WordPress Troubleshooting 101: How To Fix Plugins, Themes & Other WordPress Problems

WordPress troubleshooting skills are important! Whether you’ve been running your WordPress site for a while, or you’re a beginner, things can go wrong! Conflicts, crashes, bugs, and other problems are going to happen.

So what do you do?

Don’t panic!

There is help to be had, and solutions to be found.

WordPress troubleshooting knowledge is an integral part of running your own site. In this blog post we want to talk about the basics of troubleshooting. How to isolate WordPress conflicts, and other issues you may come across.

This will be a beginners guide, touching on many subjects. There’s a lot of good tips in here for those who are more experienced too. With so much to cover, we have included a table of contents, and additional resources.

The Wide World of WordPress Problems

WordPress is a powerful tool, and we love it. Its modular structure enables anyone to do almost anything. Expanding its core using themes and plugins is easy.

But…

With so many people making software independently for one system, things are bound to go wrong sometimes.

Some common issues we will be discussing are:

  • WordPress Theme and Plugin Conflicts
  • Crashes
  • WordPress Site Slowness
  • General Buginess
  • Changes not taking effect

Will also be touching on many general areas of health and upkeep  for WordPress. Things like:

  • WordPress Staging sites
  • Good WordPress backup practices
  • Using FTP with WordPress
  • WordPress Caching

By the end of this article we want you to be…

Finding Solutions

It’s important to know first how to keep your site healthy. Both to avoid issues, and to be able to address them. To that end, this blog post is going to focus a lot on the vital skill of isolation.

“What is Isolation?”

Isolation is the process of determining the root cause of your issues. It involves identifying, then eliminating, potential suspects until there is only one left. Finding that smoking gun is also nice, but there could be accomplices. So it’s always important to identify and rule out other suspects.

In other words; Go play detective!

Being able to analyze, and isolate your issues is vital. Knowing how to find the root cause of your issue, will speed you along to healthy site again.

Happy, Healthy, and Prepared

Before we get more into troubleshooting, let’s talk about what you can do before you run into issues. Things that will both help you avoid, and be able to deal with, issues better.

Keep Updated

Running an updated WordPress installation is sooooo important. For the general health of your website, and for avoiding issues.

Your WP version, theme, and all plugins should always be fully updated. While an update can cause problems, not updating is much worse! It’s a greater potential for conflicts, bugs, and a big security risk.

This doesn’t only mean having plugins and themes that are “fully updated”. It’s also very important to be using software that’s frequently updated and supported by its author.

Example:

If your theme is ‘fully updated’, but there’s been no update for 2 years, and no one is supporting it, then your site is not ‘up to date’.

That doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy a theme, to replace your old one, right now. Just don’t be surprised if it starts causing issues, and you do need to get something more updated

WordPress Backups, and Staging Sites

I want to take a minute to discuss these, but not in too much detail. It’s worth knowing the advantages of having good backup practices and a staging site.

Both backups and staging sites can be setup via some web hosts, with plugins, locally hosted on your machine, or with other services. There are pro’s and con’s to each option.

WordPress Backups:

Good backup practices are essential. Many plugins are offered, both free and paid, that offer backups. However, If your site were to crash completely, you may not be able to reach those backups. So it’s good to know what backup options your host offers, and how to manually backup your entire site. Having a backup method outside of a WordPress is highly recommended, but there’s nothing wrong with using a plugin as well.

Having good backup practices in place is the absolute best way to prepare for disaster.

It will give you peace of mind. No matter what goes wrong, you can always restore a backup. This makes troubleshooting issues yourself a lot less scary as well.

Want to learn more?

Here’s an extensive article we suggest:

https://skillcrush.com/2015/04/23/backing-up-wordpress/

WordPress Staging Sites

Staging sites are even cooler than (but not exclusive to) backups. They will help you in many similar ways.

A staging site is an exact duplicate of your live website, but it’s not live. It’s a safe place to test anything out before applying it to your live site. This gives an awesome ability to experiment, and to troubleshoot. All worry free.

It a great tool for authors and developers to work on software in a safe environment.

Inside secret:

Your support personnel can often be a lot more help, if you can release them into a staging environment.

Working on issues on a live site is precarious. So Intensive WordPress troubleshooting steps will often be left up to the customer.

