Upgrading to the latest version of WordPress is a breeze. Since version 3.7, the content management system (CMS) performs automatic updates for minor releases by default.

For major releases, you can simply log in to the WordPress dashboard and click the “Update Now” button at the top of your website.

But what if you need to downgrade WordPress to an older version?

In this article, we’ll cover why you might want to downgrade WordPress, as well as exactly how to do itβ€”both manually (in case you can’t access your dashboard), and automatically via a plugin.

Why You Might Want To Downgrade WordPress

Generally speaking, it’s best to run the latest version of WordPress on your website.

Older versions aren’t actively maintained by WordPress developers, so they are more likely to contain security vulnerabilities, as well as have conflicts with third-party themes and plugins, than the latest version.

If you recently updated WordPress to the latest version, however, and discovered that it broke your website’s functionality, you may want to downgrade.

You can always try to troubleshoot the problem by deactivating plugins and scanning files for lines of bad code, but downgrading offers a quick and easy solution, at least until you can nail down the root of the problem.

By downgrading to the version of WordPress your website was previously running, your website’s functionality should be restored.

How To Downgrade WordPress Manually

We’ll first cover how to downgrade WordPress manually using FTP, which is necessary if you’re unable to access your admin area.

New to FTP? Check out our WordPress FTP tutorial here. πŸ‘ˆ

1) Check Which Version of WordPress Your Website Is Currently Running

Before downgrading, check to see which version of WordPress your website is currently running. There are several ways to check the version, one of which is to open the version.php file in the wp-includes folder.

In this file, the version numbered is proceeded by the code $wp_version. If your website is running WordPress 5.4.1, for example, you’ll see $wp_version = '5.4.1' listed in the version.php file.

You can also see which version of WordPress your website is running by viewing the source code in your web browser.

Right-click on an open area of your website and select “View Page Source.”

With your web browser now showing your website’s source code, press Ctrl+F (Windows) or Cmd+F (Mac) and search for the word “generator.”

You should see a line like <meta name="generator" content="WordPress 5.4.1" />, which indicates that your current WordPress version is 5.4.1.

2) Download the Older Version

Now that you know which version of WordPress your website is currently running, you can download an older version with which to replace it.

The WordPress Foundation offers all major versions, including those dating back to 2007, available free to download here.

After locating your desired version, download the compressed file and extract it to your computer’s storage drive.

3) Back Up Your Website

🚨 Important Note: You should not attempt to downgrade WordPress without first backing up your website.

It’s always a good idea to back up your website when downgrading.

When performed correctly, downgrading shouldn’t affect your website’s content. With that said, you may accidentally delete the wrong file or files, resulting in the permanent loss of content.

By creating a backup, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that any mistakes made during the downgrade can be reversed.

To perform a complete backup, download your website’s MySQL database and all its static files and save them locally to your computer’s storage drive. You probably won’t need the backup, but in the event your downgrade goes awry, you can use it to rollback your website.

3) Replace Static WordPress Files

To downgrade, you’ll need to replace your website’s static WordPress files, except for the wp-config.php file and all files in the wp-content folder,  with those of the older version.

Start by connecting your website’s server with a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client such as FileZilla and opening the folder in which your website is stored (usually public_html).

Next, highlight all the files and folders, except for the wp-config.php file and the wp-content folder, in your website’s main folder. You can then delete them by right-clicking in the FTP program’s interface and selecting “Delete.”

After deleting the appropriate static files, you’ll need to upload the static files from the older version of WordPress to your website’s server.

In your FTP program, locate and open the local folder containing the older version of WordPress. Next, upload all the files and folders, except for the wp-content folder, to your website’s main folder.

When finished, your website will run the older version of WordPress. To verify the downgrade was a success, use either of the aforementioned methods to see which version of WordPress your website is running. Assuming the older version is listed, the downgrade worked.

Don’t Delete the Wrong Folders or Files

It’s important to preserve the wp-content folder when downgrading.

This folder contains all your website’s plugins, themes and images. If you accidentally delete the wp-content folder, or if you replace it with the wp-content folder of the older WordPress version, you’ll lose these files.

In addition to the wp-content folder, you shouldn’t touch the wp-config.php file when downgrading.

This otherwise small file contains essential information about your website’s MySQL database, including the name of the database, username and password.

If you delete the wp-config.php file, WordPress won’t be able to connect to the MySQL database. As a result, you’ll see the message “Error establishing a database connection” when accessing your website rather than its actual content.

How To Downgrade WordPress Automatically With A Plugin

An alternative way to downgrade WordPress to an older version is to use a downgrade plugin.

The plugin WP Downgrade, for example, lives up to its namesake by introducing a downgrade feature in the WordPress admin dashboard.

Using it, you can specify which version of WordPress you’d like to install on your website while logged in to the admin dashboard. After installing, go to Settings > WP Downgrade to use the plugin:

The problem with using a downgrade plugin, however, is that it requires the use of a functional WordPress admin dashboard. If you’re unable to access the admin dashboard, you won’t be able to install and run the plugin.

Maybe your entire website went down after updating WordPress to the latest version, or perhaps the admin dashboard shows a white screen. In cases such as these, you must manually downgrade by connecting to your website’s server and replacing the static WordPress files.

Final Thoughts

Downgrading your website to an older version of WordPress may sound daunting, but it’s a relatively easy process once you familiarize yourself with the steps.

You can either replace your website’s static WordPress files or use a downgrade plugin. Both methods allow you to rollback WordPress to an older version.

If you have any questions about downgrading WordPress, please feel free to leave a comment below!