Updating themes

This page covers the basics of theme updates in Shopify. The benefits, the costs, and what it actually means to “Update your theme.” Every theme, over time, gets a small trickle of updates. New Shopify platform features are released, designs get tweaked, bugs get fixed.

You want your store to be running the most up-to-date version of the theme, right? Of course, you do! Is it worth the time and effort to get the latest code up and running? That’s a tougher question.

Important Information FAQ

Do themes auto-update in the background?

Answer: No*

This is not something that is chosen by the theme developer but lies at the core of how Shopify is built.

*Themes can only update automatically when you, or an installed app, haven’t made any code changes to your theme, and the theme update doesn’t introduce new settings.  In reality, this set of circumstances is so very rare that, while an auto-update is theoretically possible, it simply doesn’t happen in most circumstances! – Especially not in a live store.

New theme versions usually add new settings and features. Indeed, if there weren’t any changes to the theme, it wouldn’t be necessary to release a new version. Apps also frequently integrate into themes by inserting code and new snippets which allow them to operate and run tasks. It’s likely that no two stores on Shopify using the same theme will be identical – settings and apps will always mean there are differences. In addition, there are benefits to a fresh theme installation, particularly if previous app installations or changes in the store have introduced problems.

Will my custom code/app settings carry over?

Answer: No

Any code that was manually added by you, or by apps will need to be added to the new version of the theme. Some apps may just auto-add the code, but others can require it to manually be added again. You can always reach out to the app dev to get assistance with this process. We do not offer any support when it comes to adding app code.

Do I need to update my theme?

Answer: No,

You can continue to use the theme without ever updating it, but it’s not recommended.

Why should I update and how long should I wait before I update the theme?

Answer: 1 to 2 years or if you want a feature that is not in the current version you are on

Both the online industry and the ways in which people access the internet continue to evolve rapidly: Browsers are updated almost daily, and new devices are constantly being released – in 2015, there were 24,000 distinct Android devices in use around the world. Shopify, as a platform operating in that space, releases new features to meet the growing and evolving demands from store owners.

In response, we continuously update our themes to ensure they give the optimal performance across the range, plus we integrate new Shopify features as they are implemented on the continuously improving platform.

For the most part, you can adopt a similar approach to updating your theme. You do not need to be always on the latest (though some people might choose to), you can generally wait for several version updates then grab a completely fresh copy.

Updating your theme does mean you have to re-enter your theme settings and set up your homepage, however, you end up with a new, better store, and going through this process offers you the perfect opportunity to refresh your storefront – and Google loves fresh content!

Not applying updates will eventually start to add up. Exactly how long your store can actually go for before it becomes ‘unusable’ altogether is very difficult to quantify, however, it’s likely to be a good many years.

If you’re a vested store owner wanting to keep their online presence in tip-top order, we’d certainly recommend you don’t let your theme go too far over 2 to 3 years before grabbing the latest copy from the theme store and giving your shop that brand new coat of paint!

Can I see what has been added to the theme over time? 

Answer: Yes,

We have now added changelogs and will continue to update them over time when new releases come out.

How to update our themes.

  1. Create a backup copy of your existing theme.
  2. Visit the Shopify Theme Store and log in. For paid themes, it is important to log in to the account that you used to buy the theme. This will prevent you from being asked to buy the theme again.
  3. Use the top bar search box to search for your theme.
  4. On the search results page, click your theme.
  5. Click Add latest theme version or Add theme.
  6. This adds the latest version of the theme as an unpublished theme so you can now customize it and prepare it before publishing
  7. Your old theme will be saved in the unpublished section, so if for some reason you need to publish it again, you can and all its settings will be the same as before. (Apps may not, depending on their interaction between themes)

What it involves

Set up any apps

Apps that work behind the scenes (like apps to integrate with other platforms, or for shipping) are unlikely to interact with a theme.

Apps that add things into your theme (think Instagram feeds, recommended products, wholesale pricing) will most likely need installing again. Some may automatically install themselves, some may have a button in the app you need to click, you can talk to the app developers to find out more (theme developers won’t know).

Copy over required theme code changes

You may have hired a developer to add a non-standard feature into your store. For example, tabs on the product page, or extra payment icons into the footer.

It is unlikely that these changes can be moved across to the new theme quickly and easily, it will not be a simple ‘copy and paste job’. The code that was altered may work differently now, and there is no mechanism for identifying what changes were made for individual customisation (it could affect a few lines of code in one file, or hundreds of lines in tens of files – there is no way to know).

You may need to hire that developer to perform those alterations once more – potentially at full cost.


Is it worth it?

The cost is the time you will spend getting the new theme to look and work how you need it to, detecting which apps need installing again, figuring out if they have installed themselves correctly a second time, and redoing any code changes.

The benefit depends on your business – will your customers gain a lot from the update? If you don’t notice much of a difference between the versions, it’s unlikely your customers will either. But if you want to use a particular new Shopify feature, or just want to make a fresh start, it could be worth it.

It is, of course, up to you!

It is rarely a necessity – we have seen 8-year-old themes on stores that are making sales. But if you don’t use many apps, and haven’t made any code changes, it could be a quick way to bring in the latest features.

You can keep an eye on Shopify’s blog to make sure you don’t miss any new feature launches!



How to keep your settings

Your colours, fonts, logo, slideshow – anything you set up in the theme customizer – are all stored in a single theme file. This file is located at Config/settings_data.json

This means that if you install a new copy of the theme, you could copy all the saved settings from your old theme into the new one – saving you a fair bit of work!

To see how it’s done you can follow our friends step by step guide from point No.2 over at groupthought. 

As we advise when making any theme changes, please make sure to duplicate your current theme first – so you have a backup in case anything goes wrong! (You can do this on your Themes page. Give the copy a name like “Backup – 5-5-2020” so it’s easy to find.)

You can open up your current theme in the theme code editor, copy the contents of that file, then open up that file in the new theme, select the contents and paste over them. Click save, and that should preserve your settings.

Note: In some cases, this won’t work – usually when settings have changed and the old ones don’t line up with the new ones.

Sounds like a lot of work, can you do it?

Updating the theme is not supported by the theme dev, if you decide to do this, it will be on you. If you would like to hire someone to come in and do the work. You can hire somebody to take this job off your hands!

I’m afraid we are booked up with projects for the next few months so my advice is here to reach out to one of our partners that we work with. I will leave a link below so you can make contact. 

TaskHusky: https://goo.gl/ITLrcB
Other Shopify developers: https://experts.shopify.com/developers
The Job Board: https://community.shopify.com/c/Shopify-Ecommerce-Jobs/bd-p/shopify-job-board
Specific tasks: https://experts.shopify.com/services/development-and-troubleshooting