The Importance of Version Control for WordPress Website Owners

May 19, 2024

The Importance of Version Control for WordPress Website Owners

In modern WordPress development, maintaining your WordPress codebase properly is critical for businesses. As the complexity of WordPress websites increases, especially with custom themes and plugins, the need for version control becomes even more crucial. This blog post explores why WordPress website owners should use or ensure their agency supports version control systems like GitHub or GitLab, the advantages they offer, and how these can be effectively integrated with cloud providers like Cloudways and WPEngine. Additionally, we will discuss how our WordPress agency leverages version control to enhance our clients’ WordPress maintenance plans especially those using WooCommerce. Initially, using version control might seem like an added complexity and cost, but in the long run, it reduces bugs and saves our clients’ budgets. This is why we prioritize using version control whenever possible when maintaining WordPress sites for our clients.

Why Use Version Control?

1. Version Tracking

Version control systems (VCS) like GitHub and GitLab provide a comprehensive history of changes made to the codebase. This means every modification, whether it’s an update to a theme or a tweak in a plugin, is tracked. This historical record is invaluable for identifying when and why a change was made, and by whom.

2. Collaboration

When multiple developers are working on a WordPress project, version control ensures streamlined collaboration. Each developer can work on separate branches (or versions), making changes and updates without interfering with the main codebase. Once the changes are verified, they can be merged into the main branch (live site code), ensuring a smooth workflow.

3. Backup and Recovery

Version control acts as a robust backup system. If something goes wrong during an update or modification, you can easily revert to a previous stable version. This capability significantly reduces downtime and ensures your website remains functional and secure.

4. Code Review and Quality Assurance

Using version control, code reviews become more manageable. Team members can review each other’s code, suggest improvements, and ensure that high coding standards are maintained. This process helps catch potential issues before they become problematic.

GitHub vs. GitLab

In the version control software space, the two biggest names are GitHub, owned by Microsoft, and GitLab, an open-source alternative. Both platforms assist WordPress developers in managing and storing version-controlled code. GitHub, the original platform, has been around for decades and is known for its ease of use and large community. GitLab, on the other hand, is more customizable and integrates well with various DevOps tools. Both systems are more than adequate for most WordPress development, and the choice often comes down to your WordPress development team’s preference. At Inspry, we use GitHub due to our familiarity with it and its seamless integration into our development process. Note that depending on the features you need, additional fees may be charged by these software providers.

Shared Advantages of Using GitHub or GitLab

1. Centralized Repository

With GitHub or GitLab, you have a centralized repository where all your code resides. This centralization means you can access your code from anywhere, collaborate with team members, and maintain a single source of truth for your WordPress code.

2. Continuous Integration and Deployment (CI/CD)

Both GitHub and GitLab support CI/CD pipelines, which automate the testing and deployment process. Whenever a new change is pushed to the repository, automated tests can run to ensure the change doesn’t break anything. If the tests pass, the change can be automatically deployed to your staging or live environment, streamlining the development workflow.

3. Issue Tracking and Project Management

GitHub and GitLab offer built-in tools for issue tracking and project management. You can create issues for bugs, feature requests, or tasks, and track their progress through various stages of development. This functionality helps in keeping the project organized and ensures that nothing falls through the cracks.

4. Security and Permissions

Both platforms provide robust security features, allowing you to control who has access to your repositories. You can set up different levels of permissions, ensuring that both internal developers and external third party developers only have access to the code that they need. This also simplifies transferring the repository code if you switch developers or agencies in the future, as the new developers can easily review and access the previous code.

Integration with Cloud Providers

Integrating version control with WordPress cloud providers like Cloudways and WPEngine is pretty standard these days and makes version control management much easier. Most WordPress managed hosting providers (including our WordPress managed hosting) support one repository per website, so the codebase for the entire website will typically be tracked together. Therefore, our team tracks custom code via themes and plugins but not necessarily core WordPress code or unmodified commercial themes or plugins. This approach prevents unnecessary slowdowns and maintains efficiency. However, your developer may have their own preferred version control setup or use different software to configure version control outside of your WordPress web host.

1. Cloudways: Cloudways offers a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solution that simplifies hosting and managing WordPress sites.

  • Git Deployment: Cloudways provides a built-in feature for Git deployment. You can connect your Git repository, deploy your code with a single click, and set up automated deployment for seamless updates.

2. WPEngine: WPEngine is a managed WordPress hosting provider known for its performance, security, and developer-friendly features.

  • Git Push: WPEngine supports Git push for deploying code changes. By connecting your Git repository, you can push changes directly to your WPEngine environment.

3. Pressable: Pressable is a managed WordPress hosting provider owned by Automattic, the company behind WordPress, known for its performance, security, and support tailored specifically for WordPress sites.

  • Git Push: Pressable supports Git push for deploying code changes. By connecting your Git repository to your Pressable environment, you can push changes directly and streamline your deployment process.

Many other WordPress managed hosts have similar Git deployment integrations available, which can make the process of configuring version control easier for your agency or WordPress development team.

Our WordPress Agency’s Approach

At our WordPress agency, we understand the critical role version control plays in maintaining high-quality, secure, and reliable WordPress websites for our clients. Here’s how we integrate version control into our premium WordPress maintenance plans:

1. Custom Themes and Plugins Management

For clients with custom themes and plugins, we use GitHub to maintain a clean and organized codebase. Every change in a custom theme or plugin is documented, and we follow a rigorous review process to ensure that all updates are beneficial and do not introduce any issues. We use a paid GitHub account, covering the additional costs ourselves, so there are no extra charges for our customers.

2. Regular Updates and Maintenance

We use version control to manage regular updates and maintenance tasks. By maintaining separate branches for different tasks, we can test changes thoroughly before merging them into the main branch. This practice helps us keep our clients’ websites up-to-date and secure without any downtime.

3. Automated Backups and Rollbacks

Our version control system acts as an automated backup solution. We can quickly revert to a previous version if any update causes unexpected issues, minimizing downtime and maintaining the integrity of our clients’ websites.

Version Control is a Must

Adopting version control systems like GitHub or GitLab is crucial for WordPress website owners, especially those with custom themes or plugins or those requiring WooCommerce maintenance due to their complexities. The benefits of version control, including version tracking, collaboration, backup and recovery, and quality assurance, are indispensable for maintaining a high-quality website. Integrating these systems with cloud providers like Cloudways and WPEngine further enhances the efficiency and reliability of website management.

At our WordPress agency, we have successfully integrated version control into our maintenance plans, providing our clients with secure, reliable, and high-performing websites. By leveraging the power of GitHub, we ensure that every change is meticulously tracked, tested, and deployed, giving our clients peace of mind and a competitive edge in the digital landscape. This approach follows best modern programming practices, and your agency or developer should be implementing version control, at least for custom themes or plugins.

Whether you are a seasoned developer or a website owner looking to improve your site’s reliability and security, implementing version control is a step in the right direction. If you’re unsure whether you’re using version control or have questions, feel free to reach out to our WordPress maintenance support team for more information.

Matt Schwartz is an accomplished entrepreneur and technology expert based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder and CEO of Inspry, a WordPress and WooCommerce web development and maintenance web agency that has been providing cutting-edge technology solutions to clients since 2011. With over a decade of experience in the industry, Matt has become a respected figure in the web development community and has helped numerous businesses achieve their digital goals.