How to Downgrade WordPress: Roll Back to a Previous Version

Most software companies stress the importance of updating, so downgrading can feel quite unnatural. But you might run into circumstances where you need to revert to a previous version of a program or operating system you’re using — WordPress is no different in this regard. 

While WordPress tries to maintain backwards compatibility between versions, you might still encounter changes in a new release that cause issues for your site. In these cases, you may need to downgrade to a previous version so that your website continues to function properly while you troubleshoot any problems or wait for a bug fix to be released. 

In this article, we’ll discuss: 

  • Reasons why you might need to downgrade WordPress
  • How to downgrade WordPress manually and with a plugin
  • How to downgrade themes and plugins manually and with a plugin
  • How to upgrade or downgrade PHP versions

Before you downgrade WordPress to a previous version

Downgrading WordPress core shouldn’t be your first step when troubleshooting problems on your website. It’s not usually WordPress that is to blame when an issue arises after an update. It’s more likely to be a theme or plugin issue. 

Since WordPress updates often contain essential security fixes as well as new features, reverting to an old version of WordPress may leave your website vulnerable to hacks or cause further compatibility issues with your themes and plugins. 

Before downgrading WordPress or doing any other troubleshooting steps, make a backup of your site. If possible, you should copy your site to a staging environment and do all your troubleshooting there so as not to further disrupt any functionality on your live site. Then, before reverting to a previous version of WordPress, try other troubleshooting methods like: 

  • Deactivating all plugins and re-activating them one by one
  • Switching to a default theme like Twenty Twenty-One
  • Making sure all your plugins and themes are up to date
  • Reviewing the Common WordPress Errors and FAQ Troubleshooting guides

As a last resort, you can then try downgrading WordPress core. Just remember that downgrading WordPress should never be a permanent fix. It should only be a temporary measure while you troubleshoot and solve any problems your site is experiencing.

Reasons to downgrade WordPress

1. A WordPress update included significant changes that are not compatible with your theme or plugins

A common reason for wanting to downgrade WordPress is that an update broke a plugin or theme feature. While most problems you’ll encounter are due to an issue with a plugin or theme rather than a problem with WordPress core, sometimes there are major changes to WordPress that can cause compatibility issues with themes or plugins. 

For instance, when Gutenberg was released, there were many plugins and themes that were not compatible right away. It took some developers months, and sometimes even years, to update their code so that it was compatible with Gutenberg. A Classic Editor plugin was released that allowed users to continue to use the old WordPress editor interface, giving developers time to catch up while still allowing WordPress users to keep their version of WordPress core up to date. 

If you encounter major changes like this in new versions of WordPress, you may need to revert back to a previous WordPress version while you wait for your theme or plugins to be updated by their authors. 

2. Your site uses a theme or plugin that has been abandoned or is infrequently updated by the author

Sometimes you may run into a situation, especially with free themes and plugins, where the software is never updated to work with the latest version of WordPress. The developer may have abandoned the project or could make updates on a very infrequent basis. Over time, the theme or plugin may become incompatible with the latest version of WordPress and begin causing problems on your site. 

If the plugin you’re using is from the WordPress.org library, you can visit the plugin page and see the last version of WordPress it was tested with. If it hasn’t been tested with the latest version, you’ll see a notification at the top of the page indicating this: 

WordPress notice about a plugin that hasn't been updated

If this is the case, you should try disabling that plugin to see if it resolves your issue. You should also check the WordPress.org forums (located on the Support tab on the plugin’s page) to see if any other users are experiencing the issue and if there are any fixes suggested. You can also post your own forum topic to reach out to the plugin or theme author to see if they’re releasing an update soon. 

forum for a WordPress plugin

If the plugin or theme hasn’t been updated over several WordPress version releases and you don’t get any solutions to your problems from the developer or other WordPress.org forum members, you can pretty safely assume it’s been abandoned. At this point, you’ll want to start looking for an alternative plugin or theme. 

If you have no choice but to stick with the problem plugin or theme in the short term, then consider downgrading WordPress.

3. You’re using an old version of PHP

PHP is the programming language that WordPress is written in and, like most software, it’s improved and upgraded over time. WordPress requires your web host to run at least PHP 7.4 at the time of this article’s publication. If you’re using anything below this, you may run into problems. Conversely, running a higher version may also lead to issues if plugins or themes haven’t added compatibility yet.

If your PHP version is below 7.4, you’ll want to update it to 7.4. If, for some reason, you’re not able to immediately update to 7.4, you may need to downgrade WordPress to a release that is compatible with your version of PHP until you’re able to update.

