When running the following code:

update_post_meta( 1, '_visibility', 'visible' );

Does wordpress check to see if post_id 1 key _visable has a value of visible before writing to database?

I have an import script and I'm wondering is this would save processing time.

function update_post_meta_check($post_id, $key, $value) {
        $old = get_post_meta($post_id, $key);
        if ($old == $value) {
                return false;
        } else {
            return update_post_meta($post_id, $key, $value);

Or does Wordpress already do this check itself?

For reference I expect many of my post meta to remain unchanged - so the extra get_post_meta will be ok if i can bypas alot of update_post_meta's...

1 Answer 1


update_post_meta() uses update_metadata() to update the post metadata, and if you call update_post_meta() without specifying the fourth parameter (i.e. $prev_value) — or that the value is empty, then yes, update_metadata() will check if the new value is the same as the current value in the database, and if so, the metadata will not be updated.

You can check lines #195 to #202 in the update_metadata() source for the revelant code.

(Update: Added the note below; above the "Additional Note" section.)

And even if you specify the $prev_value (and set it to a non-empty value), MySQL will not update the metadata if $prev_value equals to the new value:

// Returns FALSE if current database value is 'hidden'...
update_post_meta( 123, '_visibility', 'hidden', 'hidden' );

Additional Note: Update metadata if exists; else, don't create new.

update_post_meta() / update_metadata() will automatically add the metadata if an existing entry is not found in the database. So if you don't want that to happen, you can use metadata_exists() to prevent the automatic metadata creation; for example:

// 123 is the post ID.
if ( metadata_exists( 'post', 123, '_visibility' ) ) {
    update_post_meta( 123, '_visibility', 'hidden' );

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