WordPress Troubleshooting Basics: Part 1


This workshop covers the basics of WordPress troubleshooting. It is aimed at a beginner audience and will cover the strategy to troubleshoot WordPress issues, along with some common troubleshooting steps that will help in fixing many common WordPress issues.

The topics covered include:

Approach to WordPress troubleshooting

  • Importance of a positive mindset
  • Documenting the problem.
  • Identifying the problem
  • Trying to replicate the problem
  • Troubleshooting Steps

Common Troubleshooting steps

  • Conflict tests
  • Backups
  • Staging sites
  • Refreshing permalinks

Learning outcomes

  1. Attendees will learn the strategy to approach any WordPress problem with confidence.
  2. Learn some of the basic troubleshooting steps that can be used to fix any WordPress problem.
  3. Understand some pre-emptive solutions that can be used to prevent WordPress issues.

Comprehension questions

  1. What is the first thing that you need to do, in order to troubleshoot WordPress issues?
  2. What is the approach one should follow in order to troubleshoot issues?
  3. Is it recommended to do troubleshooting in a live site?
  4. What are the things one should keep in mind in order to quickly fix WordPress issues?
  5. What is one troubleshooting method that could potentially fix most issues?

Tanscript

Hello, everybody, my name is Hari Shanker. I’m a deputy with the WordPress community team. Today, I’m going to do a quick workshop on the topic WordPress troubleshooting basics. As you all know, WordPress is open source software that is hosted on a web server to create websites or web applications. You can always extend WordPress using themes, plugins and blocks. If you’ve used WordPress, you know that you cannot create a website using plain vanilla WordPress alone, you would need to extend it in some way or the other, you will need to install some plugin, you will need to install something to change the appearance. And obviously your site is hosted on a web server. So definitely, as you can see that when you use WordPress, there are a lot of moving parts. And a lot of moving parts means there is a possibility that you could run into problems. And if you’ve been a WordPress user for a while now, you would have run into at least one such situation where there is a problem with your site. As a part of this session, I’m going to share with you the basics of WordPress troubleshooting. And after attending this session, you will get an idea about how to troubleshoot problems with WordPress or your WordPress site on your own. I’m going to cover the following topics as part of this workshop. The first one involves some general steps involved in troubleshooting issues in WordPress. The second one is some common WordPress troubleshooting steps. Alright, folks, without further ado, let’s dive in and learn more about how childhood WordPress buckle up. You’re in for a wonderful and exciting ride. So let’s start off our workshop with the first section which is the troubleshooting workflow, or the general steps involved in troubleshooting WordPress issues. You to fix something in your life so far, haven’t you? It could be anything, it could be fixing a broken gadget, or fixing something that was broken in your apartment or even sharpening a broken pencil. Now, the steps involved in troubleshooting WordPress are exactly the same. So how do you fix something that’s broken? Let’s take the example of a broken pencil. So you’re writing using a pencil. And you’ve you found out that the letter is broken, so you cannot write the ritual anymore. So you investigate it first, you see what the problem is, you find out that the lead is broken. So that is the problem. The lead is broken. Now how do you fix it? You need a sharpener to sharpen the pencil in order to fix it. Or you could use something like a blade. Now, you cannot really use a blade because it could it might hurt you. But if you have a sharpener, great, you don’t have a sharpener with you handy. So you ask your friend, your friend gives you the sharpener, use it to sharpen the pencil, and the pencil is sharp. Alright, it looks fixed, but doesn’t really work. So then you go ahead and use try writing with it. Now it’s working perfectly fine, and you fix the problem. The steps involved in fixing any problem with your WordPress website, it could be an error message. It could be a broken website, it could be broken feature. It’s exactly the same. So let’s see how the sole pencil lead thing or the general troubleshooting thing works when troubleshooting WordPress issues.

