Advanced Troubleshooting For Your WordPress Site

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Will Youmans

November 3, 2018

Advanced Troubleshooting For Your WordPress Site

Years ago, WordPress, the blogging platform, broke out as one of the most popular content management systems used across the Internet. Millions of webonauts found the platform’s extensibility, ease of customization, and design flexibility to be a great fit for their needs and budgets.

WordPress sites, however, are a bit like gardens. Look away for too long, and weeds, brambles, and weasels have a funny way of finding their way in and choking the life out of the thing. Just because WordPress is so popular doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be super rosy during deployment or upkeep. In fact, like every other programming project ever, things can and do go wrong.

Forefront Software Rule of Thumb: Always backup your WordPress site. Test your procedure for unpacking your backup by installing the backup onto a test server. It’s heartbreaking to get a call from someone who’s brother or friend, “the developer” has accidentally nuked their site. The only sure-fire way to recover from a server breakdown, a hacking, or incompetence, is to have an installable payload backup of your site. We use plugins that let us backup to Dropbox, i.e., Backup Buddy (paid) and Wordpress Backup (free).

Ok, here is our list of the top areas to focus on when troubleshooting a broken WordPress site:

Plugin Conflict Hell

Conflicts between your plugins are probably the #1 culprit that can break your site. Or slow it down. The insidious part about plugin conflict is that sometimes it’s very subtle. (read: difficult to detect even when you’re on the lookout for it). There are close to 50,000 plugins available for WordPress (49,626 to be exact). That’s what their site says ( Hunting down the culprit plugin can be time-consuming, especially, as in most cases, the site is live. A friend of mine likens this to trying to change a flat tire without stopping the car.

Here’s how to hunt down problem plugins:

  • Make a local copy of the site.
  • Turn off the plugins one at a time. Do this until the problem is resolved. (Or turn them ALL off at once, and bring them back up one at a time.)
  • You’re trying to narrow the field to just one problem plugin.
  • If you do find one of the plugins to be causing the problem, see about reaching out to the developer. We often find these people being very helpful in resolving your issues.

A brief note about running a local copy of your site: Very often the local version of PHP will be different than what’s on the live server. Memory limits at the host might also differ slightly. These differences mean your dev environment may not be 100% the same as your live environment. You can burn up serious hours hunting for ghosts.

Tell WordPress to Record Errors into a Log.

Access to your server logs is invaluable. Yes, they can be mind-numbingly inscrutable to the untrained eye. But logs help you get to the heart of a problem, fast.

To start error logging,

Make sure the following lines are in your wp-config.php file

define('WP_DEBUG', true);

define('WP_DEBUG_LOG', true);

NOTE 1: Only when there is something to be recorded, will the log be created. By default, it can be found in wp-content/debug.log

NOTE 2: You’ll want to have logging enabled during development or if you’re debugging in production. It’s bad practice to have logging running on your production server all the time.

Security and Brute Force Attacks

We know firewall Plugins are popular. However, we don’t usually use them. Instead, there are Linux tools we install on the server to keep it locked down. We always install iThemes security on our WordPress sites ( When configured correctly, this plugin provides everything you need. We firmly discourage installing multiple security plugins because of Plugin Conflict Hell. (see above).

Broken Stylesheets

If the problem is a broken UI, you’ll need to clean up and optimize the stylesheets. This means combining multiple files into one, testing, resolving conflicts, and minifying it. Again, here too you’ll want to check for Plugin conflict. Save yourself some headache. Install as few plugins as possible.

Broken JavaScript Functionality

If the problem is broken JavaScript functionality or a bunch of errors showing in the browser console, you’ll need to combine and optimize the JavaScript in the same way as the stylesheets (see above). Again, here too you might find a freshly updated Plugin to be the culprit of your issues. Another Youmans rule of thumb: test plugin updates on your “sandboxed” version of the site before you take those changes to the live production server.

Broken Links

Adding external links to your sites is good for SEO. Likewise, adding links to pages within your site is de rigueur for smart search engine optimization policy. However very often links to external websites, pages, resources or diagrams can change. Broken links are bad. They can negatively impact your search engine optimization (SEO). Broken links don’t strictly fall under the heading of fixing a malfunctioning WordPress site, however rooting out nonworking links keeps things tidy (and Google happy). Consider installing a link checker to automatically test links in WordPress and inform you if any have become severed.