Elegant Themes Blog

Stay up to date with our most recent news and updates

What To Do When A WordPress Plugin Causes An Error

Posted on February 11 by in Tips & Tricks | 36 comments

What To Do When A WordPress Plugin Causes An Error

Plugins are at the heart of WordPress’s success. A plugin is simply a series of functions that can be added to your WordPress website to extend its functionality. Many theme developers choose to add this additional code through WordPress themes, however plugins are a more practical solution for most website owners as they can be switched on and off.

Unfortunately, like any piece of coding, problems can occur when you use plugins.

A plugin error can be an alarming issue to deal with; particularly if you have never faced it before. Plugin errors can occur after you have installed the plugin, after you have updated the plugin, or after you have updated WordPress.

Errors are caused by a number of issues including:

  • Bad Coding – A poorly coded plugin will cause problems regardless of what theme and plugins you are using.
  • Conflict with WordPress – Plugin code can be incompatible with the code used in the WordPress core files. Due to this, most plugin developers update their plugins after a new version of WordPress has been released to ensure that their plugin is still compatible. Unfortunately, many plugin developers do not do this, which is why you need to be extra careful when installing older plugins.
  • Conflict with Another Plugin – Plugins do not always play nice together, particularly when the plugins offer similar functionality.
  • Conflict with Your Theme – Many theme functions are placed in the theme’s functions.php file. The principle of extending a theme’s functionality using functions is the same as adding functionality through a plugin. As such, problems can occur if it is coded badly or if it conflicts with another plugin.

Errors can affect WordPress in different ways. In a best case scenario, the plugin will simply show an error message in your admin area or stop the plugin functioning in the way it should (e.g. not displaying the widget correctly). You may also have to face errors being displayed on your live website, which can present an unprofessional image of you and your business.

The dreaded scenario is the white screen of death. If this occurs in the admin area, this blank screen will prevent you from administrating your website. If you are really unlucky, the white screen of death may also be displayed on your live website. This is the point where many people start to panic, however you need not worry too much as in this article I will show you what to do when you face a plugin error.

What to Do If You Can See an Error Message

The key to resolving any plugin error is to locate the plugin that is causing the error and deactivate it. This is straight forward when an error code is displayed as the location of the problematic file will be displayed in the error message.

For example, lets say you updated several plugins at the same time, making it difficult to know which plugin is causing the error. The error message would include the absolute location of the file causing the problem.

If the error message noted that the error was coming from /home/myaccount/public_html/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/jetpack.php, then you would know that the error was being caused by the Jetpack plugin. You can then deactivate the plugin and contact the plugin developer to advise them of the issue.

What to Do If You Can Access Your Plugin Administration Page

If there is no error message, or if the error message does not help indicate the plugin that is causing the error; you will need to locate the problem plugin manually.

To do this, you first need to deactivate all of your plugins. You can do this quickly using the bulk action option at the top of the main plugins page i.e. www.yourwebsites.com/wp-admin/plugins.php.

Deactivate Plugins

Deactivating all of your plugins will help you locate the plugin that is causing the errors.

Once all plugins have to be deactivated, you need to reactivate your plugins one by one. Each time you activate a plugin, check your live website to see if the error message is being displayed. This process may take a few minutes, however it is a full proof way of finding what plugin is causing the problem.

If you deactivate all plugins and the error is still being displayed, you will have confirmation that a WordPress plugin is not the cause of the error.

What to Do If You Are See the White Screen of Death In Your Admin Area

If the white screen of death is being displayed in your admin area, you will not be able to deactivate all of your plugins through the WordPress admin area.

Thankfully, there is an easy way to deactivate all of your plugins. All you need to do is:

  • Connect to your website using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client such as FileZilla.
  • Backup all of the plugin files and folders located at www.yourwebsite.com/wp-content/plugins/ to a safe location on your computer.
  • Delete all of the plugins and folders within your plugin folder.
  • Re-upload all of your plugins to the plugin folder.

Deleting all of your plugins will automatically deactivate them, however they are not automatically reactivated once you upload the plugin files again.

With all plugins now deactivated, you can now reactivate them one by one and locate the problematic plugin.

Is the Plugin the Cause of My Error?

Plugins may not be the source of your errors. As I noted above, if you deactivated all of your plugins (through the admin area or by deleting the plugins via FTP) and still see the same error; then a plugin is not the cause.

