A CMS (or Content Management System) is the framework on which the majority of modern websites are built on; the most popular CMS platforms, e.g. Wordpress and Drupal, are considered open source systems. The intelligence behind these open source solutions are maintained in a collaborative effort by a global community of designers and developers.
What is an Open Source System?
To put it simply "Open Source" is defined by it's name, meaning the source code of the system is available and distributed for public use. Because of the nature of open source technologies, it is critical to keep up to date with all of the updates available from your core website build, theme, and available plugin updates.
If your website was built off of a CMS there is a strong chance that the website uses “plugins” or “modules” to function correctly. Periodically, websites running Wordpress or Drupal will release updates for their core integration as well as community driven plugins or modules. These updates stem from feature releases, such as a general improvement to the functionality of the integration itself, or more importantly, security patches and fixes that have surfaced based off of vulnerabilities discovered within the code. If your existing website does use a CMS you may already be familiar with these routine updates.
Why Updates are Critical
As a business owner, the decision to invest capital to build or redesign your website can be a heavy investment. It is important to remember that websites are not a 'set it and forget it property'; they need to be maintained in order to be secure and functional.
An analogy that web developers commonly use is the comparison of a website to a car.
When you purchase a brand new car, it can be a really exciting experience; you're able to drive it off the lot with the confidence that it's safe and functional. You decided on purchasing a new car to avoid any major issues that may come along with an older or used model, but as your brand new car ages it begins to lose that sense of security. After a few thousand miles you're scheduling oil changes and routine checkups, and in some unfortunate circumstances, certain things on your car may even stop working properly.
When your brand new website first launches, it is up-to-date with the latest technologies, ensuring that it is safe, secure, and functional. Content management systems like Wordpress and Drupal are updated constantly as new features are released and security vulnerabilities are discovered. If you purchase a website without keeping up-to-date with these updates, your website becomes at risk of breaking or even worse-- being hacked. Being hacked is a nightmare for both your business and your customers. Once the security of a website has been compromised, it can cost your company thousands of dollars to fix, and expose your business to potential legal ramifications.
It it critical for your business to keep to date with these updates. For any business, investing in website maintenance is essential and comes with the responsibility of operating a website. Some business owners may be tech-savvy enough to install and test these updates independently on their end.
Business owners should ensure that they make any core, theme, plugin, or module updates safely through the use of website backups and thorough testing. Be cautious when completing these updates-- it is very common for an update to break the functionality of a website. For this reason, creating backup states of your website is imperative. Not all update releases will be compatible for your specific website build, so it is important to be discretionary when making updates. It is recommended that you test these updates on a separate server, if possible, to avoid any potential downtime that may come from an incompatible release.
Staying diligent with your website updates can be difficult on top of your day-to-day responsibilities. If you feel uncomfortable applying these updates yourself, you should consider hiring an experienced web team to do the heavy-lifting for you. Despite the possible complications updates can bring, it is crucial to stay informed to new releases so you can ensure your website is taken care of, and your digital assets are protected.