How to downgrade your WordPress site manually

If you’re comfortable using SFTP, then the manual method of downgrading your website is an option. However, using this method, it’s easy to make mistakes with catastrophic results, so be sure to have backups of your site before attempting this. Also, it’s best to implement your changes on a staging site first if at all possible.

If you’re new to using SFTP, read the “Using Filezilla” WordPress.org documentation for a full walkthrough of how to use SFTP to access your WordPress site. The documentation is specific to FileZilla, but the steps should be similar for other SFTP programs. 

1. Deactivate plugins and theme

It’s wise to deactivate your plugins and theme before downgrading your WordPress version. Make sure to activate one of the default WordPress themes like Twenty Twenty-One in place of your current theme. There are two ways to deactivate plugins and themes:

1) Deactivate plugins from the WordPress dashboard

  • Log in to your dashboard
  • Go to Plugins
  • Select all plugins
  • Choose Deactivate
  • Click Apply
deactivating plugins in WordPress

2) Activate the Twenty Twenty-One theme from the WordPress dashboard

  • Log in to your dashboard
  • Go to Appearance Themes
  • If you have Twenty Twenty-One installed already, you can hover over the theme and then click Activate.
activating the Twenty Twenty-One theme
  • If you don’t have Twenty Twenty-One or another default WordPress theme installed, you can click WordPress.org Themes and activate Twenty Twenty-One.

3) Deactivate plugins and themes via SFTP

If you don’t have access to your WordPress dashboard, the only choice is to manually deactivate your plugins and theme. To do this, you’ll need to log in to your website via SFTP. You’ll need your SFTP credentials for your web server and an SFTP client such as FileZilla, WinSCP, or Transmit. If you aren’t sure what your login details are, then ask your web host. 

In your SFTP program, navigate to the /wp-content/plugins directory on your server and rename it to “plugins-deactivated”. 

renaming plugin folder via SFTP

By renaming the folder, WordPress will no longer be able to find your plugins and will deactivate them automatically.

In your Themes folder on your server, find your active theme and rename it to something else (e.g. yourthemename-deactivated). Since WordPress cannot find your theme, it will automatically default to a WordPress theme that is already installed. 

If you don’t have a default WordPress theme installed, you can download one from WordPress.org. It will download as a .zip file, so make sure you unzip it and upload the folder via SFTP to your themes folder on your web server.

2. Download an old version of WordPress

You can find old versions of WordPress on the official WordPress.org website. You should download the version as a .zip file and unzip it somewhere that is easy to find.

3. Prepare the files

Downgrading WordPress manually means that you’ll overwrite the new version of WordPress installed on your server with an older version. However, the downgraded version you just downloaded will contain files that you definitely don’t want to overwrite. Delete the following files from the downgraded version:

  • The wp-content folder. This folder contains your website’s media, plugins, and themes, so you want to keep your current one. Go ahead and delete this folder from the downgraded version.
  • The wp-config.php file. The wp-config.php file currently installed on your server should not be overwritten with the one from the downgraded version of WordPress. This file contains important configuration data and ensures that your WordPress installation connects to the database. This information is critical and if you overwrite it, you’ll have to find and enter all your database information back into this file before you’ll be able to access your site on the front end or through the WordPress dashboard.

4. Transfer the downgraded version of WordPress using SFTP

Before opening your SFTP application, make sure you have the downgraded version of WordPress you want to upload on your computer. Open your SFTP program and navigate to the location of the downgraded version on your computer (usually in the left pane of your SFTP software). 

On your server (usually the right pane), navigate to the public directory. This is often called public_html, www, or your site’s name. It could be named something else, but you’ll know you’re in the WordPress directory when you see the wp-config.php file and folders like wp-admin, wp-includes, and wp-content inside of it. If you’re still uncertain of the correct directory, contact your host for assitance. 

files highlighted on your computer in Filezilla

Important: Double-check that you’ve removed the wp-content directory and wp-config.php file from the old version you downloaded. Do not overwrite these files. 

Now you need to drag the old WordPress files from your computer over to your web server, overwriting all of the core files, including the contents of the wp-admin and wp-includes directories. This may take a little while as it pushes and overwrites all the files.

5. Update the database

After your files have been transferred, you should be able to log back into your WordPress site to complete the last few steps of this process. You may be asked to “upgrade” your database when you log in to your site — you should proceed with this.