The most likely source is your theme. More and more theme developers are adding additional functionality to their designs. The downside to this is that this increases the chance of the theme clashing with a plugin; particularly if you install a plugin that installs similar functionality.

For example, many theme developers copy the code from the WP-PageNavi plugin directly into their theme functions.php file so that their themes have pagination. If you had to install this plugin yourself (or a similar plugin), you would see an error.

Your problem may also be caused by:

  • A Corrupt .htaccess File – To check if your .htaccess file is causing you problems, delete the file via FTP and upload the last safe version of it from your backups.
  • Reaching Your CPU or Memory Limits – Some WordPress plugins are notorious for being CPU and memory hogs. You may see the white screen of death if you have exceeded your allowed limits. This is why it is so important to be conscious of the resources your website is using.
  • Corrupted Core Files – Core WordPress files can sometimes be corrupted on upload. It is prudent to re-upload all core WordPress files to ensure the core files have uploaded correctly.

Plugin errors are a stark reminder that you should backup your WordPress websites regularly. If all else fails and you cannot find what is causing your website to go down, backup your database and files and then revert to the last full stable backup of your website.

Final Thoughts

Whenever you install a WordPress plugin, you are adding additional code to your website by a developer. The WordPress plugin directory lists plugins that were developed by experienced developers and software companies and plugins by beginners who are just learning to code. Therefore the quality of code being used varies greatly between plugins.

If you do not code yourself, you will be unable to check the quality of code that is being used in the plugin yourself. This does not mean that you should just install plugins blindly on your website. Protect yourself and check the reviews and comments by other WordPress users before you use a new plugin. You can take this further and test all new plugins in a test WordPress installation. This may seem like a pain to do, however it stops you from getting any unwanted surprises on your live website.

Last, but certainly not least, be sure to backup regularly. As when things go really bad, it is your backups that will save you.

Please note that not all plugin developers respond to bug reports. Many will place blame on the theme you are using or another plugin you have installed. Whilst this sometimes is the case, it can be frustrating to have to go back and fourth with the developer. Thankfully, the plugin market is so large that there are usually several good alternatives available to any plugin you are using. As such, if the plugin is buggy, uninstall it and look for a better solution.

If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to subscribe to Elegant Themes to get our latest articles delivered to you by RSS or social media.

36 Comments

  1. If plugin is official in WordPress repository they have own “support” section and even you can contribute patches there.

    But this isn’t apply for other plugins. If we add also unresponsive developers this is lead to serious problems in future. WordPress market share is over 15% (other sources claim over 20%) of all websites in world and even small “bug” can be spread as wildfire.

    • Kevin Muldoon

      That is one reason why premium plugins sometimes work out better value than free ones. A free plugin can take up a lot of your time if it has bugs and is unsupported.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, I will have to share it with my clients!

    I just had this problem with a client. She had a plugin that was 2 years old and allowed for a breech in her site with the a new version of WP. Her site was exploited and ads were popping up everywhere. I had to create a new database user/pass, clear every index.php file, update the salt in the wp-config file, and find a new plugin with the same function.

    All this due to a BAD old plugin!

    Keep tabs on your plugins.

  3. I have had trouble with the FTP method in that some plugins (Jetpack comes to mind) can get messed up and you have to reconfigure them when re-activating.

    In a recent support call with Hostgator, they suggested another method of disabling plugins, by going through cpanel/phpmyadmin. The process worked perfectly for me. As always, use at your own risk, and backup your database before tinkering with it:

    1. Log into cpanel, and PhpMyAdmin
    2. Click on the database for your wordpress on the left.
    3. Choose the wp_options table.
    4. Locate the active_plugins section inside wp-option. Its usually on the 2nd page with the option_ID in the 30s.
    5. Click edit next to active_plugins and copy all the content inside its value, and put it somewhere like in a notepad document so you can revert back if you need to.
    6. Change the value to just this: a:0:{}
    7. Click on “go” to save and now the plugins are disabled.
    8. Activate plugins one by one to find the malfunctioning one(s)

    • Kevin Muldoon

      I am surprised that you had problems using FTP. I still update plugins on some websites using FTP and I have never had any problems.

      I was not aware of that method of disabling plugins. Will need to give it a try.

      • I use the phpmyadmin method all the time.
        Unlike Cliff, I do not erase all and put the zero active plugin codes ( a:0:{} ) unless it is a last resort.