So before we dive into all of that, I want to share a really important point with all of you. troubleshooting any WordPress issue requires a positive mindset. I repeat, troubleshooting any WordPress issue requires a positive mindset. What does this mean? Alex. So you could be a person that is using WordPress for work, you could be a person that is using WordPress for making a living. There are several hundreds or 1000s of people who do that. There are people that run websites for the work that are people that actually run ecommerce websites which generate revenue. So when there’s a problem with your site, which adversely affects your livelihood, in many cases, or even at some, it adversely affects the work that you’ve done so far. It creates an emotional response in your mind. It makes you angry and livid. And psychology tells us that an angry person or a sad person will not be able to think clearly or to fix problems. So when you are in a negative mindset, and then when you try to fix problems, you may not be able to find a solution. I worked in support for 4.5 years I’ve seen this happen many, many times over. If you’re angry, if you are in a negative mindset, you may not you may not always be able to find the solution to your problem. So when you run into a WordPress problem, first ask yourself how do you feel is making you feel very angry or sad? If that’s the case, I recommend that you take, take some time off, walk away from your computer, take a walk, take a deep breath, take a few deep breaths, drink a glass of water, listen to music, calm yourself down a bit. And then ask yourself, How am I feeling right now? Am I feeling okay? Am I feeling balanced? If you are feeling balanced, come back to your computer, come back to your phone and start working on troubleshooting WordPress. Now, you may think that this is life advice. I’m not here to do life advice. I’m not a life coach by any means whatsoever. But I’ve seen that this works. It’s because when you are negative mindset, you cannot think clearly. And so even if you try troubleshooting WordPress, it might only heighten your emotions. And you may not actually be seeing the array, even if it’s right in front of you. It could be a very simple thing. But you may not see it because your emotions, cloud your judgment. So this is extremely important, while troubleshooting WordPress. And please don’t get me wrong. There are some situations where the problems are critical. And it affects you emotionally. That is not that is not something wrong. I mean, it’s it’s human, we’re all human beings, we have emotions. So it’s not your fault to be emotionally affected by wordpresser issue, especially in cases where versus how do you make money? How do you own your livelihood. So that’s completely fine. What I’m saying is don’t troubleshoot when you’re in a negative state of mind, call it off, and then come back to your computer. So once you’ve achieved a positive state of mind, the next steps towards troubleshooting WordPress are as follows. First one is learn about the problem and to documented. The next thing is to investigate why the problem is happening. And the third step is to actually do the troubleshooting. actually go ahead and fix the problems. So these are the three steps. Let’s start with the first step to learn about the problem and documented. Now not to do that, you got to ask yourself the following questions. So these are the wh questions, as they popularly call it. So what are the symptoms of the problem? Where does this happen? Where is the problem happening? Why is it happening? And how is it happening? Now the first three questions, that’s what you really want to focus on in the beginning? What are the symptoms of the problem? So what do you see as part of the issue? Is your site broken? is just like not loading? Or is the display of one of your pages broken? Or is some feature of your site not working? Find out what it is? And if possible, write it down somewhere? Or make a note of it, at least. Next thing that you notice, when is the problem happening? So what actually caused the error? What like, what steps that you do? Or what steps does what steps a user does on your site? What triggers the problem? So this might need you to do a lot of testing.