6. Reactivate theme and plugins

Next, you need to restore your theme and plugins. If you deactivated these from the WordPress dashboard previously, it will be a similar process to restore them. If you deactivated your plugins and theme manually, you’ll need to reactivate them manually as well. 

1) Activating your theme from the WordPress dashboard:

  • Go to Appearance Themes
  • Hover over the theme you want to activate and then click Activate.

2) Activating your plugins from the WordPress dashboard:

  • Go to Plugins
  • Select all plugins
  • Choose Activate
  • Click Apply

3) Activating your theme via SFTP

Log in to your web server via SFTP, go to wp-content/themes and rename your theme back to its original name.

Renaming the theme folder back to its original name will not automatically reactivate it, so from this point you’ll need to log into your WordPress dashboard and reactivate your theme.

4) Activating your plugins via SFTP

Log in to your web server via SFTP, go to wp-content/plugins-deactivated, and rename it back to “plugins”. This won’t automatically reactivate your plugins, but it will allow WordPress to now find and recognize them. You should now be able to log in to the WordPress dashboard and activate your plugins from the Plugins screen.

7. Deactivate automatic WordPress updates

To prevent your WordPress version from being updated again, you should deactivate automatic WordPress updates. This should only be a short-term measure while you fix any issues. To do this, log in to your website via SFTP or using your host’s control panel file manager and edit your wp-config.php file, adding the following line:

define( 'AUTOMATIC_UPDATER_DISABLED', true );

Once you’ve fixed your site issues, be sure to go back and delete this line to reactivate automatic updates. 

While this process should be pretty seamless, if you do encounter issues, simply restore a backup that you took prior to downgrading.

How to downgrade WordPress core using a plugin

If you’re currently using Jetpack to back up your WordPress site, you have a simple and risk-free way of downgrading your WordPress installation.

  1. Log in to your WordPress.com account.
  2. Go to Jetpack Activity Log.
  3. Search for the specific day or activity that you’d like to restore to.
  4. Click Restore.
  5. You’re now presented with some options of exactly what you would like to restore. In this case, you would only need to restore your “WordPress root.”
  6. Click Confirm restore.
  7. Your restore will now begin. You can follow the progress of this using the Activity Log.
  8. Once restoration is complete, it will present you with a confirmation message. Click View Site to navigate to your website.
  9. If you’re asked to upgrade your database once logged in, then proceed with this.

You should now have your WordPress installation downgraded. You may want to turn automatic WordPress updates off temporarily while you fix any issues. To do this, log in to your website via SFTP or using your host’s control panel file manager and edit your wp-config.php file, adding the following line:

define( 'AUTOMATIC_UPDATER_DISABLED', true );

Once you’ve fixed your site’s issues, be sure to go back and delete this line to reactivate automatic updates.

How to downgrade WordPress themes or plugins

There may be times where a plugin or theme update breaks your site or has bugs. While developers are usually quick to fix things, these can still leave problems on your site for hours or days while a patch is released. In this case, you may revert to a previous version of the theme or plugin. This should only be seen as a temporary solution, though, and precautions should be taken such as creating a backup before proceeding and testing it first on a staging site.

Manually downgrading WordPress themes and plugins

If you aren’t currently making regular backups of your site, you may not have the option to revert back to a previous version of a theme or plugin. In this case, you’ll need to manually retrieve and install a previous version of the problematic plugin or theme.

Depending on where you acquired the theme or plugin, you may be able to download a previous version from your account on the plugin or theme author’s website. If not, you’ll need to contact the developer and ask if they can make a previous version available to you. Once you’ve gotten the old version, you can begin the process of manually replacing the new version on your server. 

Downgrading a theme manually

To manually downgrade a theme, you’ll want to first deactivate it via SFTP. Do not delete the theme as this will delete your theme settings. You can deactivate your theme using the steps outlined in the Deactivate plugins and themes via SFTP section. 

Once you’ve deactivated your theme by renaming the folder in your SFTP application, you’ll want to upload the new theme from your computer to the themes folder on your server by dragging the folder from the left pane (your computer) to the right pane (your server).

dragging a custom theme to your wp-content folder via SFTP

At this point, you can log into your WordPress dashboard and reactivate the downgraded version of your theme. Check that it’s working correctly before deleting the deactivated version of the theme from your server.

Downgrading a plugin manually

Manually downgrading a plugin involves the same process as manually downgrading a theme. In your SFTP program, navigate to the wp-content/plugins directory on your server and rename the problem plugin by adding “-deactivated” to the plugin’s folder name.