        I copy the code to notepad and then find the last plugin I added and remove the coding for it. This is from the, i to the semi colon immediately before the next i.

        I then renumber the plugins to keep them sequential and change the number after the a: at the beginning to reflect the actual number of plugins left.

        This is not for the faint hearted and those with no experience of manipulating database data.

        I agree this is a little more complicated but when you have done it a few times, it is quite fast and has the advantage of not having to deactivate all your plugins, thus keeping your site looking and functioning as it should.

        The issue I have with the active plugin data is it is not logical ie the last one added could well be in the middle of the data and not at the end as would be expected.

        Example how it looks in the data dase
        a:3:{i:0;s:30:”admin-favicon/adminfavicon.php”;i:1;s:41:”allow-php-in-posts-and-pages/allowphp.php”;i:2;s:46:”another-wordpress-classifieds-plugin/awpcp.php”;}

        Explanation of the parts.
        a:3:{ the 3 represents the number of plugins,
        i:0 i:1 etc the plugin id note the first is numbered zero
        i:1;s:41:”allow-php-in-posts-and-pages/allowphp.php”;
        a complete record starts with the i (small letter, I)and ends with the ; (semi colon) the s:41: is the character count of the characters between the ” ”

        I would be happy to assist anyone having issues and wanting to learn this method.

        • I think I need your help but not sure where my problem lies.
          The WP 3.9 update conflicted with a plug-in, not really sure as I am very new to all of this and not at all up on how or what or where.
          I called Go Daddy and they thought they had it fixed first call, well it wasn’t fixed. The next two calls may have done things to screw it up even more because I still cannot post or anything else.
          I can no longer effectively access my dashboard.
          You can contact me at Beth@mealsalone.com
          This is not the site I have an issue with.

  4. We’ve had a plugin conflict with our hosting service. One of the plugins we use added a new caching feature, turned on by default, that conflicted with WP Engine’s service, which enables caching by default. Tons of errors; even brought down some of our sites.

    We’re currently experiencing an issue with that same plugin related to a “Directory index forbidden by Options directive.” The plugin developer’s solution is to override the way WP Engine has configured Apache to disable directory listing.

    It’d be simple enough if the conflict were just with another plugin or WordPress or the theme. But in this case, it’s a conflict between a particular plugin and our hosting service. Maddening …

    • Will you post the outcome here, once this is finalized? I’ve been looking at WPEngine for a host and my understanding is that the cache they offer is better than any plugin, and they have a list of prohibited plugins – either because they already provide the feature, or the plugin is known to be problematic. I’d also like to hear how you’d rate them as a host.
      Thanks,
      Brian

    • Kevin Muldoon

      That’s unfortunate. My friend hosts with WP Engine and I know that they are very strict on what plugins are allowed. It seems like this particular problem was out of your control as they enabled the new feature by default (something which other plugins such as Jetpack are doing too!).

      I’m curious as to why you need caching if you are using WP Engine’s caching option? Sounds like it cause problems again in the future.

  5. It’s quite difficult lately to find plugins that are up to date, as WordPress release updates so often that it’s hard for developers to keep up with them.

    I have been looking for a good J.S and C.S.S. Minify plugin that doesn’t conflict with other plugins or themes, so if anyone knows of one and I have tried many, I would be pleased to know of it.

  6. I would like to add an interim step before deleting all the plugin folders.

    I typically will first rename the plugin folder that I feel is causing the problem. Then if I am able to gain access back to the Dashboard I’ll delete that plugin from the Dashboard (or delete the folder from the FTP client) and try to reinstall the same plugin again.

    If the “White screen of death” reappears, then repeat but do not reinstall the plugin. You may need to find another suitable plugin if the plugin’s developer does not have a fix.

    At least by renaming only the “suspicious” plugin you can quickly see if it was the one causing the issue. If so, you won’t have to start over from scratch and reinstall all the plugins again.

    • Kevin Muldoon

      Renaming is a great option too…and much more practical than deleting and re-uploading (though I still like to keep a backup if possible).

      I agree that it is usually better to just search for another suitable plugin. Too much time can be spent trying to make a plugin work that will just not work.

  7. I have run into the white screen problem in the past, and I found an easier way of deactivating plugins via FileZilla. Instead of deleting them and having to download them all again, all you need to do is modify the names. I do this by adding a 1 to the beginning of the plugins name. I.E. The “Akismet” plugin would be changed to “1Akismet”.

