Supporting WordPress: Common Tales from the Trenches

Today’s 12 days post is brought to us by Mason James :

Mason is passionate about helping people find the right tool for the job. He works tirelessly for WPMU DEV creating solutions and resources for new members. When not attached to the computer you’ll probably find him playing music somewhere. He’s a classically trained pianist, also enjoys playing guitar and hanging in a coffee shop looking for good conversation.  You can follow him on twitter @masonjames or visit his website here:  http://masonjames.com

While your day job may not include handling support questions on a forum, if you work with WordPress you’ve undoubtedly had to help with trouble-shooting at one point or another – maybe a co-worker or friend wanting to launch their next ‘big idea’, a parent who needs help with their blog of cat pictures, or an old client with an emergency after ‘accidentally’ hitting the upgrade button for a plugin (despite being warned against it).  Regardless, we’ve all been there.  Here’s a few stories and quick tricks to help trouble-shoot some common WordPress issues.

Disclaimer:  The following stories are true.  The names have been changed to protect the ignorant. :)

Widget’s won’t move!

Scenario:  Sally Shallowweb really wishes her site worked like it’s supposed to.  Your plugin or theme claims to do all she’s ever wanted, but since installing it she’s unable to move any of her widgets.  She’s uninstalled your plugin/theme and her widgets STILL won’t work.  She’s very frustrated at how this has all be going.  What can be done to get her site back working the way it should?

Problem:  Javascript conflict.
Very, very easy to have happen when using several different plugins and some themes.  If YOUR plugin/theme is causing this, you need to fix it up!  Why load your script on every page in the admin?  And when you’re loading jQuery, why not use noConflict, hmm?

Troubleshooting Techniques: Firebug is a rocking tool for CSS/HTML customization, but it also has a fantastic console for checking scripting errors as well.  Activate it and reload the page to track down the bug.  Otherwise, you’ll need to deactivate all plugins and swap themes until the widgets are working again and you’re bug free.  Then, re-enable each plugin until you are able to recreate the problem.  Please, report the issue to it’s developer as well so they can get the code fixed up!

Links/pictures don’t work!

Scenario:  Jason Jumbleblog has just set up a new blog.  He’s really bummed because the links on his site are all broken.  He can see the posts in WordPress Admin, but on the public side they all go to a 404.

Problem:  Permalinks – possibly .htaccess or mod_rewrite

Troubleshooting Techniques: This one can be a bit tricky.  You may be able to simply revisit the permalinks page and re-save the page.  Doing so will reset everything and possibly bring things back.  If not, you may have an issue with the .htaccess file being set up incorrectly.  Check to make sure your .htaccess file matches the recommended settings from WordPress.  If you’re still having trouble, contact the hosting provider and find out if the mod_rewrite module is enabled in Apache.

White screen of death!

Scenario: Bob Brokensite knows he need his revolutionary blog posts to be linked on twitter.  He also knows his 15 daily visitors are craving ‘even more Bob’ so he wants to have his twitter feed on his front page.  No problem, there’s a plugin for that!  Bob isn’t quite sure which he’d like to use so instead of installing and testing one, he installs several and activates them all at the same time.  This is when Bob’s site displays the infamous white screen of death! 911!  URGENT HELP requested!

Problem:  PHP error. This is incredibly common and while terrifying for a new WordPress user it’s easy to diagnose and then repair.

Troubleshooting Techniques: First thing to do here is to check the server’s error logs.  You want to be sure it is indeed a plugin conflict after all. In this case, as we know it’s a plugin (and can verify that in the error log) we need to disable the plugins.  A quick way to deactivate all plugins is to remove all the data from the option value of ‘active_plugins’ in wp_options in your database. Or run the query as per here:  http://tinyurl.com/32yreg

If you don’t have access to the database (or this scares you in some way) you can also temporarily rename your plugin directory name.  Reload WordPress and it will do so without using any of the plugins.

If you’ve been using WordPress for awhile then I’m sure you’ve run into one or all of these common errors.

Anybody else have some ‘go to’ troubleshooting techniques to share?  Sound off in the comment section below!