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.

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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, 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,


Martin Malden

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