After 11 Years, Users Will Be Able to Update Themes and Plugins via a ZIP File

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.

How Updating via ZIP Works

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.

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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17 responses to “After 11 Years, Users Will Be Able to Update Themes and Plugins via a ZIP File”

  1. Finally!!!! We have been using Chris plugin for years… It saved us so many hours without going to SFTP, remove folder or rename, upload new one, rename, and delete the old one. Happy to see this feature coming and well design too. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I wonder if this will work if this will still work if the plugin folder is left empty after certain hosts have botched an auto-update?

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  3. This “miscellaneous change” caught my eye last night when checking out the notes for 5.5 Beta 1. “Plugins and themes can now be updated by uploading a ZIP file.” It makes sense to me and definitely seems like a long overdue feature.

    It’ll be interesting to see how well automatic theme and plugin updates work out for the community. It sounds risky to advise people to ‘set it and forget it.’ Will ‘plugin and theme updates’ still be a key feature for maintenance plans?

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  4. I maintain a private Composer repository for premium plugins and themes using the SatisPress WordPress plugin. This is going to be a massive help with performing those updates and helping to pass the maintenance torch on to co-workers.

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  5. It’s about FREAKING time! I cannot count how many times I’ve requested this capability….which was always shrugged off. I’ve used Joomla for over 12 years and this CMS has always had that capability.

    I just downloaded the beta 5.5 to my local XAMPP, so I will be testing this.

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  6. About time. It’s really sad that necessary tickets such as this are left to rot in trac for so many years.

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  7. Updating a plugin is really painful, using this feature make it super easy. You don’t need to deactivate and delete the installed plugin to update with another new version of the same custom plugin. Just upload it via the regular way you install, this feature will manage rest. It takes much less time.

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  8. I’m just curious. I’m not a technical guy. Why do we need to update things via a zip file?

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    • Not everyone needs to. If you’re using a plugin from the WordPress plugin directory, you can click a button to update or enabled auto-updates (coming in WP 5.5). However, not all plugins are available through the plugin directory. For those, there are various other ways that users might update. Sometimes, plugin authors offer one-click or auto-updates. Sometimes, users are left up to their own devices, such as using FTP. Then, there are times when developers are working with clients without server or FTP access. The ability to upload via ZIP simplifies things where a more technical route may be necessary.

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  9. It’s a MUST-HAVE feature because it saves tons of times for some manual plugin update processes, especially for paid plugins.

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  10. What’s funny is that is what we have been doing for years through ManageWP Orion, now owned by GoDaddy. Glad to see WordPress finally incorporate it.

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  11. To update an installed plugin or theme by uploading a ZIP file is not such a big deal. I am updating 15 different WordPress websites on a regular basis. I am dealing with hundreds of plugins and over a dozen themes. Only the “revslider” plugin requires replacement. In a case like this I would prefer Filezilla. It is much faster than uploading a ZIP file.

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  12. Very happy to see this feature be shipped.
    And very happy to contribute and see how much people joined to help with UI, UX, code review… #opensourcerules

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