Basic WordPress Troubleshooting

What Can Go Wrong

WordPress is an excellent platform on which to build a website. For new users, it’s often scary to make changes to the site for fear of causing a problem. That’s why it’s critical to understand WordPress troubleshooting so you don’t feel the urge to panic when something goes wrong.

Sometimes when something goes wrong, you’ll still have access to the admin area, but there may be times when you don’t, so I’ll cover both situations.

Before we get started, let’s talk about one of the most important parts of maintenance of your site: backups. If you haven’t been backing up your site regularly, this experience will make a believer out of you. If you have, you’ll breathe a sign of relief.

I make changes and post new content frequently on my site, so I have daily backups. That way if something goes horribly wrong, I can easily recover the site. Before you begin troubleshooting, clear your browser cache and/or view your site in a private window.

If you have access to your admin area, you might want to install a maintenance plugin so you’re not showing your errors to the world. You’ll need FTP access and WordPress admin access (in the admin user role).

WordPress Troubleshooting If You Have Admin Access

If you have admin access, you’re in luck. Here are the first steps.

  1. Deactivate all plugins. If the problem goes away, you know it’s a plugin conflict. Reactivate your plugins one by one until the error comes up again. Then you know what plugin is causing the issue. Delete it and find a similar plugin that won’t cause issues.
  2. If it’s not a plugin issue, it may be a theme problem. Set your active theme to one of WordPress’ default themes, (Twenty Twenty, Twenty Twenty-One, etc.) and see if the problem persists, If it does, you don’t have a theme issue. If the problem persists, at least now you know it’s theme related.
  3. Refresh your permalinks. To do this, go to Settings > Permalinks, scroll to the bottom and click Save Settings. That’s all you have to do. That will force WordPress to refresh your permalinks and often takes care of the problem.
  4. Check your Site URL settings. Go to Settings > General Settings and ensure that the WordPress Address and Site Address are identical.

If You Don’t Have Admin Access or the Above Steps Don’t Work

If you don’t have admin access, or if the steps above haven’t helped, you’ll need FTP access, either from a code editing application or the CPanel or similar area on your host. The area you want will be File Manager or something similar.

The steps aren’t that different from the steps above, but you’ll do them differently.

  1. Deactivate plugins. You’ll do this by renaming the plugins folder. You’ll find it at wp-content/plugins. Just add an underscore or -old to the plugins folder and all plugins will be deactivated. Once you know it’s a plugin problem, you can revert the plugins folder back to its original name, then change the name of each plugin until the site is back. At that point, you’ll probably again be able to access the admin area.
  2. If it’s not a plugin issue, again, look at your theme. Follow the same procedure as with plugins. If you change the folder name of your active theme, it will revert to a default WordPress theme. If the problem goes away, you’ll know it’s a theme issue.
  3. Reinstall WordPress manually. Download WordPress from WordPress.org, open the zipped folder and overwrite the core files in your WordPress installation. Do not overwrite the wp-content folder — if you do, you’ll lose all of your themes and plugins and have to reinstall.
  4. If problems persist, get in touch with your hosting company. Many hosts now have live chat, which connects you with someone who can help in real time and stick with you until the problem is resolved. They’ll also be able to tell you if the issue is with the hosting.

Common Errors

White Screen of Death

This is exactly what it sounds like and just as scary. When you access your site, you’ll see a blank white screen. According to WPBeginner.com, a white screen of death usually means you have exhausted your memory limit. To fix this, find the following line of code in your config.php file

define( ‘WP_MEMORY_LIMIT’, ‘256M’ );

Increase the number and check to see if the problem is fixed. If this step doesn’t fix the issue, go back to the plugin and theme steps, as it’s usually related to one of those.

Internal Server Error

This error is often caused by a corrupted .htaccess file. In either the File Manager section of your hosting account or your FTP application, you’ll have to turn on the show hidden files option if you haven’t already. By default, any file with a dot (.) at the beginning of the filename is hidden.

wordpress troubleshooting

In the root directory of your site, find the .htaccess file. Rename it. This will force WordPress to create a new file. This will often take care of the problem. Also ensure that there are no extra lines in this file. Here’s a basic WordPress .htaccess file.

wordpress troubleshooting

403 Forbidden Error

This error can often be fixed by generating a new .htaccess file, as above.

General Causes of Errors

Most errors are the result of a plugin or theme conflict, so the primary WordPress troubleshooting steps detailed above are a great starting point.

Occasionally a WordPress, theme, or plugin update will cause issues. In this case, you can use a plugin like WP Rollback to go back to the previous version.

Above all, don’t panic. With WordPress’ market share now 40 percent of all websites, it’s highly unlikely that you have an issue that someone hasn’t found a fix for. A Google search will likely find what you need and sites like WPBeginner.com and the WordPress site have a wealth of resources to offer.

Oh, yeah, and be sure to back your site up regularly.

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