Laptop screen showing WordPress error

WordPress Site Errors: Five Things to Try First

Heads up, Kids: In this post I’m only talking about self-hosted WordPress. If your site is hosted on WordPress.com, they have different support options.

If you’ve been using WordPress for a while, you’ve likely come across an issue that you couldn’t figure out how to solve on your own. I’m fairly certain of this, because I regularly provide volunteer support in the WordPress forums. Maybe I’ve helped you solve an issue in there. Hi.

Sometimes I come across a thorny problem I’ve never seen and it takes some sleuthing to solve it. But more often than not, I see issues that users can solve by taking a few simple steps. In fact, I have a file with those steps outlined because I suggest posters try them before anything else.

To save you some time in fixing your WordPress site errors and issues, I decided to outline my own process for you. Here are the five steps I recommend trying before anything else.

1: Update Everything

You might be thinking, “Duh.” And if you are thinking that, then you get a gold star. But if you didn’t automatically assume you should update stuff, then this is me telling you to go do that now. Update everything:

  • Plugins
  • Themes
  • WordPress Core

If you can’t access your Admin Dashboard, that’s another story. Start with the next steps.

2: Deactivate All Plugins

Sometimes problems can come up when you install a new plugin or update an existing one. That’s because code in some plugins can conflict with others, or even conflict with a particular theme. The only way to know if the problem is being caused by a plugin is to deactivate all of them and then reactivate them, one by one. If you activate one and the issue starts happening, then you know that’s the cause.

And yes, you need to do all plugins. Many times I’ve advised users to do this and they say they’ve deactivated one plugin and it didn’t fix anything. The number one rule in troubleshooting is Don’t Assume Anything. You may suspect something — and you may be correct — but you won’t know for sure until you test everything thoroughly.

“Wait!” you say. “If I deactivate all my plugins, my site won’t work or look right and my life will be ruined!”

Okay, maybe you’re not that dramatic. But it is a legitimate cause for concern, and one that can be assuaded by using — okay, this is ironic — another plugin.

The Health Check Plugin

The WordPress Community developed and maintains a free Health Check plugin. This is different from the default “Site Health” you may have seen in your admin dashboard. Health Check adds a Troubleshooting Mode functionality to Site Health.

When you enable troubleshooting mode, Health Check will deactivate your plugins and even switch themes if you want. The cool thing about this is that it only affects your experience, not your visitors’. They will still see and be able to interact with your site just the way you intended. In the meantime, you can enable individual plugins or themes and root out the cause of any issues.

screenshot of WordPress dashboard showing Troubleshooting Mode enabled.

Manually Deactivating Plugins

If you’re not worried about interrupting your site’s functionality or you can’t access your Admin Dashboard, then you can deactivate plugins manually, using one of two methods.

If You Have Dashboard Access

If you can access your Admin Dashboard, then all you need to do is navigate to Plugins→Installed Plugins. Use the bulk select option to select them all at once, choose Deactivate from the dropdown menu, and click Apply. Then re-activate them one by one and see if the issue happens with that plugin activated.

It can be a tedious process if you have a ton of plugins. But it’s the only way.

If You Don’t Have Dashboard Access

Sometimes the issue you’re experiencing won’t let you get into your Admin Dashboard. Not to worry. You can still disable all plugins by accessing your WordPress files using FTP or through your web host.

Most web hosts have a feature that allows you to manage the files on your site through an interface in your account. Each host is different, so check with Support to find out how.

You can also use an external FTP client like Filezilla to log into the server where your website is hosted. You’ll be able to see and interact with all of your files and folders. Again, you may need to contact your web host to find your FTP credentials and learn how to log in and access your site files.

Once you’re in your WordPress site’s server, you want to navigate to the wp-content folder. Here you’ll want to rename the plugins folder to something different, like plugins-OLD.

screenshot of site folders with plugins-OLD folder renamed.

This will disable all your site’s plugins. Now, see if you can access your Admin Dashboard. If not, then you know the issue is not caused by a plugin.

Remember to rename your plugins folder back to plugins when you’re done troubleshooting!

A word of caution! You can seriously mess things up on your site by deleting files or folders on your server. If you’re not comfortable, I recommend contacting your web host’s support for assistance.

