Make a Backup … and a Backup Plan¶
Before making any modifications to a firewall, the best practice is to make a backup using the WebGUI:
Navigate to Diagnostics > Backup/Restore
Set the Backup Area to All in the Backup Configuration section of the page
Save this file somewhere safe
Keep multiple copies of the backup file in different secure locations. Consider using the free Auto Config Backup service (Using the AutoConfigBackup Service). Auto Config Backup can create a manual backup with a note identifying the change, which is encrypted and stored on Netgate servers.
Another good practice is to have install media handy for the new release, in case something goes awry and a reinstall is required. Should that happen, have the backup file on hand and refer to Backup and Recovery.
An easy fall-back plan for virtualized firewalls is to take a snapshot of the VM before performing an upgrade. This way, it can easily roll back to a known-good state if the VM encounters a problem.
Before rolling back a VM due to problems, ensure the hardware compatibility of the VM is current. For example, on ESX 6.7, ensure the hardware compatibility is set to ESXi 6.7 and later (VM version 14) and update the VM Guest operating system to match the upgraded OS, such as Other/FreeBSD 11 (64-bit)
Reboot the firewall before applying an update. This step is optional, but a best practice.
If the hardware has a problem, such as a disk issue, then performing a reboot before the upgrade will allow that to be identified early. Otherwise, a hardware issue could be confused with an issue that occurred as a result of the upgrade process.
There is still a chance that the upgrade could draw out a hardware issue, such as a disk failing from the writes that happen in the upgrade process, but that is much less common to see in practice.
Do not upgrade packages before upgrading pfSense® software. Either remove all packages or leave the packages alone before running the update.
The safest practice is to remove all packages before upgrading to a new release. The upgrade process will handle packages automatically, but packages are frequently a source of problems. To ensure a smooth upgrade, note the installed packages, remove them, perform the upgrade, and then reinstall when the upgrade is complete.