How to Fix WordPress Problems – Some Basic Troubleshooting Steps

Errors that arise after updating something

You updated a plugin, or a theme, or WordPress itself and suddenly something goes wrong – sound familiar?

“…Why can’t I update my posts anymore..?” “…Why am I getting these warning messages..?” “…Why has the layout on the front of my site changed..?”

The WordPress eco-system

WordPress is often called an eco-system and here’s why:

The WordPress core itself is actually quite small. It’s the plugins and themes that bring the functionality, look and feel you want from your site.

Want to run a shop? Add a plugin. Want to run a forum? Add a plugin. Want to offer a directory? Add a plugin.

With well over 55,000 plugins and many thousands of themes available, all them in theory working together to deliver the look and functionality that you want, it is inevitable that at some point something is going to break.

Default WordPress troubleshooting guide

The WordPress core is actually very stable and reliable.

It’s almost certain, as a result, that any problems that arise on your site will result from a plugin or a theme that is conflicting with another plugin or theme.

So here’s the default process to go through before you call someone for help:

  1. Go to your plugins page and delete any plugins that are inactive (as a general rule, you should not keep inactive plugins on your site)
  2. Check your site for the problem you had
  3. If the problem persists deactivate all the remaining plugins and check your site (remember that your site layout may change because you have deactivated the plugins)
  4. If the problem is fixed jump to step 7
  5. If the problem still persists when all plugins are inactive go to the  Appearance > Themes  screen and activate the most recent WordPress default theme – i.e. change from the theme you are using to the WordPress default theme
  6. Check your site, but remember that the layout and appearance will be different because now you’re using the WordPress default theme. You’re looking for the specific error that occurred after updating
  7. If the problem is fixed then reactivate your plugins one at a time and check the site after reactivating each one
  8. If or when the problem reappears, deactivate the plugin you just activated and leave it deactivated
  9. Check that the problem has disappeared again
  10. Leaving the ‘suspicious’ plugin inactive, continue the process of activating the plugins one by one, checking the site after each one, until they are all active except for the one that caused the problem
  11. If you did not switch to the WordPress default theme jump to step 16
  12. If you did switch to the WordPress default theme, and the site is working correctly with all plugins activated except the ‘suspicious’ one, reactivate the ‘suspicious’ one.
  13. Check the site. If the problem remains fixed this indicates a conflict between the suspicious plugin and your theme. To test this go to the  Appearance > Themes  screen and reactivate your usual theme
  14. Check the site
  15. If the problem re-appears deactivate the ‘suspicious’ plugin again.
  16. If the site is working correctly you know which plugin is causing the problem

When you have identified the culprit, you really have only two choices:

  1. Find another plugin that delivers the functionality you were getting from the one that caused the problem
  2. Leave the problem plugin inactive and raise a trouble ticket with the plugin author

On the rare occasion that none of those steps fixes the problem the next step would be to reinstall WordPress.

Best WordPress Plugin for a Multi-Language Site!

This step is a bit more involved and requires access to your server via FTP. You will need to delete all WordPress folders and files from your server except the wp-content folder and the wp-config.php file.

Then you will need to download a ‘no-content’ version of WordPress from WordPress.org, extract the files and folders and upload them to the server.

Alternatively, you can download a full version of WordPress and extract the files and folders, but you should not upload the wp-config.php file or the wp-content folder to your server.

If you upload the wp-content folder it will over-write your content, plugins and themes. If you upload the wp-config.php file you will need to re-establish the connection to the WordPress database.

If you’re not comfortable with making these changes now would be a good time to call a WordPress expert to help out!

What about ‘500’ errors or ‘403’ errors?

These are usually related to the server more than your WordPress application, and specifically server permissions or something in the .HTACCESS file.

The first step, as long as you have access to your WordPress admin screens, is to go to the  Settings > Permalinks  screen and re-save your settings. Sometimes this is enough to correct any problems in the .HTACCESS file.

If that does not fix the problem, it can sometimes be fixed by accessing your .HTACCESS file, deleting all the code there, and replacing it with the default WordPress .HTACCESS code.

However, unless you’re completely comfortable working with this file, I recommend you contact your hosting provider.

In case you’re feeling adventurous, here’s the default WordPress .HTACCESS code:

# BEGIN WordPress

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]

# END WordPress

Making this change requires that you have access to your server files, either via FTP or your cPanel file manager and, before you make any changes, be sure to take a backup copy of the .HTACCESS file.

However, again, unless you are completely comfortable tackling this I strongly recommend you contact your hosting provider for help when one of these errors appears!

Always remember that messing with the .HTACCESS file can result in your site becoming completely inaccessible if you get it wrong.

OK, hope that helps. Leave a comment below if I need to clarify anything,

Cheers,

Martin Malden

Martin Malden
Owner – WealthyDragon

About the author: Martin has been working online since 2006 and focuses on two areas: 1) affiliate marketing and 2) designing and building websites based on WordPress. He has his own WordPress agency, and serves clients in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK.

What do you think?

6 comments… add one
  • Norman Richards Mar 6, 2019 @ 18:35

    Hello, there is a lot of technical stuff here but you make it sound so easy!

    There is a lot to digest here, but it is good to know that you are making this kind of information available as it can really help those that are facing these kinds of problems.

    • Martin Malden Mar 6, 2019 @ 20:09

      Hi Norman,

      Yes, this is a bit more technical than I originally intended, sorry about that!

      The troubleshooting process of deactivating all plugins and reactivating them one-by-one, and switching to the WordPress default theme, if necessary, is not at all technical – and that was as far as I originally intended to go. Plus, that process will cover 90% of situations that are likely to arise.

      But then I thought I may as well set out the entire process, so I covered the ‘505’ and ‘403’ errors, and reinstalling WordPress, as well.

      These are more technical, but I do qualify those sections with advice to turn to your hosting provider if you’re not completely comfortable working with those. 🙂

      Let me know if I need to clarify anything!

      Cheers,

      Martin.

  • Rogier Mar 6, 2019 @ 20:17

    Hey Martin,

    I really love posts like this that get more into the technical stuff.

    Knowing these kinds of posts are out there setting out steps you can take to find out if plugins are conflicting with each other is really helpful. At least you can do some research and maybe fix problems yourself instead of freaking out and hiring someone to take care of it. That can save a lot of money!

    • Martin Malden Mar 7, 2019 @ 6:38

      Hi Rogier,

      Glad you liked it!

      It doesn’t only save money being able to sort out problems like these yourself, it saves time as well – unless, of course, you have a developer on hand who instantly replies to your cries for help whenever you need them (not often the case)..! 🙂

      Cheers,

      Martin.

  • Matt Lin Jun 30, 2020 @ 22:07

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for the step by step process to debug a problematic plugin that we install on our WordPress website, which is very helpful & useful.

    It reminds me of another of your articles, sharing tips we need to consider before installing a plugin. Will all of this happen if we stick to that criteria you shared?

    If yes, what might be the reason?

    Cheers,
    Matt

    • Martin Malden Jul 1, 2020 @ 18:22

      Hi Matt,

      Plugins, themes and the WordPress core are being updated all the time and, occasionally, a webmaster will do an update and suddenly experience a problem.

      There are any number of reasons for this, ranging from an error in coding the update through to one of your other plugins not having been updated by its author to keep pace with technology updates – for example, moving to a new PHP version.

      So yes, you can experience problems like this even if you followed all the steps on choosing a good plugin!

      Cheers,

      Martin.

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