If you have been following along with me lately, you’ll have noticed a theme of my posts – they all have something to do with Firefly, one of the indisputably greatest TV series ever made. (I dare you to dispute me) And if you are not a browncoat yet, what’s keepin’ you?
Let’s talk about Kaylee and the failing catalyzer on the compression coil. If you still have not taken my recommendation to heart, and you don’t know what this is all about, let me set the stage:
When critical components fail
In the episode “Out of Gas” things go critical with the spaceship Serenity, and it’s all caused by a compression coil that breaks. Without this seemingly insignificant part of the spaceship engine, everything grinds to a halt. Due to the fact that this part seems trivial in it’s function, it is not given due respect, with the exception of Kaylee, the ship’s mechanic, who fully knows and understands the workings of the spaceship.
Those who paid close attention got some foreshadowing of what was to come, in earlier episodes.
Kaylee mentioned that this crucial little part needed fixing twice before: First in the pilot episode “Serenity”, when she asked Captain Mal to buy a new compression coil for the engine. In the episode “The Train Job”, it comes up again, when she complains that “somebody won’t replace that crappy compression coil”.
When Kaylee talks about the compression coil in the pilot episode “Serenity”, she refers to it as a “nothing part, till you don’t got one”. Later, after the coil has already failed, and the ship is floating vulnerable in space, Mal actually echoes her, saying about the compression coil that: “It’s nothing til you don’t got one. Then it appears to be everything”.
It is indeed “everything”, because without it, there is no air to breathe for the crew, and it doesn’t get more critical than that.
By the way, for those who are paying attention, in “Ariel”, the episode that follows right after “Out of Gas”, Wash can be seen finding a catalyzer in the trash-yards and just throwing it away – lesson NOT learned.
So how in the world does this relate to your WordPress updates?
Let me count the ways:
The unfortunate reality is that the web is in many ways the wild west, just like “Firefly” is a western set in space, your website could be said to be positioned right in the firing lines of the wild west of cyber space. The outlaws that you might fall prey to want to use your website, your bit of real estate online, for their own malicious purposes, and they will often do it hidden and undercover, causing damage before you even know something is wrong.
The risk is real – but you can mitigate it.
What you can do is chose NOT to ignore the boring and trivial little parts of maintaining your website to keep it safe from attack and failure. Take this little interchange between Kaylee and Captain Mal, in regards to the compression coil:
Kaylee: I’d sure love to find a brand new compression coil for the steamer.
Mal: Yes, I’d like to be king of all Londinium and wear a shiny hat. Just get us some passengers. Them as can pay. All right?
Kaylee: If the compression coil busts, we’re drifting.
Mal: Best not bust then.
It’s kind of easy to take Mal’s approach when it comes to the security of your website. After all, everything seems to be working fine, right? You can’t see any reason to put more money or time or effort into your site than you already have. It’s there, it’s working, and if all is well, hopefully it’s generating business for you.
So you dismiss the words of caution you keep hearing about how you need to maintain and backup your site. Instead “let’s get some passengers”, or in the web world, let’s get some visitors and preferably, “them as can pay”, in other words, lets get visitors to the website that are willing to spend some money.
Kaylee’s plea of “if the compression coil busts, we’re drifting” translates in the web world to “if the site gets hacked, or goes down, without a backup in place, we’ll lose all we’ve built.
So in the world of your website, what is the compression coil? I don’t know exactly, but it might just be a good backup system. Because without a backup, you truly can lose everything. If you are relying on your host to keep you backed up, you may be out of luck. It is not always immediately apparent when your site gets hacked, and since your host generally only keeps 30 days of backups, if you discover 45 days out that something has gone wrong, that some malicious code has been inserted on your site, you are out of luck. You don’t have a “pre-infected” version to roll back to.
But the better thing yet would be to prevent the need for that backup. Having a solid backup plan is a bit like having insurance. It’s something you hope you won’t need to use. So once that backup system is in place, time to get to work on preventive maintenance. One of the most important parts of staying safe is making sure all your WordPress updates are performed in a timely manner. This includes your plugins, as well as your theme, and of course WordPress itself. The greatest threat to your site’s security is when any of those components are not up to date, leaving a hole for hackers to make their way into your site.
If you are the person in charge of your site’s health, be sure to perform updates on a regular basis.
Just be sure that before you head to your WordPress dashboard and click “update”, please make sure that you have a recently made backup available – by the way, if you need a good backup system, I highly recommend Backup Buddy.
Why check for good backup just before doing updates? Because as important as it is to keep things up to date, it is also true that on occasion, updating actually causes things that were previously working on your site to break. I wish it wasn’t so. (oh, how I wish it wasn’t so)
Nevertheless, reality can’t be avoided, it is what it is. On the one hand, you need to update to stay safe. On the other hand, updates themselves can sometimes cause problems that you need to troubleshoot and fix. Without a good backup, you will be in a real pickle.
The proper order of things
Before anything else, make sure you only install plugins you really need. Plugins are great, when used judiciously, but too many plugins can lead to conflicts between plugins, which can cause serious trouble.
You should also be sure that you chose the plugins you do use with care. Only high quality plugins should be used. Plugins that are not kept frequently updated are often not the greatest choice. If you find a plugin you think you like, but you notice that it has not been updated for 2 years, you may want to think twice.
WordPress updates: the workflow
Once you have made your choices, here is a good workflow for performing WordPress updates:
- Make sure you have a good backup (please don’t take Mal’s approach of “Best not bust then.”)
- Perform the updates
- Test the site to make sure nothing broke
- If something broke, restore from backup
- Troubleshoot and fix problem
- Update again
If you are thinking to yourself, this updating is scary… I’ll skip the WordPress updates since things are working fine right now, please think again.
Don’t skip the updates
Never, ever skip WordPress updates because you are scared of what might happen with your site after the updates. Most of the time, your updates will be trouble free. More importantly, leaving your site full of security holes is not a viable solution. Instead, just be sure to have your safety net, in the form of a solid backup plan, in place first.
Some of my clients don’t want the bother and worry, and for them I have created our website care plans, where all your WordPress updates and backups are taken care of for you. You can sleep well at night knowing that your own personal “Kaylee” is on the job, and she’s truly in charge here, so if she says the ship needs a new compression coil, you’ll know about it right away – no Captain Mal to stand in your way.
After all, why not put the mechanic in charge of deciding what maintenance or repair the ship needs? Your website is a living, breathing creation. Don’t risk depraving it of the oxygen it needs to keep serving you well.