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WordPress allows you to update plugins from the Dashboard with one click. When doing these plugin updates via the dashboard, WordPress says it performs the following steps:

  1. De-activate the old plugin
  2. Replace the old files with the new files
  3. Re-activate the new plugin

I am setting up a deployment process (with Git) where I will manually update the files for all plugins instead of using the built in plugin updater in the dashboard.

My question is: Do I need to de-activate and re-activate the plugin before/after updating the files? Or can I just swap out the old plugin files with the new plugin files?

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You can just swap them out. Make sure you delete the old plugin files first though, in case the new version of the plugin doesn't have that file anymore.

The downside to doing it this way instead of using the gui is that if someone was to come to the site during the update there may be unexpected behaviors.

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