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What is WordPress?

WordPress is an open-source content management system that lets anyone build their own custom website. It is free to use for any purpose and is licensed under the GPLv2 license. Over 34% of all websites are built with WordPress making it an extremely popular platform.

What is Open Source Software?

Open Source means anyone and everyone is free to inspect, modify and use the software code. WordPress(.org) is open-source so anyone who wants can download a copy of it and do whatever they want with it. Full definition here: opensource.org

Components of a WordPress Website

There are three basic parts of a WordPress website: the WordPress core, WordPress themes, and WordPress plugins.

WordPress Core
The WordPress core is all of the code that makes up the WordPress platform. It is managed by Automattic.

Automattic also develops a variety of themes and plugins.

WordPress Themes
A theme is a piece of software you install in the WordPress core that defines the visual appearance of the website. Although Automattic does create some themes, the majority of WordPress themes are developed and maintained by independent developers and companies.

WordPress Plugins
A plugin is a piece of software that adds functionality and/or features to the website. Similar to themes, Automattic also creates plugins but the majority of plugins are built and maintained by independent developers and companies.

About WordPress Developer Updates

WordPress Core Updates
Every couple of months, WordPress releases a core update. The most common reasons for the update is to address security issues, fix bugs in the code and add new features to WordPress. The developers who manage WordPress are continually updating and improving the core so this means it is continually evolving.

WordPress Theme and Plugin Updates
WordPress doesn’t place any requirements on independent developers of themes and plugins to keep them updated. Typically, developers of high-quality themes and plugins will release their updates on pace with WordPress but not all developers do.

The Technology Behind WordPress

WordPress is written in a programming language called PHP and requires a database system called MySQL. Similar to the WordPress core, PHP and MySQL are being updated on a regular basis so they too are slowly evolving over time. Most WordPress sites are also running other technologies like jQuery and JavaScript, but for the sake of simplicity, I will only focus on PHP and MySQL.

Why It is so Important to Update WordPress?

Security
Approximately 34% of all websites on the internet are built with WordPress making it extremely popular. The fact that it’s so popular and that it’s open-source makes it a huge target for data thieves and malicious hackers. Every time a hacker creates a new exploit in the WordPress core, WordPress developers must develop a fix for the exploit and release an update. Hackers know this so they will typically target websites that have an out of date theme, plugin or WordPress core. They are easily able to see the version of any WordPress website and they can single them out.

Performance
WordPress developers are always looking for ways to make it more efficient and faster. The speed of a website has a huge impact on search engine rankings so if you are at all concerned with improving your SEO it is very important to keep everything up to date.

Bug Fixes
WordPress does extensive testing on their code before they make a release but due to the complexity of the software, bugs are always going to slip through. Updates that fix bugs ensure that your website users are exposed to the best user experience possible.

Conclusion

We have identified at least 5 independent “moving parts” that make up a fully functioning WordPress website: The WordPress core, WordPress themes, WordPress plugins, the PHP programming language, and the MySQL database. So a WordPress website consists of 5 “moving parts”, each of which are being maintained and updated by companies and developers who are all working at their own pace and on their own terms. They are generally all moving forward at an even pace so if you fail to keep up with all of these updates, your website is going to be left behind.

What Can Happen if I Don’t Update My WordPress Website?

  • Loss of customer and/or personal data
  • Website crash
  • A decrease in speed and performance
  • Get blacklisted by Google
  • SEO problems
  • Malware infection
  • Website hijack

Tyler Norquist

Hailing from Eagle Creek, Oregon, Tyler moved to Arizona in 2010 to study computer science, digital media and graphic design at Arizona State University. Tyler is a whiz at building all kinds of websites, particularly e-commerce sites, which he’s been doing for more than nine years. His more notable clients have included Streets of New York and the Phoenix Art Museum. When he isn’t making the Internet a more enjoyable place, Tyler can be found snowboarding, working on old cars or spending time with his wife, two kids and three dogs.