Leaving updates too long causes problems
If you are a site owner and look after your website yourself, did your web designer inform you about keeping the site up to date?
If not and you didn't realise why you should update WordPress Core and Plugins, then you could be onto a problem. This problem can occur when you've not been informed of the importance of updating the site files and the web developer has moved away or got a different job.
Why you should do the updates
Firstly if updates are done regularly your website will run smoothly and most importantly it will be secure. Outdated plugins and core software can be vulnerable to security breaches and hackers. Updating to the latest versions helps protect your website from these threats.
Updates often include bug fixes and general improvements which can enhance the overall performance of your site. When left too long, the site can get slow and after an update you will see a marked improvement in speed - getting the site speed back to where it was before.
As WordPress evolves, so do its plugins and themes. It is therefore important to keep everything up to date.
It's not just the site, but the hosting architecture too
A WordPress site sits on top of php - the building blocks that allow databases to run websites. PHP is cross-platform and can be used on different web hosting environments. This also needs to be updated as certain WordPress releases require a certain level of php, otherwise it will not work. Plugins are also updated in order to work on the latest php and the dashboard will alert you to the need to update the php. Your hosting company will help do this.
If the php is not updated, the plugins and WordPress software simply won't update. This will cause problems in the long run.
What to do if your site is getting out of date
It's good to know that WordPress Core files can be updated incrementally, however this depends on how long the site has been left. Some php updates include dramatic changes that may render the site unable to be updated at all.
Fear not, you can pick up old versions of WordPress software from the archive here, however the older the last update the greater probability of difficulties.
What needs to be done:
1. Update WordPress
2. Update Plugins
3. Update php
If it's simply a few minor update changes that are required, then this should work OK. Otherwise if one plugin relies on another plugin or a specific version of WordPress core, updating one component might necessitate updates to other components in a chain, increasing the complexity of the process.
Updating WordPress core and multiple plugins can be resource-intensive in terms of time, effort, and sometimes financial investment. You may need to allocate resources for development, testing, and potential troubleshooting.
The nuclear option
It may become clear that the site files are so out of date that you may as well start again. This could be the best option after all as from time to time website will require a rethink and a freshen up. Instead of spending time and money trying to rectify an old site and old php, there may be too many incompatibilities that makes choosing this option not cost effective.
REMEMBER: If the site fails when trying to update core files, it can be rescued by rolling back to a previous version on the hosting. Elements of the site can be exported and saved so that you don't lose important data. Don't panic, simply engage a web designer who can build you a new site to your brief and educate you on how to prevent this problem in the future.