A huge part of WordPress’ attraction as a content management system has always been its simplicity of use for site owners of all experience levels. Along with the level of power and flexibility it provides, that intuitive ease has only increased over the years.
Just like any piece of software, however, things will not always run smoothly or according to plan. No matter what your level of involvement with a site is, there will inevitably be times where you have to perform troubleshooting on your site in order to fix a problem. Whether it’s your first time using the platform or not, this can be a tricky business and is a skill in itself – one well worth learning.
In this article, we’ll cover the foundations of how to build that skill and walk you through simple steps to take to troubleshoot effectively.
Let’s get going!
Make Sure You Understand the Software Itself
As mentioned above, it’s incredibly simple to get going with WordPress these days. Fully managed hosting options and a slew of improvements to the core software over the years mean site owners can be up and running with literally just a few clicks.
This is good news for most people but it does bring an attendant risk – many people are happily working away on their WordPress sites with little to no knowledge of what’s actually happening under the hood. That’s not a problem when everything is humming along smoothly, but it becomes a big issue when things go wrong.
The first step in learning how to troubleshoot in WordPress is making sure you understand the basics of how the platform works. This doesn’t mean you need a computer science degree, but it does mean you should take the time to read up on the structure of the software. Use these resources to kickstart the learning process:
The WordPress Codex:
First of all, you should know the Codex exists. Second of all, you should make sure you’ve gone through the Learn How to Use WordPress
section on the front page. The Getting Started with WordPress
and New To WordPress – Where to Start
sections are particularly essential reading.
Many people learn quicker via video and WP101 is an excellent resource for quickly getting up to speed on WordPress essentials. High-quality free videos are there to cover all the basics and you can upgrade to a premium membership for just $35 per year to cover more advanced material. Further excellent (paid) WordPress overviews are available on Lynda
if video is your learning medium of choice.
Grasp the Importance of Backing up Early
Before we get on to actual troubleshooting steps, it’s critical that you understand the importance of backing up your sites. Troubleshooting is usually required as a result of some sort of change to a site and performing it will almost certainly involve further changes. In this context, it’s imperative you have a stable backup of material to refer and potentially revert to.
We’ve covered the subject of backups in depth on the blog before so, rather than rehash the steps here, I’d suggest reading that article carefully as soon as possible if you don’t already have a working backup system in place.
Get Familiar with the Basics of Troubleshooting
If you’ve stepped through the resources mentioned above, you should have a decent understanding of the basics of WordPress and the security of knowing a reliable backup is in place for when things go wrong. Now it’s time to look at what to do when unfortunate events occur.
It’s never pleasant when trouble rears its head but, rest assured, you are very far from the first WordPress user that this has happened to. So much so, in fact, that there is an entire section of the WordPress Codex devoted to troubleshooting. This is a truly excellent resource so it’s worth stepping through some of its sections in a little more detail:
: Knowing where you can turn to is half the battle with troubleshooting. This section offers useful general tips
and points you in the direction of essential resources such as the support forums
. If you’re relying on particular themes or plugins, you’ll also want to make sure you’ve identified their documentation
and support pages
for help with common problems.
WordPress is easier to install than ever, but this is still an area that reliably trips up newbies. The vast majority of these issues are “solved problems” (in the sense that the solutions for common problems are widely known) so bookmarking this section if you are new to the game is advised.
Design and Layout Troubleshooting:
With the terrifying range of device and browser configurations
your content needs to work smoothly on, it’s inevitable you’ll spend time troubleshooting front end display issues. This section gives you solid advice on basics such as CSS troubleshooting
. Again, you’ll want to have the resources for your theme and plugin providers to hand in this department also.
Understand the Stack
The resources we’ve identified above relate largely to WordPress itself, but the software exists in the context of an overall technology stack that makes it possible.
Problems at any level of the stack can bring your site down or cause issues so it’s important you have at least a basic understanding of the layers. Let’s step through them briefly:
If something goes horribly wrong at the provider level, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. That’s why it’s essential to deal with reputable providers. We recommend both Bluehost
and WP Engine
, both of whom provide excellent uptime and top-notch support for troubleshooting queries.
The number of options you have here in terms of troubleshooting and general control will depend on the type of hosting package you have. If you’re managing your own setup, you want access to web server error logs and PHP error logs
to track down potential issues as they arise. You’ll also want to be sure you have enough memory allocated
to your WordPress install.
WordPress makes heavy use of database resources and this is a common point of failure for sites. Again, your options here will be limited by your hosting package. Start by making sure that you have access to your database to begin with, and get to grips with common causes behind typical errors such as Error establishing a database connection
A vanilla version of the latest version of WordPress should actually be the most hassle-free part of the stack. Make sure you’re keeping up to date
and also that you actually review the release notes before updating to understand potential pitfalls. You should also consult the Debugging in WordPress
section of the Codex.
Themes and plugins:
These are sadly the root cause of many WordPress issues. Keep things simple by using a manageable amount of plugins to begin with. When it comes to troubleshooting, it’s essential you have a solid local test install of WordPress
available where you can calmly step through activating and deactivating plugins to root out issues in a calm environment.
Recognizing these distinct areas where problems can occur is a huge step in being able to effectively troubleshoot. You should also take a good look at the Common WordPress Errors page on the Codex which will give you a solid introduction to problems that pop up at all of the stages above.
Troubleshooting is a skill that can be learned, but you’ll need to commit to constant learning to stay effective. WordPress and its surrounding technology stack are in a state of constant flux so new issues will always arise.
By tackling the four areas we covered above, you give yourself an excellent platform from which to continually expand your knowledge and approach issues large and small with confidence. Let’s step through the areas again:
Make sure you understand the software itself.
Grasp the importance of backing up early.
Get familiar with the basics of WordPress troubleshooting.
Understand the stack.
We’d love to hear how you approach troubleshooting in WordPress. Is there a particular area that regularly trips you up? Or a troubleshooting topic you’d like to see us tackle in more depth? Get in touch and let us know!
Image Credit: MattysFlicks