WordPress plugin troubleshooting and figuring out what to do when your site breaks aren’t things general WordPress users want to deal with, but they’re inevitable when you use the platform on a regular basis.

Some WordPress plugins are coded poorly to begin with, which can cause problems as soon as you install them. Other plugins aren’t coded poorly until the developer releases an update, which is why you’ll sometimes experience issues after performing an update.

Whatever the case may be, you installed a new plugin or updated a current one, and now your site isn’t functioning properly. Let’s go through the process of correcting this issue step-by-step.

If you know which WordPress plugin is the culprit

If you know which WordPress plugin is causing the issue, your troubleshooting job just got a heck of a lot easier. All you likely need to do is deactivate the plugin.

How can you determine which plugin is causing the issue without troubleshooting? There are a few different ways you can tell.

  • You installed a single plugin and experienced issues with your site either immediately or soon after.
  • You updated a single plugin and experienced issues with your site immediately after.
  • There’s an error message telling you exactly which file is causing the issue, and it’s a plugin file.
    • For example, if an error occurs with the WP Super Cache plugin, the error message might contain this bit of text: /public_html/wp-content/plugins/wp-super-cache/wp-cache.php. Working backwards from that bit of text, this tells me the issue is with the wp-cache.php file in the WP Super Cache plugin folder. Bottom line, the WP Super Cache plugin is causing the problem.

This error message may be written across somewhere on the site or the backend of WordPress. You can also use a plugin called Query Monitor to discover PHP warnings from plugins.

Install and activate the plugin on your site if you don’t know which plugin is causing an issue.

Install Query Monitor

A “Warnings” selection appears in the drop-down menu for this plugin whenever there’s a PHP error.

Query Monitor Warnings

This will tell you exactly where the errors are coming from and will tell you exactly which plugin is causing the error, if applicable.

Query Monitor php Error

If you can access your site

If you can access the WordPress admin area of your site, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Plugins page.
  2. Click the Deactivate link associated with the plugin causing the issue.
  3. Check your site.
  4. If the issue is gone, the plugin was the culprit.
  5. If the issue persists, follow the steps in the If You Don’t Know Which Plugin is the Culprit section.

If you can’t access your site

Some plugins may cause so many issues with your site that you aren’t even able to access it. This may be due to an error message that displays instead of your login page, or it may be caused by the infamous white screen of death. Whatever the case may be, the outcome is you being unable to access your site as you normally would.

If you’re a developer or an experienced WordPress user, you’re probably able to resolve this issue quickly on your own. However, if you’re a blogger or a business owner that runs their own site, you’re likely running around like a chicken with its head cut off at this point, but don’t panic. There is a way to deactivate plugins without needing to access the backend of WordPress.

If your host uses cPanel, follow these steps:

  1. Log into cPanel.
  2. Click File Manager under Files.

cPanel File Manager

  1. Select Web Root (public_html/www) as a directory, and click Go.

cPanel Web Root Directory

  1. Double-click the wp-content folder to open it.
  2. Double-click the plugins folder to open it.
  3. Single-click the folder of the plugin causing the issue to select it.
  4. Click the Rename button at the top of the page.

cPanel Rename Folder

  1. Rename the folder to anything you want. I simply prefer to add a “z” at the end of the name to quicken the process. Click Rename File once you’re done.

cPanel Rename File

Renaming the plugin folder deactivates that plugin. Check your site. Similar to the steps outlined earlier, if the issue is gone, it was caused by that plugin. If it persists, the culprit is elsewhere.

If your host doesn’t use cPanel or you can’t access cPanel, follow these steps:

First of all, not all hosts use cPanel. Hosts like DreamHost and Media Temple use their own control panels, so you’ll likely need to follow steps similar to the ones outlined above to use their control panel’s file manager. If you aren’t able to figure it out, go ahead and use the steps below.

We’re going to learn how to access your site via FTP, specifically with FileZilla.