Experienced designers and developers encourage always doing any work in your staging site. Anything from installing plugins, to troubleshooting, and adding new content.

The more traffic you have the more important it is to be using a staging site. Imagine never having to worry about issues affecting your customers. With a staging site you can make sure.

Want to get started with a staging site?

Here’s an awesome blog post. It discusses the many options for setting up a staging site:

https://www.elegantthemes.com/blog/tips-tricks/how-to-create-a-wordpress-staging-site

Using FTP and WordPress Troubleshooting

If you have reviewed some of the additional resources above, you will have seen FTP mentioned a lot. FTP , or ‘File Transfer Protocol’, is a very useful tool, as it gives you full control over your own site.

How?

You can use FTP to access files and folders from your website. You can add or remove files this way. This can be used for troubleshooting purposes, manually installing software, and removing it.

Many people have run a WordPress site for years, without ever knowing how to use FTP. It’s intimidating. But I strongly encourage everyone to learn about it. You will be thankful you did.

Some examples

  1. Your WordPress Dashboard, or even your entire site has become broken, or even inaccessible. You installed a plugin and BAM!

    No biggie,

    Boot up your preferred FTP client. Navigate to your sites plugins in the WordPress /content folder. Delete the plugins folder here, and you’re done. Your site should now be up and running again.

  2. Having trouble installing a theme or plugin? Sometimes WordPress, or your host, may have restrictions in pace affecting larger files.

  3. You can change these restrictions via FTP, if you want. Or you could drop the plugin file right in place!

  4. You can copy the entirety of your WordPress installations files to your computer. This lets you manually create backups, and staging sites.

If you know how to take advantage of FTP,  WordPress troubleshooting is easy. And if the worst happens, you can get up and running again. Hopefully while the software authors address the issue.

This requires 2 main things:

  • Having a FTP client installed and setup
  • An understanding of basic WordPress file structure.

Isolating WordPress Plugin and Theme Conflicts

As discussed above, we want you being able to identify the root cause of any issues you experience. This will help you, and the software author’s, speed you on your way to recovery.

WordPress conflicts are when one plugin or theme interferes with another. Symptoms can be just about anything, and it’s hard to tell if any given issue is a conflict.

This means it’s always important to rule out conflicts. If filing a support ticket you will very likely be asked to do so (if you have not already).

The most common way to isolate any possible conflicts is by a process of elimination. We will also discuss the more advanced method of using your console to identify errors as well.

Manually Searching for WordPress Theme and plugin conflicts

This is the most effective method for searching for conflicts. By using order of elimination, you will find which piece of software is the cause. It will also help you determine if your problem is not a conflict. (which if not, it usually means something the author needs to resolve).

The steps are as follows:

  1. Deactivate all plugins. (Except the one experiencing issues, if the issue is specific to one plugins functions.)
  2. See if the issue persists:
    • If so, your issue is not caused by conflict with a plugin. Move on to step 4
    • If the issue is gone, one of the deactivated plugins was causing a conflict. You need to find which.
  3. Reactivate your plugins one at a time, and check after each to see if the issue returns. When it does, you will have found the plugin conflict.
  4. If a plugin conflict is not found, check the theme next. Revert to a default WordPress theme like ‘Twenty Seventeen’.
    • If the issue is gone, you have a theme conflict.
    • If not, the issue is not caused by your theme, or a plugin.

Even if you don’t find a conflict, knowing will greatly help you, and the authors, find a resolution. Once you have isolated, report your results to the appropriate place.

If you do find a conflict, report it to the authors of both pieces of software. See what they can do for you. Remember that these things happen, and conflicts are usually no-ones fault.

If the issue is not a conflict, it may be specific to the theme, or plugin, experiencing the issue. It could also be more of a general WordPress, hosting, or caching, problem. To learn about those, read on.

Some notes to help while searching for conflicts:

  • If you have a lot of plugins, reactivate them in batches or halves. This will help to narrow it down quicker.
  • Remember if the issue is plugin specific, leave that plugin active. Or else you can’t to see if the issue is gone.
  • Most plugins and themes will not lose your data or configuration while deactivated. If you’re concerned about this contact the software authors for details.
  • To rehash, have backups in place. Or better yet, do this work in your staging site.

