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?
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.
- 1 The Wide World of WordPress Problems
- 2 Finding Solutions
- 3 Happy, Healthy, and Prepared
- 4 Isolating WordPress Plugin and Theme Conflicts
- 5 Troubleshooting Other WordPress Installation Issues
- 6 Resolutions and Workarounds:
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.
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
- 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…
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 a 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.
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.
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 set up via some web hosts, with plugins, locally hosted on your machine, or with other services. There are pros and cons to each option.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 an 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.
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).
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.
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.
“Sounds great! How do I do that?”
Well that depends on the browser you use. Each browser software comes with its 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 may need to enable this first.
Rather than going over them all in detail, here’s a short video:
“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 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!
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.
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
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 the 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.
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.
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.
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 cache with your web host. If you’re not sure how to do this, contact your host for assistance.
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?
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 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.
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.