Adventures in Upgrading: Getting Ready

I mentioned that I was going to blog through my MT 4.2 upgrade experience. This is the first post in that series.
The first step in any upgrade is knowing what you’re in for. How hard is this going to be? What do I need to know ahead of time? What are the possible gotchas? I like to be prepared and frankly usually spend too much time in this “Getting Ready” phase. There are two reasons for that:

  1. I want to know everything that I possibly might need to know so that nothing will go wrong. (That doesn’t work, something usually does go wrong anyway.)
  2. I’m lazy, so the longer I prepare, the longer I can put off doing the actual work. 😛

Regardless, being prepared is a good idea. Going to the Movable Type website, you’ll find a page titled Movable Type 4.2 Upgrade Guide. You’ll be forgiven if you think this is the actual upgrade guide, it’s not. It’s a guide for the new stuff in MT 4.2 that you should be aware of when upgrading. In fact, the first step there is to follow the steps in the Official Movable Type Upgrade Guide. Still, there are some good points in the 4.2 guide about obsolete plugins and upgrading your templates as well as links to some 4.2 specific documentation.
The actual upgrade guide, in my view, is a little light on details and, frankly, I think it leads folks the wrong way. It lists 6 steps, including one step each for downloading, unzipping and copying the files. Honestly, the upgrade is pretty simple, but if you’re like me and you’ve mucked around quite a bit with templates and custom CSS (and you barely know what you’re doing), you need to make sure you’re not going to break stuff in the process. I guess this page is the over view, with links to other pages that you might need depending on your installation. Fair enough.
What I think is wrong is that in step 4 it directs you to copy the new MT files over top of the old MT files. Nothing wrong with that in general, and even if something went wrong you could re-install the old version of MT, but I prefer to leave the old version intact and install the new along side, in a separate directory. Why? Because if (when?) something does go wrong that’s not easily fixed, you can simply re-load the database backup you made in step 1 and go back to the old version until you figure out what went wrong. If you’ve overwritten the old installation with the new, you have to re-overwrite the new with the old to go back. The upgrade page mentions this, but as an alternate method rather than the preferred method. That’s backwards, in my opinion. [Update: See post #2, it’s not so backwards after all.]
I’ve already mentioned that there are two upgrade docs, one that’s more a supplement and one the official, recommended process. (Interestingly, there’s also a ‘community generated’ upgrade guide in the MT Wiki. Oddly, it’s not linked to from the main page, but that’s just as well as it as primarily written by a guy who’s only ever done one actual upgrade. Namely, me.) Between those two documents, there are close to a dozen other linked documents to review to see if they apply to you. For a guy like me who likes to know it all ahead of time, that’s a little overwhelming. I suspect that most folks will just dive right in and see what happens.
Most of that is stuff you can worry about later, after you upgrade. Changes to make so you can take advantage of new features. One area that you should pay close attention to ahead of time, however, is plugins. Especially if, like me, you rely pretty heavily on plugins to make your site work the way you want it to. That, as far as I’m concerned, is the achilles heal of the upgrade process. I’ll cover than in the next post.

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