Finding Console Errors

While the above process is extremely reliable, it can also be daunting. So we’re going to talk about another, more advanced, option to help you isolate conflicts. This is another handy tool for general site health, as it will warn you of many issues.

It’s using your browser’s console.

This lets us find errors happening on your website.

Sometimes console errors will tell you exactly what the source of any given issue is. Most errors will list a file-path to the offending code. This lets you track down issues to specific software.

You won’t get a console error for every issue you come across, which is why the above method is more reliable. But this can give you a lot of information towards isolating the issue, real fast. So it’s worth trying first.

“Sounds great! How do I do that?”

Well that depends on the browser you use. Each browser software comes with it’s own method of accessing the console. Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are some of the best.

For many just tight click, and inspect, then navigate to the console in the nav. You many need to enable this first.

Rather than going over them all in detail, here’s a short video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYw02Z9oUfs&t=49s

“Ok. I see console errors, but I don’t understand them.”

That’s okay, knowing it’s there gives you a lot to go off of. If a file path is provided be sure to take a look at that. It may list another plugin, or your theme (this is where knowing the WP file structure comes in handy). Make sure the path is expanded, (you may need to hover over it as shown below) and grab a screenshot of the error:

You can search for console errors wherever. Whether in your dashboard, or the front-end of your website. Open up your console and replicate your issue.

If the file path lists another theme or plugin, you may have isolated a conflict. Try deactivating it to see if the issue is gone. If so you’ve found the conflict without having to check every single plugin! It’s time to let the authors know.

If your error lists the software already exhibiting issues, that helps too. This information will help to give the software authors authors a much better idea of what is wrong. So send along screenshots of any console errors to your support guys. They’ll appreciate it, and it will help them to help you!

Pro tip:

It’s also a great idea to check your console on occasion, even if nothing appears wrong. You may be surprised what you find, and resolving any console errors will help you to maintain your site.

Not sure what do about a console error you found? Try searching for the error online. You may need to strip some of the specifics to get relevant results. Remember there is 99.9% chance that any issue you are having has been experienced before. That means the solution is likely already posted online, you just have to find it.

Troubleshooting Other WordPress Installation Issues

So, we’ve talked a lot about conflicts. What if your issue doesn’t seem to be a conflict? Maybe it’s a bunch of things?

What we’re talking about here is things like site slowness, general bugginess, crashes, and really anything else that is confirmed not to be the fault of specific software you’ve installed.

What then?

Well, follow the article. Remember we’re talking about how to isolate, use process of elimination, and following practices that will help you recover after a disaster. All of these things still apply. You can use the instructions on conflict searching above to verify if an issue is not related to any theme or plugins, or many.

If the cause is something else, there are usually 3 categories they’ll fit into:

  • Problems between many plugins/theme together.
  • General WordPress problems, or installation problems
  • Problems on your web host’s side of things

These don’t cover every problem of course, but keep in mind that these are the main sources of issues, besides the bugs and conflicts you will find with software you install.

Use your knowledge of how these different parts of your website interact, to try to isolate where the source of the issue could be. Then you know who best to reach out to for help. Having console errors ready, and a staging site setup, will help you, your host, or the WordPress community, help you out a lot better as well

Troubleshooting WordPress Slowness:

Slowness in your WordPress site is a big problem, it’s also a hard one to pin down. It can be caused by your host, your theme, your plugins, or WordPress itself.

“So what now?”

We start isolating! Catching on yet?

Your web host can tell you if it’s them or not. If your site seems slow, contact your web host. Ask them if the amount of traffic you get, and size of your site, require a better plan. Also inquire if there are any noticeable issues. If there is an issue on their end they are usually great about finding it, once you ask them to look.

Doesn’t seem to be your host? Good. What about plugins?

You can try disabling them in groups to find ones that have the most impact. Better yet, there are many free plugins you can you use. They’ll help you find out if your software is having a large impact on site performance. Do your research to find one that works for your needs, and what you are trying to test.

WordPress Plugin Performance Profiler used to be the go-to for this. It’s no longer updated, or working unfortunately. So here’s a great article on some alternatives, and how to use them.

https://asphaltthemes.com/alternative-to-p3-plugin-performance-profiler/

These tools can also help you determine if the issue lies elsewhere. Theme, hosting, media, and many other variables, can affect your sites performance. These tools will help narrow it down.