Drag your downgraded plugin folder from your computer (left pane) to the plugins folder on your server (right pane).

restoring an old version of a plugin via SFTP

Log back into your WordPress dashboard and go to the Plugins screen. Select your downgraded plugin and then click Activate. Check to make sure the plugin is working as intended before deleting the deactivated version of the plugin from your server via your SFTP application.

Using Jetpack Backup to downgrade WordPress plugins and themes

If you’re already using Jetpack Backup, then you can easily restore plugins or themes to a previous point in time.

  1. Log in to your WordPress.com account.
  2. Go to Jetpack Activity Log.
  3. Search for the specific day or activity that you’d like to restore to.
  4. Click Restore.
  5. You’re now presented with some options of exactly what you would like to restore. Select WordPress Themes or WordPress Plugins (or both).
  6. Click Confirm restore.
  7. Your restore will now begin. You can follow the progress of this using the Activity Log.
  8. Once restoration is complete, it will present you with a confirmation message. Click View Site to navigate to your website.

Using WP Rollback to downgrade WordPress plugins and themes

WP Rollback is a plugin that allows you to downgrade specific plugins or themes from WordPress.org to a previous version. Unlike with Jetpack, you’ll need to handle backing up your website manually (or with a plugin) prior to using WP Rollback. 

You can still use WP Rollback with Jetpack handling backups if you want to downgrade an individual plugin. However, if you’re only using WP Rollback and not Jetpack Backup, you’ll only be able to restore previous versions of plugins from the WordPress.org libraries. You’ll have to downgrade any free or premium plugins from another source manually.

We strongly recommend that you create a backup before rolling back a plugin or theme and test this on a staging site.

Install WP Rollback

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Go to Plugins → Add New and search for “rollback.”
  3. Install and activate WP Rollback.
the WP Rollback plugin in the WP.org library

Use WP Rollback for downgrading plugins

  1. Go to Plugins, find the plugin you want to downgrade and click Rollback.
  2. You’ll now be asked which version you’d like to downgrade to.
  3. Select the plugin version you want and click Rollback.
  4. Your plugin will now downgrade. You’ll need to reactivate the plugin once finished. 
WP Rollback plugin versions

Use WP Rollback for downgrading themes

  1. Go to Appearance Themes and click Theme Details on the one you’d like to downgrade. Click Rollback.
  2. You’ll now be asked which version you’d like to downgrade to.
  3. Select the theme version you want and click Rollback.
  4. Your theme will now be downgraded. If it’s your live theme, make sure it’s still active after the downgrade.

How to upgrade/downgrade the PHP version of your website

There may be rare occasions when you’ll need to upgrade or downgrade your PHP version to rule it out as a problem on your website. 

If you run into issues after updating WordPress core or a plugin, then it’s possible that you may be running a version of PHP that’s too old. In this case, you should look at upgrading the WordPress website’s PHP version

It’s much less likely that you’ll need to downgrade your PHP version. However, if you decide to use the latest version of PHP, some plugins or themes may not be compatible and a downgrade will be necessary.

You shouldn’t use a PHP version under 7.4 if at all possible, as this is the current recommended minimum version for running WordPress.

These instructions assume you’re using a cPanel-based host. If you’re unsure, then your hosting provider should be able to help with this. As always, take a backup before making any changes and test this on a staging environment first.

  1. Log in to cPanel.
  2. Scroll down to Software and click MultiPHP Manager.
  3. Select your domain name and use the dropdown to select the new PHP version.
editing PHP version in cpanel
  1. Click Apply to save the changes. This change takes effect almost immediately on most hosts.
  2. Navigate to your website and check for any errors.

Make rollbacks and troubleshooting easier with real-time backups 

While you can downgrade WordPress as well as plugins and themes manually, it can be quite time consuming. Being able to restore your entire site, a theme, or just one version of a plugin from a backup makes troubleshooting and fixing issues take far less time. 

Not only do regular backups allow you to quickly roll back to a previous version when an update goes awry, they protect you in case your site gets hacked or you accidentally delete something important. They also make it easier to migrate your site to a new host or staging environment for testing. 

Your hosting provider may provide backups, but it’s risky to rely on your web host as the sole source of your backups. Using Jetpack Backup, the best WordPress backup plugin, will offer you secure offsite backups and easy one-click restores that you can rely on.

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Simon Keating profile
Simon Keating

Simon has worked in marketing and product development for over 10 years, previously at HubSpot, Workday, and now Automattic (Jetpack). He has a varied education, with a degree in chemical engineering and a masters in computer science to his name. His passion is helping people and their businesses grow.

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