Yesterday afternoon I received a frantic call from a client I hadn’t heard from in 6 months. He left a voice message telling me that the website I designed and developed for his client— one that he had been “maintaining”— went down after he updated a few third-party plugins. Let’s take a look at how you can prevent this from happening to your WordPress website, and what I did to bring his website back to life.
1. Create a Backup Plan
First of all, if you’re not backing up your WordPress files and database on a regular basis (as you do, or should do, for your computers), you’re making a huge mistake— one that may cost you dearly someday. Furthermore, these backups should be easy to access at a moment’s notice.
After all, websites DO get hacked; and yes, on rare occasions, plugin updates can transform your website into a white page filled with obscure error messages with a single click. Or, maybe you’ve made a few code changes to your website that you wish you hadn’t made. Now what?
2. Test WordPress and Plugin Updates on a Test Server First
If you’re updating plugins and/or WordPress on a live website without a fresh backup, and, without first testing the updates on a copy of your website running on a test server (aka staging server), you’re playing a game of Russian roulette. Test on a test website first, and then again, after the live site has been updated. And, make backups before and after!
3. Don’t Wait to Update WordPress and Plugins
Update WordPress and/or plugins as these updates become available. Don’t wait until you have 5 or 10 plugins that need to be updated– it’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to fix a problem if there is only one likely cause… rather than many. But even more importantly— if you update the software on a regular basis, your website will be more secure. Remember— many of these updates are designed to address security, as well as performance issues.
How to Bring a WordPress Website Back to Life
When a plugin breaks a website, it can prevent you from logging into your WordPress dashboard. In these cases, the best way to get your website up and running again, is to manually remove the plugin via FTP from your “wp-content/plugins” folder. Once you do this, you should be able to gain access to the dashboard once again, and your site should be restored… minus the disabled plugin’s functionality.
Once I had removed the updated plugin, I logged into the WordPress dashboard; migrated a copy of the live site to my test server; reverted to the last version of the plugin; tested and debugged the reversion; and finally, made the update to the live site… to restore the website’s full functionality.
Since this article really isn’t intended for developers, I’ve intentionally left out many technical details. But I think you should know about a plugin that I’ve been using for years to automate off-site backups and to migrate copies of the websites I work on, between the live and test servers. It’s called BackupBuddy. But before you buy, make sure that it is compatible with your hosting company. For the vast majority of hosting companies, the plugin is compatible, but for a few, such as WPEngine, it is not.
And if you’re a client, I can take care of the backups and plugin updates for you on a regular basis. Please inquire. There is a monthly fee involved to cover my time, the offsite storage, and the software licensing.