  1. Download and install FileZilla. Use this link to access the download page.
  2. Run FileZilla.
  3. Go to File → Site Manager → New Site.
  4. Name the site something appropriate, such as your site name.
  5. Enter these details:
  • Host:com
  • Port: Leave blank.
  • Protocol: FTP – File Transfer Protocol
  • Encryption: Only use plain FTP (insecure)
  • Logon Type: Normal

Use the username and password you use to access your host’s control panel. For example, if your host uses cPanel, use the username and password you use to log into cPanel.

FileZilla New Site

Lastly, click over to the Transfer Settings tab, select Limit Number of Simultaneous Connections, and set the Maximum Number of Connections to 8.

FileZilla Transfer Settings

Click Connect, and follow these steps:

  1. There are four cells in FileZilla. Focus on the bottom-left cell.

FileZilla Cells

  1. Double-click public_html to open your site’s root directory.
  2. Double-click the wp-content folder to open it.
  3. Double-click the plugins folder to open it.
  4. Right-click or Control+Click the folder of the plugin causing the issue, and click Rename.

FileZilla Rename Folder

  1. Rename the plugin to anything you want. I’m simply going to change it to “z”.

FileZilla Rename File

This deactivates the plugin on your site. Check your site. If everything seems to be running smoothly, the plugin was indeed the culprit. Skip to the What Are My Options? section to see what you can do.

If you don’t know which plugin is the culprit

This is where things start getting a little more complicated, but it’s still not as scary as you think. If you don’t know which plugin is the culprit but you know that a plugin is to blame, all you need to do is deactivate all of your plugins and activate them one by one until you find the one that’s causing the issue.

Again, if you don’t know which plugin is causing an issue, use the Query Monitor plugin mentioned earlier to see if any of your plugins are emitting PHP errors.

If you can access your site

Your job is even easier if you can access your site. Follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Plugins page.
  2. Tick the checkbox at the top of the plugin list to select all plugins.

Select All Plugins

  1. Click Bulk Actions, and select Deactivate.
  2. Click Apply.
  3. This should deactivate all of the plugins on your site. Check to see if it’s indeed fixed. If it is, a plugin is at fault. Follow the rest of the steps if that’s the case. If there’s still an issue, the culprit is elsewhere, likely a corrupted theme or WordPress core file.
  4. Activate the first plugin on the list.
  5. Check your site to see if it breaks. If it does, the plugin you activated is the culprit. Continue if all is well.
  6. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until you find the plugin causing the issue.

If you can’t access your site

If you followed along with the If You Know Which Plugin is the Culprit section, you know we used cPanel and FileZilla to access our site’s file system. We’re going to do the same here.

If your host uses cPanel, follow these steps:

  1. Log into cPanel.
  2. Click File Manager under Files.

cPanel File Manager

  1. Select Web Root (public_html/www) as a directory, and click Go.

cPanel Web Root Directory

  1. Double-click the wp-content folder to open it.
  2. Single-click the plugins folder to select it.
  3. Click Rename at the top of the page.

cPanel Rename Plugins Folder

  1. Rename the folder to anything you want. I’m going to add a “z” to the end. Click Rename File once you’re done.

cPanel Rename File

This deactivates all of the plugins on your site. Check to see if all is well. If so, the issue was caused by a faulty plugin. Log into the WordPress admin area, and activate each plugin one by one. Check your site after each activation. If it breaks, the last plugin you activated is causing the issue.

If deactivating all of your plugins did not fix your site, you likely have a corrupted theme or WordPress core file.

If your host doesn’t use cPanel or you can’t access it, follow these steps:

  1. Download and install FileZilla. Use this link to access the download page.
  2. Run FileZilla.
  3. Go to File → Site Manager → New Site.
  4. Name the site something appropriate, such as your site name.
  5. Enter these details:
  • Host:com
  • Port: Leave blank.
  • Protocol: FTP – File Transfer Protocol
  • Encryption: Only use plain FTP (insecure)
  • Logon Type: Normal

Use the username and password you use to access your host’s control panel. For example, if your host uses cPanel, use the username and password you use to log into cPanel.