Sometimes, like the problem just occurs on your site. So But still, if it’s if it is a faction etc., great, find out find out. So let’s say the let’s say there’s an error message in your site, you don’t see it when you visit the site. But if you go into a particular page, if you let’s say go to your about page, that’s when you see the problem. Or if you go to some some internal page in your site, or if you do some actions, if you fill in the form, that’s when you see the error. So document the steps involved. So in what page, do you see the error? Like or what actions do you take? What is uh, what actually triggers the error? That’s what you need to find? That’s the second step. The third step is, where’s this happening to where exactly in your site? What in what section? Or where is the problem happening? So that’s awesome that identified the next two questions, the why and the how, let’s leave that aside for a moment. But as long as you have the what, when, and where you’ve learned about the product, you know, what the problem is, you know, when it happens, like what triggers it, and you know, where in your site, it happens. So once you found that out, we move on to the next step. The next step is to find out the why and the how. So why does the problem happen your site or how does it really happen? In order to find out you would need to dig a little deeper. Now, one thing that you need to realize is the problem may not always happen due to WordPress core. I mean, I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen in Okay, occasionally that does happen. So, as an example, when WordPress 5.5 came out, there was a jQuery update which caused issues with a lot of websites. So in that case, it was a problem with the WordPress core. But apart from that, typically, it may not always be the issue with what with WordPress core, it could be due to something else. So you’re the next steps involved would be to try and replicate the problem. So the best way to replicate the problem is to try to see if the same problem occurs in a different website. Where can you How can you actually test this? I mean, if you are a person that only has one website, how can you really test the problem in another website. So the best way to do this is by testing in a local server. Let’s so for this, I would strongly recommend setting up a local WordPress installation. So in the local WordPress installation, try the same steps that you so you’ve, you’ve already documented the problem, try doing the same steps and see if you’re able to replicate the same problem. So I’m saying this very generally, because this is very different from different websites. So it depends. It also really depends on the era, but the steps involved. But the general principle is the same. Try to see if the same manner that you see in one site, if you can replicate it in another site. So do it do it. There are several, there are several ways to do it. I’ll be talking about that in the next section. But essentially, the steps involved is to try and replicate the problem. Now, what if you’re able to replicate it? So you’ve, you’ve seen the problem in your site if you’re able to see the same problem in another site. So chances are that you may have run into a bug. It could be a bug with the WordPress core itself, it could be a blog bug with one of the plugins that you’ve used, it could be a bug with the theme that you use for your site. Now, if you’re not able to replicate the problem, it could be a problem with your site itself. Now, in that case, it may be a configuration issue, but it may also be a bug. So it all depends on how you’ve tested the problem. So if you’ve, if you’ve tested if you’ve tested this in a site where one or more of your plugins are not active, or an another site where the theme that you’ve installed is not active, and then you don’t see the problem, it could be a problem with the theme or one of those plugins. Right. So try to replicate the problem. And this will bring you to the why, and how. So after doing all these steps, you will have arrived at the cost of the humidifier know the why and the how, once you found out the why and the how your next step is to fix the problem. Now, if you are not a developer, if you don’t come from a development background, you may not always be able to do the fix on your own, you may have to seek help. But with that said, in several cases, I would say even a majority of cases, you may be able to do the fix on your own. How can you do this? How can you implement the fix? So you are in many cases, the why and how a very simple it could be Aaron plugin, or it could be nairaland theme. So just by deactivating that plugin or theme, the error goes away.

Right are it could be a conflict with a couple of plugins. Or it could be called level issue with one of the plugins or one of the themes that you installed are, as I mentioned, it could be a bug. There are there are several, there are several explanations to all of this. So the summary is by doing all these steps, you will have arrived at a potential solution. And in order to arrive at a potential solution, you should start with a positive mindset.

Alright, folks, so we’ve learned about the steps involved in troubleshooting a problem, the basic steps or the troubleshooting workflow, as I like to call it. So next, we’re looking at some of the most common troubleshooting steps. So I will go to the extent of saying that 70 to 75% of the time, these steps might help you in fixing the problem that you have in your site. The steps are very basic. They might point you to the direction of a solution, or they might actually help you fix the problem. So let’s try and find out what the steps are. So the first steps that I’m going to talk to you about preventing these problems from happening or about deploying a fixer such directly. The first of them is to create a backup. I would strongly recommend that you backup your site periodically, if possible, early or on a real time basis. How do you read backups There are several ways to do it. There are third party plugins. There are plugins like Jetpack by Buddy, you name it, there’s several of them, log Walt. So you can use any of these backup plugins in order to create real time or periodic backups to your site. In many cases, your web server, especially if you’re on a managed hosting service, they create the key backups for you. Or you can schedule backups. So it means that your site’s files, and your site’s database are regularly backed up by your server. So when this happens, even if something goes wrong, even if your site gets broken, you can always switch your site back real time. So if you’re on a, if you are using your site to earn a living, like if you’re running an e commerce website, for instance, or if your site serves a very critical purposes continuously, continuously or getting upset, dilapidated, like let’s say, if you’re in user site, I would strongly recommend having a real time backup service. At the very least, I would recommend having at least a backup once a week, or once a day if you can. So if you have backups, even in case your site costs goes bonkers, you can always restore the backup and get the site back to normal instant. So as they say prevention is better than cure. So if you have a backup, you can sleep peacefully at night. The next troubleshooting step that I’d like to talk to you about is staging sites. What are staging sites. So let’s say you’re building an e commerce website, or let’s say you’re building a website for your company, or you are deploying a website for a major need like a newspaper website or a web application, using WordPress, of course. So a staging site is a copy of a live site. So it’s where you do all your Delfin work. So you do all your work, you do all your edits, updates, etc, in your development site. So this is also called a staging site, it’s a copy of a live site. And once the work in your staging site is done, you deploy it to the lab site. So essentially, staging site is a backup for live site. This is where you do all the work. This is where you do all the changes. So when when does the provenance problems in a site typically happen? It happens during the development phase. So when you keep changing stuff, and you’d keep tinkering with stuff, that’s when issues could happen. And when issues happen. In a staging site, they don’t get reflected in the live site, because the live site is always in a perfect condition. So when you have a staging site ready, I would recommend doing all this testing, which includes updates, which includes changes, modifications, edits, in the themes, editing, in plugins, changes of appearance, etc. You can do all of that in your staging site. So even if there’s a problem, you get enough time to actually troubleshoot it. But if you actually do the troubleshooting, if you actually, if you actually do the work, if you actually do the updates in your live site, that could be a recipe for disaster. So I would strongly recommend creating a staging site. How can you erase it inside?

