s probably time to find another webhosting provider who will let you do this.
  • cURL:  must be installed and enabled.

For a comprehensive list of additional PHP environmental settings used with Joomla, please see  Optional Technical Requirements for J! 3.x or Optional Technical Requirements for J! 4.x (whichever applies to your particular circumstances).  Note that some of these “optional” requirements are actually needed!

4.  Stay informed:  new Joomla updates are released, on average, every two months

Some people do not like to be pressured into updating their software.  No one is pressuring you to do anything; it’s your business how you run your business but, on the other hand, websites don’t take care of themselves, do they?  Someone has to check to make sure that everything is running well, that software is up-to-date and that your customers are happy with the quality of service you are delivering.

Stay informed.  Don’t make excuses for not keeping your software up-to-date. 

  1. Go to Extensions » Plugins
  2. Find System - Joomla! Update Notification and enable it.
The easiest way to stop the emails is to update your sitesBrian Teeman, Joomla Forum, 22-Aug-2017

5.  Update Sites

We have discussed before some of the problems people have with updating their version of Joomla.  One of the most common complaints that I read (and one of the easiest problems to fix) could be exemplified by this question asked on the Joomla Forum:

I don’t see any new versions available.   The current version is 3.9.13 and I believe the latest version is 3.9.15.forum user, , Joomla Forum, 29-Jan-2020

This is a really easy one to fix!See Update Sites turn themselves off.

  1. Go to Extensions » Manage » Update Sites
  2. Click the Rebuild button
  3. Go to Extensions » Manage » Install
  4. Click the Clear Cache button
  5. Go to Components » Joomla! Update
  6. Click the Check for Updates button.

You should now see the latest version available for Joomla!

6.  Disinfect your website

It really doesn’t matter how much attention you put into setting up the right hosting environment for your Joomla website if you can’t login to it or if it behaves erratically or unpredictably.  It’s possible that your website has been contaminated by malware, by server malfunction or because it has been hacked.  It’s a very good idea to scan your website for viruses or other contaminants and fix those before you try to update your website.  If your website has been contaminated then updating the software won’t magically remove the contaminant.  You should make it a routine habit to check your website at least once a month and stay alert to the likelihood that something unexpected will happen.

7.  Backup your website

You wouldn’t believe the number of times I hear the same story:  people changed something (or something just “happened”), their website is in ruins and they can’t do anything and they don’t have a recent backup—in some cases they don’t have any backup—and they expect some wizard will wave a magic wand and fix things.  In the grand scheme of things, the collapse of someone’s hobby website is actually insignificant.  What if a system failure resulted in the loss of millions of dollars or jeopardised people’s safety?  And what if there was no backup plan?

Never consign your “backup plan” to your webhosting provider.  I’m not suggesting that you dismiss your webhosting provider for incompetence but, unless you are paying them a premium to manage your backups for you, you can only hope that your webhosting provider may be able to restore your website to full operation in the event of a disaster.  I make it a practice to backup my websites at least once every month—sometimes more frequently than that—and copy the backup to my PC at home.  That way I have the means to restore the website anywhere.  If you don’t know how to backup your Joomla website then learn; the method most favoured by experienced Joomla users is Akeeba Backup.

8.  Have a test site

This should be another no-brainer.  Always have at least one site just for testing.  I have several test sites.  Before you try to update Joomla on your main business website, test the update on another site.  Also, it’s probably a good idea to go to the Joomla Forum after a new release of Joomla has been announced and look at what other people are saying about it.  Even if your own tests don’t reveal any problems, it’s a good idea to see if other people have found errors that could affect you.  I usually wait a day or two after a new release of Joomla has been made, see what other people are saying and run my own tests before I update my production websites.

9.  Make sure your extensions are up to date

Third-party extensions sometimes interfere with your ability to update Joomla software.  Again, wouldn’t believe the number how many times people complain about problems they’re having trying to update Joomla and, when they provide a list of the software they’ve installedTo obtain a list of software you are running on your website, I recommend the Forum Post Assistant tool. they are still using extensions that they haven’t updated in years.  I have a simple rule:  “use it or lose it”.  If you are still using software that was developed several years ago (and you haven’t updated it) then you’re inviting trouble.  Some software is surprisingly enduring:  it can last forever.  Most software products have a finite life-span (about two years) before they need to be replaced.

No software product is worth protecting at all costs (even if the product cost nothing in the first place); software is disposable technology.  You use it to get a job done and, when the job’s done, you probably don’t need it anymore.  Always remember, new, better software is being written every day.

10.  Update Joomla the right way

There is only one way to update Joomla and that is to use the Joomla! Update componentIn some very old versions of J! the update was done using the Extension Manager.  This method was abolished in 2014.  In even older versions of J! (going back to J! 1.x) the update was done by replacing the files.  This method is obsolete.  In short, there is only one method that reliably updates J! websites and that is use Joomla! Update component..  Take a look at this example where a website owner made the mistake of trying to use some home-grown “alternative”:

In the past I used to update my joomla sites by manual update [ever since since Joomla ... [removed the ability to update the core product with the Extenstion Manager].  Everything worked fine until 3.7.5 version, I did this a hundred times on many sites without any issue.  Now, for the first time, I'm trying to manually update a 3.7.5 website to a 3.8.3 using the ... Joomla! 3.8.3 Upgrade Package (.zip) - "This package is for performing updates from Joomla! 2.5 and previous 3.x releases to 3.8.3.".  As usual, I unpack the .zip into the root and then nothing more, I can't login into admin panel and I get "Error 500 Failed to start application", and of course the website is not working …forum user, , Joomla Forum, 21-Dec-2017

There is no “manual update” method for J!Please don’t tell me that such a method exists because you read it on the “official” J! documentation website—Updating Joomla (Manual Method)—because that article was written for a different era and does not apply today.  There is the Joomla! Update component or, if you cannot use that, give the job to someone else who knows what they’re doing.  The main reasons why people cannot use the Joomla! Update component are because of the factors we’ve discussed in this article.

Just as there is no “manual update” method for J! there is also no built-in “roll-back” or “downgrade” mechanism, either.  If you update your website and you decide you don’t like it then the recommended cure is to (a) delete the files, (b) DROP the tables in the database, and (c) re-build the website using the backup you made before you attempted the update.  I read recently on the Joomla forum where someone claimed to have discovered a “Joomla downgrade” solution; there’s more to the story that we haven’t been told.

It is like building a house:  if you have good foundations, the house will last a lifetime.  If you spend time maintaining the building, it will not come crashing around you.  If your website is important to you, take out a bit of insurance:  create it the right way (not just the “quickest” way); strengthen the foundations; perform regular housekeeping; backup the site regularly; update the software.

The ten tips I’ve listed above are not a complete list of everything; these are just some of the more common causes of why people encounter difficulties.  Perhaps, however, the biggest hurdle that people have to overcome is procrastination!  I sketched the outline for this article in February this year, some eight months ago, and it’s only because I kept putting it off that I haven’t finished it until today.  Procrastination is often the main reason why people don’t update their wesbites regularly.

If you have any other useful tips to help make certain you can update your Joomla! websites, I would love to hear from you.

About the author:

is a website hobbyist specialising in Joomla, a former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years, and an active contributor on The Joomla Forum™. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.


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