Troubleshooting a WordPress error

One of the great things about the WordPress community is the amazing number of people who develop plugins for the blog platform and make them freely available to anyone.

Plugins are useful bits of code that add new or improve the existing functionality of your WordPress blog.

New plugins, and updates to existing ones, have been appearing thick and fast in recent weeks. So yesterday, I visited my list of installed plugins and updated a couple of essential ones. I’ve downloaded a lengthy queue of others which I’ll do when I have another spare moment.

I also added a new one which, as I subseqently discovered, caused havoc with the blog resulting in the blog being unavailable for about half an hour until I was able to fix the problem. I commented about it in a discussion thread on the WordPress Support Forum.

This is the first time I’ve installed any WordPress plugin that caused such a major problem. Having your blog vanish and be replaced by an alarming error text would give anyone a major headache.

In such situations, you have to employ a logical approach to troubleshooting:

  1. Study the error message, if there is one, for clues as to where in your WordPress installation the error might be.
  2. Think about what you were doing in your blog immediately before the error occurred. This is the first next step, so to speak, if any error message leaves you clueless.
  3. If you just installed a new plugin, or upgraded an existing one, deactivate it and try and access your blog again. If the error ends, you’ve found the culprit. You then need to troubleshoot the specific plugin.
  4. The same goes for themes – if you’re trying a new one, or installed an upgrade to an exisiting one, switch to the default Kubrick theme that ships with WordPress and try and access your blog. If the problem goes away, you’ve found the culprit and you’ll need to investigate the particular theme.
  5. If you still can’t fix the problem, re-upload the core WordPress files again from the original files on your computer (you did keep them, didn’t you?), paying special attention to how your FTP program treats the files. For instance PHP files shoud be uploaded as text files not binary files. If your server uses Apache, check your .htaccess file to see if there’s any entry in there that might offer a clue as to the cause of the problem.
  6. If any error message mentioned PHP anywhere, look for some help (and hopefully answers) from the hosting company from which you rent the space for your blog.
  7. If all your troubleshooting steps fail, it’s time to ask the community for help by posting a help request in the WordPress Support Forum. You’ll need to be as specific as possible re the error including explaining all the troubleshooting steps you’ve taken to find a solution.

What’s your experience with troubleshooting WordPress errors? Are there any other steps that should be added here?

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.