The Autosave Feature for WordPress Posts

If you write blog posts in your browser, you have probably had the gut-wrenching experience of losing content.

Maybe your browser crashed. Perhaps your internet connection dropped.

But when you went back to your post, your content was missing. Ouch!

Fortunately, autosaves are a WordPress feature that can help you avoid losing your content.

As you write a post, WordPress will save a copy of your content every 60 seconds. This saved copy will update every 60 seconds. WordPress only stores one autosave at a time.

The autosave feature relies heavily on the revisions feature in WordPress. So it's worth reading our guide to revisions if you want to understand autosaves in more detail.

How to use WordPress autosave

If your browser crashes, or your internet fails, go back to your post editing screen. Your experience will differ slightly depending on whether your post is published or not. This is because WordPress has a slightly different approach to autosaves for published and unpublished content.

How to use autosaves for unpublished posts

If your post is not yet published (in “Draft” or “Pending Review” statuses), you will see this message:

The backup of this post in your browser is different than the version below.

If you click the “Restore this backup” button, WordPress will automatically restore the autosave. You won't need to do anything else.

Restore This Backup

How to use autosaves for published posts

This process will be different if your post is in the “Publish” status. You will see this message:

There is an autosave of this post that is more recent than the version below.

Autosave Published

If you click the “View the autosave” link, you will be taken to the revision comparison screen. Your autosave will be labelled “Autosave” and marked in red. This helps it stand out from other revisions.

Click the “Restore This Autosave” button and you will have your content back.

Autosave Red

How autosaves work for published and unpublished content

WordPress autosaves are stored in the site's database. All autosaves create a new entry in the wp_posts table, but the format is different for unpublished and published content.

How autosaves work for unpublished content

Autosaves for unpublished content are stored as a variation on the original post, simply with a different status.

Here are some database details for autosaves on unpublished content:

  • The post_status column is set to “auto-draft“.
  • The post_title column is set to “Auto Draft”.
  • The post_type column uses the type from the original post so it may be post or page.

How autosaves work for published content

Autosaves for published content are saved as revisions. This is why you have to click the “View the autosave” link and visit the main revisions screen.

Here are some database details for autosaves on published content:

  • The post_status column is set to “Inherit“.
  • The post_title column is set to the title you seen on the post editing screen.
  • The post_type column uses revision.
Published Autosave

How to disable or change the autosave feature

Some hosting companies believe the autosave feature can take up too many server resources. There is some truth to this because every autosave does require writing to the database. You may also have a slow internet connection and find that the autosaves slows down your browser every 60 second.

If you want to change the autosave time, you can add this to your wp-config.php file:

define(‘AUTOSAVE_INTERVAL’, 600);

Make sure to add this towards the top of the file, above this line:

/** Absolute path to the WordPress directory. */

The “600” refers to the number of seconds, so with this code I'm forcing the autosave to happen every 10 minutes. The default WordPress setting is “60”.

If you set this number to 10000, you are disabling the autosave feature because you will need to have you post open for a whole day before it runs once.

Also, there are also plugins to help you automatically delete old revisions.

Limitations of the autosave feature

Autosaves are only as good as the revisions feature they are built on.

Not all plugins support the revisions feature in WordPress. In fact, some plugins such as WooCommerce will actively avoid using revisions. If you make changes to a WooCommerce product, that data will not be stored in revisions.

So if your plugin doesn't support revisions, it won't support autosave either, and some of your data may be lost. With custom post types that don't support revisions correctly, it may not be possible to use autosaves at all.

The difference between revisions and autosaves

Revisions are a feature that you may use very regularly on your WordPress. I hope that autosaves are something you need only very rarely.

There some other key differences:

  • You can have 100's of revisions but only one autosave.
  • Autosaves happen automatically, where as you have to click “Save” or “Update” to create a revision.
  • Revisions reflect changes to your actual post. Autosaves don't impact your post.
  • Revisions will change the Last Modified Date of your content, but autosaves will not.
  • Steve Burge

    Steve is the founder of PublishPress. He's been working with open source software for over 20 years. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. This profile is generated by the PublishPress Authors plugin.

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