If you can’t isolate your site’s slowness to any one thing in particular, it’s time to learn more about optimization. This is a whole different topic, but some things to look more into are:

  • Using optimized images of appropriate sizes.
  • Setting up some caching through your host or with a plugin.
  • Avoiding bloat! More is always less when it comes to speed. Avoid unnecessary content and plugins. Get rid of anything you’re are not using, and keep your trash empty.
  • Setting up a CDN (Content Delivery Network) can massively increase load speeds.

Troubleshooting WordPress Caching Issues:

Are changes you’ve made recently not showing on the front end? Are things just a little off, or out of place visually? Sounds like you might have a caching issue.

Having some form of caching setup is highly recommended. It will increase load speed and reliability for all your viewers. Caching can be setup with your host, or a plugin. Your browser will also have its own caching as well. The point of caching is to save documents that run through the cache, so they can be delivered more quickly the second time around.

Occasionally your caching can lead to issues. If you’ve recently made changes, the assets may be pulled from the cache, instead of the source. Caches can also become malformed, and deliver badly formatted pages.

Remember that caching happens at multiple levels, so if you think you are experiencing a caching issue there are a few things to try. Start at the lowest level and work your way up.

Browser Caching:

Clearing your browsers caching is easy. Almost all browsers support the ctrl+f5 hotkey in Windows, or a the cmnd+option+E hotkey in OS X machines. These will refresh the page, without pulling anything from the cache. You can also clear your history entirely, which also clears your cache, for most browsers.

WordPress Plugin Caching:

If you run a plugin for caching purposes, it will have an option to clear the cache inside. Use this anytime changes don’t seem to be taking effect, or you have other visual issues.

Web Host Caching:

If the first two options don’t help, you’ll want to clear your caching with your web host. If you’re not sure how to do this, contact your host for assistance.

Did you know?

If your site is hosted on WP Engine, they will add an interface into your WordPress Dashboard, and you can clear your caching from there.

Resolutions and Workarounds:

So now It’s time to fix the issue, and come to a resolution. A ‘resolution’ is whatever you need it to be. It’s whatever will help you continue on with running your site.

Often times it may require an update, or patch to software you are using, and you will need to contact the authors. Sometimes a resolution means finding an alternative. But there is another thing to consider, which is working around the issue.

What’s a workaround, you ask?

Ok maybe not, but what is a workaround in terms of WordPress troubleshooting?

Let’s put this into context:

A common conflict is plugin A preventing you from accessing plugin B in your WP Dashboard. However, if things still work on the front end, you can workaround this.

Try temporarily deactivating plugin A, to allow you to work in B, so you can publish your content. Then reactivate plugin A. This is a common workaround.

It’s always worth considering if your situation has a workaround, but it’s never going to be a full ‘fix’. It’s best to always contact the parties involved, for any problem. Software authors may also suggest workarounds though.

Where to go:

Because you know the cause of the issue, you know exactly who to contact for help, and what to tell them.

When contacting various support channels, always be detailed. Describe the problem in great detail, and any troubleshooting you’ve already tried. Include screenshots, URLs, error messages, and expected behavior. These details will always be appreciated.

Plugin/Theme Issues:

Plugin and theme authors are usually very helpful. A paid support channel, or the WordPress.org support forums for your products are the best places to go. Remember to contact both parties if dealing with a conflict. Even if one of them can’t resolve it on their end, they can likely provide some useful information.

Hosting Issues:

Think you’ve isolated an issue to your hosting? Most web hosts offer support and are very helpful with any issues.

Not sure if the issue is on their end or not? With a detailed report, and good isolation, they can tell you if any given issue is on their end.

Other WordPress Issues:

For many other problems you may run into, remember there is an awesome online community to help you out. The WordPress.org support forums are full of useful people for any question. Guides, tools and services are abound on the internet, to help you with anything.

Because of your awesome troubleshooting skills, you can look for help in the right places, and ask the right questions.

We hoped this guide helped you learn a lot about good troubleshooting practices. We put a lot of time into it. We’d love to hear from you, if you think improvements could be made. Just leave us a comment below.