There are several ways to do it. The most common, I would say the most common, but the easiest way to do it is to simply create a copy of your site’s databases and files and add and create a subdomain for your existing site’s domain. And keep all this keep the contents of the site over there so that you can work on the genius over there. And then once all the things that then you can actually move everything, the files and the databases from the staging site to the live site. This is a manual process. If you do want to go through all of that, there are several ways to do it. You can use WP CLA, there are plugins like WP staging, or duplicator, which allow you to create a staging copy of live site in a click of the click of a button. So that’s also a lot easier if you want to get even create a local staging site. So you can as you as you all may know, you can install WordPress on your local computer. And you can do all the work locally. And once the once the work is done locally, you can push the updates to you Well, I’ve said that so that doesn’t let you do. But in short, having a staging site and doing all the changes, doing all the edits in the staging site helps you sleep peacefully. So the other advantage of having a staging site is that it acts as like your backup. So if there’s an error in your live site, and you know that the staging site works fine, you can simply push the staging site to the live site and the error would go away. So that is another advantage of having a staging site.

Anecdotally, I would say that a majority of the problems that people face in WordPress are due to conflicts. What is a conflict? So as you all know, the WordPress core software can be extended with the help of plugins and themes. So plugins and themes are great. I mean, they are the most essential feature wordpresser now this blocks as well. So plugins, themes and blogs, the ad server functionalities to site. So the plain vanilla WordPress software, it only has a certain amount of features. And most of the time people want to add stuff to extend the features of WordPress. So the installed plugins in order to change the appearance they add themes. Now this is where problems in WordPress start, please don’t get me wrong. themes and plugins and blocks are wonderful. They are really the backbone of WordPress. And I would strongly recommend that you use all of them to make a segment beautiful. However, in many cases, sometimes these errors occur in your site or problems occur in your site. You do one or more of your plugins are due to one of your themes that you’ve installed, or maybe due to a block that you have added to your site. Why does this happen? There are several reasons. But what I’ve what I’ve seen the most is, is plugin is created by different author or each themes created by different author. So in a site, typically there could be plugins or themes scraped by different authors. So they’re all working together. So that could be called conflicts between one plugin and the other. There could be it could happen to do variety of reasons, but to speak in a very high level way. The code from one plugin might conflict with the code from another plugin, resulting in an error or broken functionality. So most of the time, this is the cause of the error that you see in the word in a WordPress site. If you run into any error, which really which results in an error message that shows up in your in your site’s front end or your back in your first troubleshooting step would be to do a conflict test. Now, how do we do a contract test, I’m going to share a screencast to show you how a contract this can be done. But before we get to that, let me give you a very quick caveat. I would not recommend doing a contract test in a live site unless absolutely necessary. While the conflict test can definitely help you find out the cause of the problem. In many cases, the activating and reactivity plugin could change the settings. This applies especially to themes. So if you have set up a theme for your site, if you switch over to a different theme, it might change configurations. So I would if you’re running if you’re running a very highly high traffic or high priority production site, I would strongly recommend doing the contract test in a staging site. And not in a production site. If you want ruined production site well and good. But please take a backup of the content of the live site and then do the conflict so that even in case something breaks, you can always restore the backup and get site backup normal. So let’s dive in and see how low conflict test on a WordPress site. This site has a lot of plugins which you will be able to see. Yep, it has about 110 plugins and about 20 of them, or 28 of them are active. And the site has quite a few themes as well. So as I can show you that. So let’s see what themes the site runs. Yes, the site has a lot of themes. And you can see a few problems here already. So most of the themes require updates, soon as the plugins, so at least 28 of the plugins need updates. Now, I can show you a red flag right here, the site has 110 plugins. So in many cases, you don’t really need so many plugins. And that could be the reason why you keep running into error. So one of the problems that you face with websites is a slow website. And slow websites. The reasons behind a site could be slow could be because it has a lot of plugins which the person doesn’t necessarily need. So removing a lot of the plugins that you don’t use could be a great way to speed up your site. All right. So let’s see how to do a contract test on a site.

