WooCommerce: Update Self-Hosted Plugin @ WP Dashboard

In this million-dollar tutorial you will learn how to update a custom (WooCommerce) plugin that you host somewhere, directly from the WordPress dashboard.

I thought the WordPress dashboard could only notify you of plugin updates and let you exclusively update plugins that are on the WordPress repository, but I was wrong!

Since I started selling WooCommerce plugins here on Business Bloomer, I had to find a way to let customers update them automatically right from their WP admin.

Thankfully, there are 2 hooks that come to the rescue: pre_set_site_transient_update_plugins update_plugins_{$hostname} and plugins_api. With these two filters, you can tell WordPress that your custom plugin ZIP file is downloadable at a given public URL, show a notification to the customer that a plugin update is available, let them update with 1 click, and optionally let them enable auto-updates.

So, let’s see how I run my plugin business. Enjoy!

In this WordPress dashboard screenshot, you can clearly see that an update is available for the “Business Bloomer WooCommerce Login Registration Shortcode” plugin, and that you can “View version details” or “Update now”. The magic thing is – this is a plugin that is hosted by me and not on the WordPress repo!

Step 1: Create & Host the Custom Plugin

This post is not about developing plugins. Feel free to study the WordPress Plugin Handbook in case you’re starting out now.

Once you have completed the development, save the plugin ZIP file at a public URL e.g.: www.businessbloomer.com/blabla/whatever-plugin.zip

Step 2: Create a JSON Changelog File

When you self-host the plugin, we need to notify WordPress (and all WordPress websites where the plugin is installed) that there is a new version available, otherwise the code you find at Step 4 won’t trigger.

You can use several ways of storing the changelog data, and creating a JSON file is the easiest one. All WordPress needs is to retrieve the ZIP file name and the plugin version, so that it can get them dynamically and trigger the update notification.

Open a text editor, and enter the following information:

	"plugin_name": "Whatever Plugin For WooCommerce",
	"latest_version": "1.0.9",
	"download_url": "https://www.businessbloomer.com/blabla/whatever-plugin.zip",

Then, save the file with the .JSON extension, and place this at a specific URL of your own website e.g. www.businessbloomer.com/blabla/plugin-updates.json

Keep this file updated whenever you release a new plugin version e.g. as soon as you upload version 2.0.0 of the plugin, change the JSON file to:

	"plugin_name": "Whatever Plugin For WooCommerce",
	"latest_version": "2.0.0",
	"download_url": "https://www.businessbloomer.com/blabla/whatever-plugin.zip",

Step 3: Install the Custom Plugin on any WordPress Site

Go to WordPress > Plugins > Add New > Upload and install and activate the custom plugin. This plugin will come with a version number e.g. 1.0.9 – we now need to find a way for admins to update the plugin in case a newer version is available.

Step 4: PHP Snippet – Update the Custom Plugin From The WordPress Dashboard

This is the cool part.

You can add this to the plugin code.

We will use two filters: update_plugins_{$hostname} and plugins_api. The former is responsible for the actual update; the latter shows the plugin information when “View version details” is clicked (see screenshot above).

Note 1: the {$hostname} part is based on where you host the plugin. Let’s say the plugin URL is www.businessbloomer.com/blabla/whatever-plugin-1.0.9.zip, then the {$hostname} is www.businessbloomer.com

Note 2: you need to know, also, the name of the plugin folder, and the name of the plugin file, which are usually the same. If the ZIP file is whatever-plugin.zip I expect that the plugin folder is called /whatever-plugin and that the plugin file contained within is called /whatever-plugin.php

Note 3: the plugin file must use the “Plugin URI” and “Versionheader parameters, because we’ll retrieve them via code.

