How to abandon a WordPress plugin

close gray door during daytime

Look, it happens. There are numerous reasons why we may need to walk away from one of our plugins. But just leaving it isn’t cool.

Why shouldn’t you walk away from your plugin? Simply put, your users won’t know and, without realising, the plugin they have installed may become a security risk containing unpatched vulnerabilities. Or it may no longer work as well with newer versions of WordPress, without the person using it realising that’s the cause.

So, In this article I’m going to provide a multi-pronged approach to how you can do it but not leave your users in the lurch – everything from a minimal approach to full, deleting from the WordPress directory and walking away.

So, only working on a minimum updates? A pinned post in the forum and, possibly, something in the README would be fine.

By the time you get to walking away and just leaving it, or deleting it entirely, you need to think about putting up a non-dismissible admin notice. You need to make sure existing users are aware.

How can you tell if a plugin has been updated?

When you view a plugin in the directory, check out the “Last Updated” detail on the right-hand side. If it’s been a whole you may see this banner above…

As a plugin developer, you can update this date (and, if appropriate, get rid of the banner) by updating the README. Updating the “WordPress Version” meta, when a new major release of WordPress drops, is a good way to do this (obviously, make sure you’re actually testing your plugin against the release rather than just making up compatibility!).

Minimum Maintenance

This is probably the most minimal way you can reduce your work with a plugin. Essentially, you keep it up-to-date with current WordPress releases, and make any urgent bug of security fixes. But nothing else.

I have a number of plugins at this level and before every major WordPress release I give them a quick check to ensure they work with it, update the README to reflect this and push that file update to SVN. This prevents the “this plugin hasn’t been tested with the latest x major releases of WordPress” message as well.

Drop a pinned message in the forum to let them know that this is happening is, in my opinion, essential, as well as adding a message to the README.

If there is an alternative plugin that users can move to, it would be worth mentioning that as well.

Find a new owner

Next, is the option of finding a new owner for it. And here there are 2 ways of doing this…

  1. Sell it
  2. Give it away

If your plugin has a good customer base then you can try reaching out to rival product owners (although they’re only likely to have money to but it if they have an associated business) to see if they’re interested. I’ve done this before, and it’s worked successfully – they took it on over a period of months, including adding compatibility to their own plugin so that users of mine could quickly and easily switch over to their own.

If it’s not worth selling, or you’ve tried and failed, then you can simply give it to someone who is interested in taking it on. And, if you’ve tried selling it, don’t be embarrassed to now try and give it to one of those people you spoke to earlier.

My advice, though, would be to do due diligence before handing it over though to make sure the new owner is not going to do anything that something with it, probably still with your name attached to it (even if in the heads of users), that will impact you.

Once done, make use of your support forum to let users know of the change and that you’re now no longer working on it.

Put it up for adoption

A simple “adopt-me” tag can be added to your plugin to indicate that you’re looking for someone to take it over. You don’t have to have walked away from it at this stage, so this could be a follow-up to the above if you, initially, didn’t find anyone to take it over.

Once the tag is in place, people can search for it. There is a documented process in place for anyone who wants to adopt it too. As part of this is getting in touch with you, make sure you have this somewhere (forum, README, etc.).

Leave it abandoned

Of course, you could just leave it and walk away. But, yeah, that’s not a good look. If you do, make sure users are fully aware that you have, from admin notices inside of WordPress.

If you do, though, add an adoption flag so that anyone who is interested in taking it over can do.

Have your plugin removed

This is the nuclear option – have your plugin removed entirely from the directory.

Why would you do this? If you still have plugins that you’re looking after then you may want to disassociated yourself from it entirely, as you may find people still bug you about it. It also prevents any further users from installing it too.

I’ve done this myself a few times myself. In one case, I released a plugin and realised that, with only a handful of users, I wanted to withdraw it (long story, don’t worry, but it needed a big overhaul and name change and this was the perfect time to do it). What I’ve not done before, though, is followed the advice I’m going to give and have regretted it. In future, I will.

So, as mentioned before, your users will NOT be aware of this unless they go and try and find it, so by doing this you’ll find many continue to have your plugin installed without being aware of any issues. I’d therefore recommend the following process…

  • As well as the usual forum and README notice, add a dismissible admin notice to your plugin, informing users that it’s going to happen.
  • Give them a timeline – if you can, give it 1-2 years. Yes, I know that’s long. The idea is that, until then, you’ll leave it abandoned.
  • Also give recommendations of alternative plugins.
  • Stick something in your diary and a month or two before that deadline expires, update the notification to be non-dismissable, more error-like and let them know the plugin is going away and they should find an alternative NOW
  • Once the time is up, email and ask for them to remove it

I hope this gives you a few ideas of what you can do with your plugins when you’re no longer willing or able to support them. As you can see there are alternatives to just walking away and leaving them, all of them being preferable.

Whichever of the methods you use, my key take-away would be to let users know what’s happening. The more severe the abandonment, the more you should do to try and get over to them what is happening.

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