The importance of upgrading Magento stores

The importance of upgrading Magento stores

In this post, we talk about just how important it is to keep your eCommerce store up to date and cover everything from why you should upgrade Magento, how easy it is to do so, and what happens if you don't upgrade.


What happens if I don't upgrade my store?


Security patches


If you don't upgrade your store to the latest Magento version, what happens is - nothing. Yes, nothing at all will happen. But that's the point because the older version of Magento you are running will be lacking in more and more of the security updates the latest version has. So by not upgrading, you leave your store vulnerable to security attacks. The most important aspect is a secure checkout process for your customer. Often these security updates are considered highly important and represent a severe security issue should they be exploited. While Magento of course doesn't publish precisely what each security issue is or how to exploit it, it's nevertheless a good idea to upgrade sooner rather than later.


Magento latest version's new features


Outside of this, you will, of course, be missing out on any functionality enhancements and new features in upgraded versions. Whether you want to use this extra functionality for your Magento website is a business decision. Rest assured, Magento always does its best to develop changes in a way where things will continue working the way they were without changes in areas that have been affected. This is great as it means you don't introduce the need for what would otherwise be unnecessary development work to upgrade an e-commerce store.


Why should I keep my Magento store up to date?


Your store's security is the most significant reason you should upgrade (discussed above), but there are others. You may remember with M1; it was pretty typical to see security only patches so you could secure your M1 store without implementing any of the other changes from a new version (such as functionality changes and new features). This is not generally the case with M2. When a security-only patch is released, it's typically only compatible with one version behind the most recent at the time of release. However, as discussed below, upgrade issues are far less prevalent in Magento 2 due to the much-improved tools Magento supply to keep changes and new functionality very light touch on the core codebase. So another reason to upgrade is to get the latest features added by the latest release.


Another reason and an important one is to ensure you are keeping your upgrade path clean and easy. As you get further behind in the version you are running, the sum total of the changes in core functionality increases, which means that more testing is required across more areas of the store before the new software version can be deployed to production.


Deploying changes little and often is better than deploying larger changes irregularly. This is simply because the more code that differs, the greater the chance for bugs to be introduced, which could have been missed in testing. This can still be the case with quality development work and is often just the nature of coding complex systems like Magento. To minimise code changes per deployment, and therefore potential bugs, deploying little and often is a good idea.


It's worth remembering that you will need to update each 3rd party extension and check if it's still compatible with the latest version.


How easy is the upgrade process?


You might be used to the old way of upgrading an M1 store, which overwrites many files with the new upgraded ones. So it was even possible for someone with little to no Magento development skills to FTP onto the server and just drop all the upgraded files onto the server and upgrade the store. Yeah, as if it was ever that simple, and copying a bunch of files over the top of the existing ones is never the right way to do it. And FTP, urghh. Sure it has its place, but an application like this is certainly not one of them!


Magento upgrade process tips


Anyway, to get back on track, upgrading a Magento 1 store was on the surface a fairly straightforward thing, but the reality was that though M1 has methods to override core behaviour and add new behaviour in a way that should mean upgrades are safe and easy, in all the most simple of stores, an upgrade rarely happened without issue.


You'll be glad to know that the tools Magento 2 offer to override core and add new behaviour far outstrip that of Magento 1 and make it a much safer and easier task for a Magento 2 upgrade. However, this does come with one caveat. Just like with M1, it is very possible to develop Magento 2 badly. So it's of utmost importance to find a Magento expert who has the skills and experience you need and who follows best development practices. If you don't do this and instead, for instance, opt for the cheapest developer you can find, you are just storing up problems for yourself in the future.


When developing Magento, one principle should be paramount - are these changes going to compromise the store upgrade path? There should be an obligation on both sides of the client and the developer / Magento team relationship to protect the store upgrade path. The client should stick as closely to the core functionality as practically possible, only moving away if it's an essential business requirement. At the same time, the developer should inform the client if they feel like a requested change could represent an issue further down the line.


Magento is fantastic software and complex software, and it should constantly be developed so that it is possible to upgrade the store to the latest version with minimal fuss. If you find yourself having frequent upgrading issues, you might find the store has not been developed as well as it could be.


Don't take this to mean, however, that Magento can't/shouldn't be highly customised if needed. Where entirely new functionality is involved that doesn't really touch core functionality, upgrading is generally safe. Here I'm talking about changes that fundamentally alter core functionality, and it's these kinds of changes that can potentially increase the risk of upgrading a store.


Magento migration service


So, how easy is it in actual practical terms to upgrade an M2 store? Very easy due to the use of Composer. Composer is what is called a dependency manager for PHP. It allows you to automatically install many different PHP packages that work together to form the Magento application while ensuring that they are compatible. It's also possible to add more packages to this list which is the primary way to install a 3rd party extension. The dependency manager will tell you if you are attempting to install a combination of packages where there is an incompatibility and won't allow you to do it. So you can be sure that if the Composer allows you to install something, it should be compatible with other setup packages.


Our final thoughts…


Finally, the first thing you should do before upgrading is to review the Magento version's release notes. The release notes are always in-depth and cover all areas where changes have taken place. By checking them, the developer can get an idea of any areas where changes will need additional testing and possible Magento development work.


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