FileZilla New Site

Lastly, click over to the Transfer Settings tab, select Limit Number of Simultaneous Connections, and set the Maximum Number of Connections to 8.

FileZilla Transfer Settings

Click Connect, and follow these steps:

  1. There are four cells in FileZilla. Focus on the bottom-left cell.

FileZilla Cells

  1. Double-click public_html to open your site’s root directory.
  2. Double-click the wp-content folder to open it.
  3. Right-click or Control+click the plugins folder, and select Rename.
  4. Rename the plugins folder to anything you want, such as “plugins-old”.
  5. Check your site to see if the issue is still there. If it isn’t, the culprit is indeed a plugin. Continue the remaining steps. If it is, you’re experiencing a different issue, such as a corrupted theme or WordPress core file.
  6. Log into the WordPress admin area of your site.
  7. Go to the Plugins page.
  8. Activate the first plugin on the list.
  9. Check your site to see if it breaks. If it does, the plugin you activated is at fault. Continue if it doesn’t.
  10. Repeat steps 9 and 10 until you find the plugin at fault.

If you found a faulty plugin, continue to the What Are My Options? section to learn how to fix it.

What are my options?

Okay, so you found a faulty plugin. What’s next? Well, there are several different ways you can resolve this issue:

  1. Contact the developer
  2. Get help from the community
  3. Replace the plugin

Option #1 – Contact the Developer

A plugin can break your site if it’s coded poorly or conflicts with a theme, another plugin, or WordPress itself. If you went through this tutorial and found exactly which plugin is causing the issue, contact the developer.

If you downloaded the plugin from the WordPress plugin repository, create a new thread in the Support section. First, you need to create a new account at WordPress.org and log into it.

Head to the page of the plugin you need help with, and click Support.

WordPress Plugin Support

Scroll to the bottom to post a new topic telling the developer exactly what issue you’re having. Don’t simply say “this plugin broke my site.” Explain exactly how it’s breaking your site, and explain the steps you went through to figure out this is indeed the plugin breaking your site. Link to this article if you need to.

Let the developer know what host you’re using, the exact hosting plan you’re on, which theme you’re using and which additional plugins you’re using. Giving them this information upfront cuts back on all of the back and forth posts you and the developer will need to exchange to troubleshoot the issue.

If you purchased a premium plugin, you’re probably eligible for premium support via the developer’s website. Browse the developer’s site to see if there’s a contact or support section. If you bought the plugin on CodeCanyon, use the support forum there.

Option #2 – Get help from the WordPress community

This one is similar to option one, except you’ll use the general support forum on WordPress.org rather than the individual plugin’s support forum. Use this option if the developer can’t resolve the issue and you absolutely need this plugin on your site.

Click Support in the main navigation menu of WordPress.org.

WordPress Support

Select the Fixing WordPress section.

Fixing WordPress

Create a new thread in this forum. You’re technically not supposed to post theme and plugin issues here, but explain that you already tried to get support from the developer with no such luck. Explain what the developer tried to do if the developer attempted to fix the issue you’re having.

Option #3 – Replace the Plugin

This is a last resort. At the end of the day, the plugin’s functionality is what’s important, not the plugin itself. If you aren’t able to resolve the issue you’re having with the plugin, you need to find a way to replace the functionality it’s adding to your site.

Research similar plugins, and see if they fulfill your needs. If you can’t find a suitable replacement and cannot find a way to fix the issue the plugin is having, consider hiring a developer to have them fix the plugin or create a custom plugin for you to add the functionality to your site. Check out a previous article we published if you need help: How To Hire A WordPress Developer.

Over to you

When your site breaks, it can be stressful, especially if you can’t access your site to try and rectify the issue.

But with these steps you’ll be able to narrow down the issue to the exact plugin that’s causing the problem. Then you’ll know exactly who to contact in order to get the problem resolved.

Posted by Brenda Barron

Brenda Barron is a writer from southern California specializing in technology and business. You can find out more about her at The Digital Inkwell.