If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to, the subject line says it all. I’m a pretty technical guy, my day job is in IT, but when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of WordPress plugins and programming, my skills are not quite up to par with my nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills and computer hacking skills. If you didn’t catch the reference, you need to watch Napoleon Dynamite, gosh! 😎
A few weeks ago, I started investigating what it would take to my migrate over from FeedBurner to MailChimp for my email subscription lists. In the process, I installed a plugin called MailChimp for WP Lite. Unfortunately, once I installed the plugin and went to the settings page it was completely blank within my WordPress dashboard.
The interesting thing is that I was recently also having an issue where every time I went to create a new post or edit an existing post, when I hit the save button it would take me to a 404 error page.
I also recently installed a plugin called BackDraft Plus – Backup/Restore and when trying to have the plugin upload my backup files to DropBox, it would also give a 404 error.
So with all of the different errors occurring around the same time, I went into troubleshooting mode and I wanted to share with you guys some general troubleshooting tips that can help you get to the bottom of plugin or WordPress related issues and some potential solutions.
General WordPress Plugin Troubleshooting Tips
- Backup your site prior to installing any WP updates or plugins
- Disable plugins 1 by 1 to see if there is a conflict causing the problem
- Revert back to a default WP theme if you are using a custom theme
First, before installing any updates or plugins, make sure you backup your site. Updraft Plus – Backup/Restore is a great free plugin for that. This plugin will also help you restore in the event things are broken afterwards and you can automatically transfer your backup files to an external location like DropBox.
One of the most common issues that people run into is recently installed plugins causing conflicts or issues with other plugins or your site in general. To see if that is your issue, disable plugins 1 by 1, starting with those installed most recently. If disabling a particular plugin causes your issue to go away, then you know it is a conflict with that plugin. You can contact the developer with the details and see if they can offer suggestions to resolve the issue.
If you’ve disabled all other plugins and are still having an issue, if you happen to be utilizing a custom theme such as Thesis or Genesis, revert temporarily to one of the default WP themes such as Twenty Thirteen. If the issue goes away, it is an incompatibility between the plugin and your custom theme. Contact the publisher of the custom theme for additional suggestions.
If you’ve disabled all other plugins and reverted to a default theme and are still having a problem, you will most likely need some help from the plugin developer and your Web Hosting support team.
What Resolved My Issues?
As I mentioned, I was having multiple issues. 404 errors when updating or creating new posts along with overall slowness when doing anything in the WP dashboard, 404 errors when trying to have my backup plugin send the files to DropBox and the MailChimp plugin was coming up completely blank. I was having the issues on multiple sites and had installed multiple plugins recently and also updated WordPress when prompted on all of them as well.
I started by disabling recently installed plugins and once I disabled the JetPack plugin, my issue with 404 errors when creating new posts or updating existing plugins went away. Additionally, the slowness when doing anything in WP dashboard also went away. Since I wasn’t really utilizing anything important from that plugin, I was fine with that and uninstalled it and was back in business as far as those issues go.
However, disabling all plugins and reverting to a default WP theme did not resolve my 404 error with the backup plugin nor the issue with the MailChimp plugin.
I contacted the developers of both plugins by going to each plugin page on WordPress.org and posting to the support forum. Both got back to me very quickly, with the developer of the MailChimp plugin really going the extra mile. After going back and forth via the forum and email, I eventually gave him full access to one of my sites that I didn’t care all that much about, so that if anything got messed up it wasn’t a big deal.
At his request, I installed a plugin called BlackBox Debug Bar and also enabled full WP debug mode by editing the wp-config.php and changing the line that reads: “define( ‘WP_DEBUG’, false );” to “define( ‘WP_DEBUG’, true );”. That causes your site errors to appear in a bar along the top of your WordPress dashboard for easier troubleshooting.
He traced the error down as far as he could and determined that his plugin was failing when trying to “make a secure call to an external site utilizing curl”. His plugin was attempting to contact the MailChimp site servers and wasn’t able to. I found that interesting, because the backup plugin was also attempting to contact an external site (DropBox) and was giving the 404 error. So there were different results, but I suspected they might be the same issue.
That was as far as he could go, he suggested I contact my web hosting support team, armed with the data that I appeared to be having a problem with “curl trying to make a call to an external site utilizing ssl”. He said they should know what to do.
I put in a ticket via email to my web host. After a bit of troubleshooting on their end, a more senior tech responded right away stating that my sites were utilizing PHP 5.2 without curl ssl support. He updated me to PHP 5.3 with curl ssl enabled and my issues were solved!
The whole troubleshooting process took a week of back and forth interactions with the developer and a few hours with my web host, but that fix resolved all of the issues I was having. A bonus is that my sites are noticeably faster when working in the WP dashboard, most likely related to performance improvements with PHP 5.3.
While you might not run into that specific issue, I think it is helpful to see the process that I went through. It took a lot of persistence, patience and a very helpful developer to get to the final resolution, but the process worked and I learned a bunch. Additionally, I am now backing up all of my sites on a much more regular basis and you should be as well.
Hope that helps! Now that I have that behind me, I can move forward with finalizing my testing of MailChimp as a replacement for Feedburner for email subscriptions. It is looking very promising, so my next post will probably be to document my findings and detailing how you can migrate over to MailChimp if desired.
In closing, I thought I’d also highlight a few new podcast episodes/posts that I’m looking forward to checking out this week, that I think you will enjoy as well. Have a great week!