So the process of contract test is essentially minsters, you deactivate all the plugins on your site, you switch your site’s theme to a default theme, which could be the latest 20 theme, the latest default theme, so as as far as on September 2020, that is 2020. This has been called 2020. So you deactivate all your non essential plugins, and you switch over to green 20 or the default theme, and you see if the problem still is present. Now the site that I’m on, it doesn’t have any problems really. It’s a test site, as you can see here. Yep, it doesn’t seem to have any problems as such. So But still, I’m going to quickly show you how to deactivate plugins in bulk and how to do the content quick test. So let’s see how to do it. So the first step to deactivate all your plugins is to go to Plugins installed plugins, we’re on that screen, click on the active button. If you would like to select several plugins at once, you can do so by clicking on the checkbox button. But this window it only shows it typically shows only a few only some plugin. So in some cases, you may have to use screen options to display more items. In this case, I’ve set it 999. So all the logins would show up in one page, but typically this number is 20. But if you want to display more plugins, click on screen options and insert a value here. And then choose bottlecaps options. Click here and choose deactivate. Let’s see what happens when we deactivate. Yep, you can see that several of the options here went away because all the plugins were deactivated. Now this is a site that uses WooCommerce e-commerce plugin. And there’s a lot of extensions related to that. So that might actually affect the functionality of the site. Let’s see what has happened. So this was the site before I deactivated the plugins. Yes, so a lot of features, the shop feature, etc. It has gone away because I will be activated with the WooCommerce plugin. Alright, so the site is on the storefront theme. As you can see here, I’m going to switch it to 2020, which is the default theme. Yes, I’ve switched it to 2020. Let’s see if that changes something. Yes, the site is now on 2020, the default theme. So I’ve effectively done a contract test. Now, if there’s a problem with the site, if there was a problem with the site, when I did the contract test, if it has gone away, it means that the issue has been fixed and that the issue is being caused by one of the plugins that I have installed. Now how do I find the plugin that was the culprit? We can start off by activating each plugin one by one. So in this case, I’m going to start off with the WooCommerce plugin because WooCommerce really dictates all the e-commerce features and they’ve got literally gone missing in this case when it actually wrote the blog. So I’ve reactivated the WooCommerce plugin, as you can see here. Okay, let’s see if that does some changes to the site. Let us see. Yes, the shop feature has literally come back. So yeah, reactivating WooCommerce seem to have helped. So, subsequently, I can I can React with each plugin one by one, I can activate this plugin, I can activate automatewoo I can activate follow up emails. Similarly, I can activate each plugin and and then I can check the site correspondingly, to see if the error has gone away. So in short, conflict, this involves the activating all the plugins, switching your site’s theme to a default theme. And then testing if the error has gone away, if the error has gone away, the activate the plugins one by one by one to see if the error comes back. If the IRS doesn’t come back, fine. But if you React with one plugin, and if you see the error, it means that that particular plugin is the cause of the problem. Now if the if the error comes back if you switch back to your main theme, so in this case, I was using the storefront theme earlier. I’m going to switch back to storefront if I switch back to so far, and if the error comes back, it means that the error was being happening with the theme now, the site that I’ve used, it’s not really good example to show this fault because there was no issues with my site. But in a real world situation. By doing this step, you would be able to find the problem. Find which theme or which plugin was trolling the problem. I can actually recommend you a few plugins that can help you really troubleshoot one of them is WP health check. Let’s quickly install it. WP health check is a plugin. Yeah, this is the plugin health check and troubleshooting.