    After changing the names you can check to see if the Admin is now accessible. If it is, you can change all the names back, then reactivating them one at a time.

    • Kevin Muldoon

      Thanks for the tip. It certainly makes more sense than my method haha :)

      I’m so used to using FTP to quickly delete and re-upload things. I should have added alternative methods such as renaming the plugin folder.

  8. Some of my clients have access to their sites and add plugins. I get a couple calls once a blue moon that the site went white after installing a plugin. I just FTP on my ipad and place a 1 at the end of the file name and it disables that plugin. Been very lucky with this quick remedy.

  9. So far I have not encounter any error installing WordPress plugins.

    I will use this url to check if I have any in future.

    Thanks.

  10. Kevin,
    Just a quick couple of lines to say thank you for your valuable contributions on this blog. It really does go a long way to reassure me ( and I suppose a lot of others ) that Elegant Themes care about us.
    Best wishes
    Keep up the good work
    Ian

  11. Another possible solution if you get the white screen but can access the Admin is to go to Settings / Permalinks and save the permalinks without actually changing anything. Sometimes all you need to do is update the permalinks.

  12. One more thought – I have gotten into the habit of making a complete backup of my site before I update either plugins or WordPress.

  13. I’ve had problems with plugins today, and this post has been a great help.
    Thank you a lot for your assistance!

  14. The key to resolving any plugin error is to locate the plugin that is causing the error and deactivate it. This is straight forward when an error code is displayed as the location of the problematic file will be displayed in the error message

  15. What you delete everything without knowing the error !?

    Surely – look in the server log. Find the error cause. Should be readily apparent if conflict.

    Also you don’t need to delete the plugins to deactivate plugins. Just rename the plugins folder – that deactivates them all.

    If you know the error then just log in, and deactivate the problem plugin…

    • Kevin Muldoon

      I agree fully about renaming the folder (I actually discussed this in the comment area).

      Whilst checking the server log is good advice, most beginner WordPress users do not know where to locate the error logs through their hosting control panel.

      First and foremost, their priority should be to disable the problematic plugin and get their website online.

  16. I love this post. Really informative and useful for me, a newbie in online business. I am considering some of these plugins to improve my comment system. This article helps me so much. After reading your post, I think I have ideas. Thanks for sharing this post. Hope to read more helpful information from you. Great job!

  17. Thanks for you post. My site is hosted by Yahoo, which creates every wordpress site with its own plugin called Customizable Permalinks. You can’t deactivate it or your blog posts won’t display. It works with most themes, but I conflicts the Pagebuilder plugin from Site Origin. My question is, have you heard of Yahoo hosted sites conflicting with elegant themes, since you also have a “page builder” function?
    Thanks

  18. I used to have major issues with plugins. It can really cost you a lot of time, if you cannot find the reason. Therefore I always test plugins on a test-wordpress from me to see what it does.

    Also try to use plugins you know. Once you have found a good and reliable plugin, keep it for every project.

  19. it really works cos i was having problem with DIVI once i installed Nextgen plugin.
    thanks very much for this article . it really helped

  20. thank you
    This is very useful for m

  21. We tried to use proofreader from JetPack, however, it became a pain. We tried to delete proofreader to no avail. It would not deactivate, then we decided to just delete the entire JetPack. Nope, that did not deactivate, deleted it all the files, however, proofreader still remains on our website. It is such a nuisance and will not work right at all. We want it gone. Any suggestions?

  22. Another solution is would be using “Plugin Test Drive” which lets you run plugins depending on your IP address

  23. Thanks for explaining this! I’ve been searching for ages and this is the first proper explanation I’ve found for this problem.

    I’m at the moment locked out of my WP admin with the error:

    “Content Encoding Error-The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because it uses an invalid or unsupported form of compression. Please contact the website owners to inform them of this problem.”

    This has occurred after updating one plugin and one theme. Having done the panic thing and being clueless, I’ve contacted my hosting provider and they are looking into the problem. If I don’t get any joy with them I’ll be back here to try and follow your suggested fix.

    Thanks again for an easy to follow article.

    Wayne

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current ye@r *

Join 253,319 Happy Customers And Get Access To Our Entire Collection Of 87 Beautiful Themes For The Price Of One

We offer a 30 Day Money Back Guarantee, so joining is risk-free!

Sign Up Today

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This