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A Better, Faster Way to Upgrade Themes

Update (2011-07-06): The plugin has been upgraded to handle upgrades from Builder 2.8 to Builder 3.0. It is also now available on WordPress Extend, the official WordPress plugin repository. You can find the page for the plugin here. If you already have the plugin installed, you may be prompted to automatically upgrade since it is now on the repository.

Update (2010-01-14): Just as this plugin makes theme upgrades simple and fast, it now does the same for plugins. Simply go to Plugins > Add New > Upload to upgrade existing plugins via a simple zip file upload. Make sure that you are running the 0.0.2+ version to get this new feature. Additionally, this new version includes support for 2.8 versions of WordPress.

Theme upgrades have always been a big support issue here at iThemes. Something that should be easy, has always been a technical task prone to error.

With the release of Builder, we’ve seen just how big of an issue this truly is. On average, we are pushing out at least one new feature or bug fix version a day. This means that, more than ever, our users want to be able to easily upgrade their theme.

I’d like to announce that what was once a huge chore is now a simple task thanks to a plugin being released today. The plugin is called Easy Theme Upgrades, and I coded it specifically to make the lives of our users easier. The plugin is hosted on WordPress Extend. You can find more information on the plugin’s WordPress Extend page.

After installing and activating the plugin, follow these steps to upgrade your theme:

  1. Download the latest zip file for your theme. You can always download the latest version of any themes you’ve purchased on your member page.
  2. Log into your WordPress site.
  3. Go to Appearance > Add New Themes and click the Upload tab at the top of the page.
  4. Select the zip file with the new theme version to install.
  5. Select “Yes” from the “Upgrade existing theme?” option.
  6. Click “Install Now”.

Your previous theme version files will automatically be stored in a zip file and added to your Media Library for easy download. This way, any customizations that you may have made will not be lost.

Note that you will need to ensure that WordPress (technically your webserver) has write privileges to both the wp-content/themes directory and to the directory to be replaced. If you installed the theme via the Add New Themes > Upload page, the plugin will be able to upgrade the theme.

Happy upgrading. :)


  1. Just installed the plugin on my BlueHost account. Plugin installed and activated fine, but when I tried to update the Builder theme, I got the following error message:

    Unable to make a backup of the existing theme. Will not proceed with the upgrade.

    I’m assuming this is probably a host server issue requiring a CHMOD change or something. Any ideas?

  2. Awesome idea for a plugin. Thanks for providing it to everyone. While upgrading is no biggie to us “techy-people,” not so much for newbies, business people, and others whose focus isn’t on the tech, but on the content.

    I will definitely begin testing this right away. Thanks!

  3. Just wanted to update anyone who might be reading the comments. The problem I was experiencing was due to my hosting company, BlueHost, having updated MySQL to version 5.1. I was still running WordPress 2.8.6 due to a possible incompatibility with another plugin. The host’s upgrade (unknown to me) apparently caused a number of problems with the version of WordPress I was running.

    Chris was great following up with me (despite everything else on his plate). Ultimately, the solution was updating WordPress using SimpleScripts through the CPanel (which has the benefit of being able to roll-back in case something goes wrong; something you can’t do if you just upgrade through the WordPress admin panel). Once WordPress was upgraded, the Easy Themes Upgrade plugin (and everything else) worked as expected again. Nothing wrong with the plugin. It seems to work just fine on an updated installation on BlueHost.

    Thanks to Chris for a great plugin and for quick support! Hope this helps anyone else who might experience a similar problem.

  4. I don’t see the Easy Theme Upgrades plugin listed on my members page. Am I missing it or is this page the only place to get it?

  5. Used this plugin to upgrade Builder on my local server to the newest version and it worked flawlessly. I also confirmed that the backed up files preserved my changes and it did. This should calm the fears that upgrading a theme will remove the hacked bits and pieces forever when instead, they will just be archived. Good work Chris.

  6. I have the Essence theme – just uploaded the Easy Theme and Plugin update and it didnt’ work for me. Here’s what it said:

    Unpacking the package.

    Installing the theme.

    Destination folder already exists. /home/ewor2380/public_html/wp-content/themes/Essence-Golden/

    Theme Install Failed.

    Anyone have any suggestions?

  7. Hate to sound stupid here, but I have Builder and have used the Foundation – Blank child theme and Style Manager Plug in to create the look of my site. If I upgrade to both the newest versions of Builder and the child theme ( currently running 2.74 and 1.03 respectively) the look I created will be preserved and the Foundation-Blank theme won’t revert back to the starting point right?

    • Hi Suzanne,
      Upgrading Builder core will not erase customizations you have made to your Child theme. Updating the child theme, however, will overwrite any changes.
      Generally it’s not necessary to update your child theme, unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.
      If you do want to update the child theme, we recommend you make a full backup (with BackupBuddy of course! :) ) as well as make a copy of your stylesheet and any changes you’ve applied to the child theme.

      Of course, before you backup Builder, make sure you read the documentation: http://ithemes.com/codex/page/Builder_Documentation#How_to_upgrade_Builder.

      • I have Builder 2.3.8. Should I upgrade using this plugin? I bought it a year ago and haven’t done much with it until now.

        Where do I find all these plugins for Builder everyone’s talking about? I feel like there is a whole ‘nother world just beyond my reach…..Builder was supposed to help me do all the things I want without knowing code, but so far I have been very frustrated.

        Perhaps an upgrade and finding some plugins will empower me to do more with this theme that is supposed to be very powerful.

        The sites that were showcased before I bought Builder were beautiful – I can’t figure out how to eliminate space between the modules, or change menu color, etc. Is that done with plugins or do I have to know code for that?

        Sorry to get off topic there – I am hoping the upgrade will open more doors…

  8. Just did an iRealEstate Theme upgrade using the Easy Theme Upgrades plugin but there are some customized aspects that did not come through correctly. Do I need to unzip the previous theme and pull out the style.css file and replace the one on the site in the new location? Original site is:


    site with upgraded theme is:


    P.S. The missing menu items in the NavBar did not come from the upgrade of the theme. It was like that after I imported using BackupBuddy.

  9. I tried this, and it failed due to inability to delete a folder, then hosed my entire site — both front end and back end are blank white. Trying to fix things through a shell account now, but have no idea what it broke. Been replacing theme folders, htaccess, database settings… Site is completely hosed. Help?

    • Whenever the site is white like that, it means that there is a fatal PHP error and that your site isn’t configured to display errors.

      The first thing to try is manually deleting the folder for the plugin or theme that you were trying to upgrade. Since this is likely to cause of the fatal error, deleting the code could very likely bring your site back to life.

      If that doesn’t work, you should enable WP_DEBUG on your site so that you can see the error message. The details in the error message helps you find out what the cause of the error is as it will point to the specific file that is causing the site to fail.



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