Now that you’ve determined whether or not a plugin is the cause, you know how to proceed. If it is a plugin, contact support for that plugin and let them know the issue you’re having. Or, delete that plugin and find a new one that does the same thing.

If it’s not a plugin, then the next thing to check is your theme.

3: Switch Themes

In the same way that plugins can cause conflicts, themes can, too. There can be many reasons for this:

  1. Your theme could be outdated and no longer supported
  2. There’s a conflict with a plugin caused by the theme
  3. There’s a bug in the theme

You can test this in much the same way we did with plugins. First, make sure that you have a default WordPress theme installed on your site. This would be a theme (like Twenty Twenty-Two) that’s included with your original WordPress installation. WordPress.org puts out a list of all default themes so you can check.

When you deactivate your current theme, your site will revert to a default theme automatically— as long as you have at least one default theme installed. So make sure you do that first!

You can use the Health Check plugin to test your theme without affecting what your visitors see, just as we did earlier.

If you switch to a default theme and your issue is resolved, then you know it’s a theme problem.

4: Reset Permalinks

If you’re suddenly getting 404 errors on your WordPress site, you can’t access certain pages, or you can’t save posts or pages, it can be due to a myriad of causes. Some of the causes are server-related, but there’s one quick and simple thing that may fix it.

In your Admin Dashboard, navigate to Settings→Permalinks. Scroll to the bottom and without changing any settings, click Save Settings. Now, test your link again and see if it’s working. You may need to clear the cache in your browser or try the link in a private window to see the results.

If this doesn’t do the trick for you, then there is likely something deeper going on — likely caused by something wrong on your server. The next step would be to contact your web host’s support team and see if they can help.

5: Re-install WordPress

If you’ve worked through all the other steps and you’re still getting the same error messages or problems with your WordPress site, it’s time to try re-installing WordPress itself. You can do this without losing all your data or messing up your site. You won’t have to start over, you’ll just be re-installing the core files that support your site.

Alert! Before you do this, I strongly recommend that you back up your site. Use a free plugin like UpDraft Plus. Don’t skip this step and think you’ll “probably be okay.” You might be. But if you lose your data, you’ll be even worse off than you are now. Take your time and back it up.

If You Have Dashboard Access

If you can access your Admin Dashboard, then all you need to do is navigate to Updates. Click the Re-install version 6.3.1 (or whatever the most current version is) button.

screenshot of WordPress Updates screen.

If You Don’t Have Dashboard Access

At the risk of sounding like a nag: backup, backup, backup. Re-installing WordPress manually is way riskier than clicking the button, so it’s even more crucial that you have a full backup of your site. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Download the latest version of WordPress to your computer.
  2. Extract the Zip file (all folders).
  3. Delete the wp-content folder from the main folder.

Now, head to your site using FTP (see step 2 for more detail on that). You’re going to replace everything in your main WordPress folder. It’s usually under your site’s domain name, which may be inside a public or public_html folder.

screenshot of site files listed in FTP client.

If your FTP client asks if you want to overwrite files, you always want to say yes. You’re replacing all the files that make up your WordPress core installation. The wp-content folder holds your site-specific files like media, plugins, and themes — so you don’t want to overwrite that folder. That’s why we deleted it in step 3 earlier.

Once the upload is done, head back to your site and see if you can log in.

6: Post to the Forums on WordPress.org

At this point, if you’ve tried all the previous steps I’ve outlined and you’re still facing the same issues, don’t panic. I promise there’s a resolution, it’s just beyond these simple steps.

There is a wonderful community who runs the Support Forums at WordPress.org. The people helping you in those forums are volunteers and are not being paid to give you support. They are there because they love WordPress and just want to be helpful.

The great thing about doing all the steps in this article before heading to the support forums is that you can write that in your original post/topic. That way, the Support Team knows that they can skip these suggestions when trying to help you. It’s a good place to start.

I would also advise you to search the forums before posting. Someone else may have had the same issue and there’s already a solution for you.

My Last Tip

Remember that no software is perfect. Bugs happen. While it can be frustrating for you as a user, know that there is likely a solution to your problem and there are people out there willing to help you. Always be kind, and be ready to learn something new.

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