It’s by the wordpress.org Committee is created by the plugin team in order to plugin team in order to identify and troubleshoot theme and plugin conflicts. So it simplifies the process a lot. So I spoke of issues happening when plugins or themes are deactivated directly from the dashboard. So this plugin it puts your site on a troubleshooting mode, which makes it a lot easier for you to do these concreteness. Let’s take a quick look at the plugin and see how it works. Alright, so we’ve installed the site the health check plugin. Let’s try working on so the plugin screen is available in tools Site Health. So once you’re there, go to the troubleshooting tab and click on the Enable troubleshooting. mode. So when the troubleshooting mode is enabled, your site will move into a default mode with literally all the plugins the accurate and and with your theme switching to the default theme, which at this time is the 2020 theme. So yes, as you can see all the plugins, so the site has WooCommerce plugin installed, it has been deactivated, and now the site is back to a normal site. Now, when the troubleshooting mode is active, you can actually enable each plugin selectively to see if to basically work on a contractor. So let’s see, let’s see how it goes how it happens. So I can actually go here and click on the Enable wild troubleshooting button. So this will selectively activate the plugin by doing it, you can selectively enable each plugin, and that would help you fix the problems that will basically essentially how to troubleshoot things. When your site is being troubleshooted. You can literally accept I mean peep people outside of your site, people visiting your site, they will be able to access the site. Normally, when it’s on troubleshooting mode, you can do the tests on your site, and it doesn’t really affect users on the front page. Now, why you do a conflict test, without using this plugin, the changes that you make, it actually affects the site’s front end. So if it’s on a live site, people visiting the site, they may not get access to all of it. So your site would look weird. Let’s say you’ve changed the same theme back to 2020. When troubleshooting so people who are used to your existing theme, when they visit the site, they would see your site in a weird way or your site would miss some features which were added to two plugins. So my site is a WooCommerce site. So it will miss all the e-commerce features when I deactivated the WooCommerce plugin. So that could be a problem for users. This plugin really helps prevent all those issues. So why are you doing your contractors, I would strongly recommend this plugin as it would allow, it would basically enabled troubleshooting mode, which you can always disable by clicking on this button. And it will help you troubleshoot without really affecting the use of flow of your site to that’s tremendously helpful in troubleshooting. So I hope that has really answered your questions on troubleshooting. And I hope that guides you in the right direction. So in many cases, some URLs just randomly go into a phone or for error, which can be fixed by resetting the permalinks. Let’s learn how to do so the permalinks option lives in settings in the WordPress dashboard. So go to settings, and then navigate to permalinks. So by default, your permalinks would be in one of these, it would it would be the monitor name, numeric, or could even have a custom structure. So in Mike my site, I’ve said this post name, typically it’s one of these. So in order to reset your permalinks, First, set the option plane, the one here, the one on the top, and then save your changes. Once the seniors is saved, switch back to your old permalink structure settings. So this typically fixes the problem, the first thing that you need to do is to switch to the plain option, and then see if that resolves the problem. If If it does, you can switch back to the the old structure which could which could be either one of these and then see if that fixes the problem. This is a very quick and dirty solution to fix many of the WordPress site problems such as URLs, not loading or things like that.

Alright, so we’ve literally covered a lot of things a lot of steps involved in troubleshooting WordPress. I’ve only really touched the basics of some troubleshooting steps and I’ve not really covered all the steps involved in troubleshooting WordPress, because there’s a lot of them. So this workshop will be an ongoing series we will look into more and more of these troubleshooting steps in WordPress and gradually we’ll dig deeper and we will explore more in depth ways of how to troubleshoot WordPress how to how to essentially fix the issues that we keep running into while using WordPress. So with that, we come to an end of this WordPress basics workshop really the part one will see more parts in the weeks to come. do stay tuned and I look forward to seeing where the discussion. Have fun and happy WordPressing. Bye bye!



Presenters

Hari Shanker R
@harishanker

I am a Community Wrangler at Automattic, and I contribute to the WordPress Community Team full-time as a Community Deputy. WordPress is one of the biggest passions in my life and I enjoy working on programs that support the global WordPress community. I believe that open-source tech and the open web have the potential to make the world a better place.