 * @snippet       Update Self-Hosted Plugin @ WordPress Dashboard
 * @how-to        Get CustomizeWoo.com FREE
 * @author        Rodolfo Melogli
 * @compatible    WooCommerce 7
 * @community     https://businessbloomer.com/club/

// ----------------
// 1: Plugin Description When People Click On View Version Details
// Note: use the plugin slug, path, name 

add_filter( 'plugins_api', 'bbloomer_plugin_view_version_details', 9999, 3 );

function bbloomer_plugin_view_version_details( $res, $action, $args ) {
	if ( 'plugin_information' !== $action ) return $res;
	if ( $args->slug !== 'whatever-plugin' ) return $res;
	$res = new stdClass();
	$res->name = 'Whatever Plugin For WooCommerce';
	$res->slug = 'whatever-plugin';
	$res->path = 'whatever-plugin/whatever-plugin.php';
   $res->sections = array(
		'description' => 'The plugin description',
   $changelog = bbloomer_whatever_plugin_request();
	$res->version = $changelog->latest_version;
	$res->download_link = $changelog->download_url;	
	return $res;

// ----------------
// 2: Plugin Update
// Note: use the plugin {$hostname}, slug & path 

add_filter( 'update_plugins_www.businessbloomer.com', function( $update, array $plugin_data, string $plugin_file, $locales ) {
	 if ( $plugin_file !== 'whatever-plugin/whatever-plugin.php' ) return $update;
    if ( ! empty( $update ) ) return $update;
    $changelog = bbloomer_whatever_plugin_request();
    if ( ! version_compare( $plugin_data['Version'], $changelog->latest_version, '<' ) ) return $update;
    return [
        'slug' => 'whatever-plugin',
        'version' => $changelog->latest_version,
        'url' => $plugin_data['PluginURI'],
        'package' => $changelog->download_url,
}, 9999, 4 );

// ----------------
// 3: Retrieve Plugin Changelog
// Note: use the public JSON file address

function bbloomer_whatever_plugin_request() {
    $access = wp_remote_get( 'https://www.businessbloomer.com/blabla/plugin-updates.json', array( 'timeout' => 10,	'headers' => array( 'Accept' => 'application/json' )	) );
    if ( ! is_wp_error( $access ) && 200 === wp_remote_retrieve_response_code( $access ) ) {
			$result = json_decode( wp_remote_retrieve_body( $access ) );
			return $result;		


In order to let a WordPress user update a plugin that you host somewhere else, you need:

  1. to develop the plugin as per Step 1 (naming) and Step 4 (plugin update requirements)
  2. to save the ZIP file on a public URL, so that WordPress can download it
  3. to keep a JSON changelog file on a public URL, so that WordPress knows if there is an update available

Questions? Doubts? Feedback? Leave a comment below!

Where to add custom code?

You should place custom PHP in functions.php and custom CSS in style.css of your child theme: where to place WooCommerce customization?

This code still works, unless you report otherwise. To exclude conflicts, temporarily switch to the Storefront theme, disable all plugins except WooCommerce, and test the snippet again: WooCommerce troubleshooting 101

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Rodolfo Melogli

Business Bloomer Founder

Author, WooCommerce expert and WordCamp speaker, Rodolfo has worked as an independent WooCommerce freelancer since 2011. His goal is to help entrepreneurs and developers overcome their WooCommerce nightmares. Rodolfo loves travelling, chasing tennis & soccer balls and, of course, wood fired oven pizza. Follow @rmelogli

2 thoughts on “WooCommerce: Update Self-Hosted Plugin @ WP Dashboard

  1. Greetings. This is a fantastic and truly million-dollar tutorial that you have generously released for free. And this is a sign of your greatness.
    It would be great if you explained the license in another post. How to make our own plugin have a license and time limit or other restrictions, and if they buy, they have to renew, or if they don’t renew, the plugin will stop working and they will be warned before it ends, and things like that related to the license discussion for It becomes a plugin.

    1. Thank you – I think once you start talking about licencing, DYI is not a good idea. The likes of Freemius, EDD, etc. would probably work better

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