What To Do When Things Go Wrong

As diligent as you are caring for your site, you will likely run into an issue sooner or later. Don’t panic. Here are some common situations you may encounter and how to address them.

Update Error

The WordPress update system is generally reliable, but can experience the occasional hiccups and get stuck. The update process simply doesn’t complete.

Worse, visitors to your website will see this:

The simplest way to resolve this is to take a deep breath and wait 5 minutes. 95% of the time, the issue will simply correct itself. 

If you’ve waited 5+ minutes and the issue persists, you are in the unlucky 5%. Here’s what you’ll need to do to manually fix the situation.

  1. Connect to your website via FTP or sFTP.
  2. Navigate to the root directory of your website. This is the same folder where you’ll find the wp-config.php file and wp-admin folder. 
  3. Delete the .maintenance file.

Clear your website cache (if applicable) to stop displaying the maintenance message.

Once you delete the .maintenance file, your site should function correctly again so you can complete the plugin and theme updates. In the future, update your plugins and themes in smaller batches to avoid the update getting stuck. 

Server Error / Fatal Errors

Unfortunately there are many other things that can go wrong with your website at the server level. These errors are difficult to diagnose and fix and your best course of action is to contact your web host for assistance. Other server errors are due to a lack of resources (CPU and RAM) on your server. These reasons are why we strongly recommend investing in a good web host. 

Some example server errors you may encounter:

  • Internal Server Error
  • Fatal error: Allowed memory size exhausted
  • Fatal error: Maximum execution time exceeded
  • 502 Bad Gateway
  • 503 Service Unavailable
  • 504 Gateway Timeout

If you want to attempt to fix these errors yourself, take a look at this WPBeginner article: 50 Most Common WordPress Errors and How to Fix Them

“Your Site is Experiencing a Technical Issue”

WordPress is able to detect when plugins trigger errors that cause the site to crash (fatal errors). When it does, it will send a notification email to the WordPress administration email address (set from Settings → General).

The email subject will be [Your Website] Your Site is Experiencing a Technical Issue. The email will include:

  • Which plugin caused the error
  • Instructions for accessing your website in “recovery mode”
  • Error details which can tell a developer more about the problem

However these notifications can be triggered too easily by temporary hiccups e.g. when the website takes longer than usual to complete its updates.

What to do when you receive this email: Attempt to login to the WordPress dashboard. Check for any errors on the site.

If you are able to login to WordPress and there are no visible issues, you can safely ignore the warning email.

If you can’t login to WordPress or there are errors on the site, review the troubleshooting steps above and the chapter on dealing with malware and hacked sites.

Warnings from Security Plugin

Your security plugin will notify you by email or in the WordPress dashboard when it detects something that requires your attention. 

First, make a backup of your site. Next update all your website components. Finally, run the security scan again. After updating your website those security issues may have resolved themselves.

Still seeing warnings? Here are some common warnings from your security plugin and how to respond. 

File appears to be malicious

Wordfence warning of malicious files

Uh oh, this is a rather serious warning. If your security plugin has detected a malicious file, it means that your website has been compromised in some way and the hacker was able to upload a file to your site. The file contains code that can be used to exploit your site further which is why the security plugin has flagged it.

Action: Delete all malicious files detected on your site and attempt to fix your website.

Core file has been modified

“Core files” are files that are part of WordPress. In the WordPress doctrine, there is no reason to modify core files because you can add or modify functionality with plugins. Therefore if a core file has been modified it is likely due to a compromise on your site.

Action: Repair / Fix / Replace the core file.

File appears to have been modified

Wordfence warning of modified files

This warning isn’t so clear cut as the previous ones. Hackers may modify plugin or theme files to add malicious code to it. It’s less obvious than adding an entirely new file to the site.

However, this may also be the result of the plugin or theme author adding new code to their plugin without declaring a new version number. Hey, they’re human too and may take shortcuts.

Action: Repair the plugin file, or delete and re-install the plugin.

Plugin appears to have been abandoned

This is a warning you’ll get when one of the plugins on your site has not been updated for 2+ years. Because of the lack of updates, there may be bugs that are not fixed.

If it’s an unimportant plugin, you should play safe and delete the plugin. If it is important to your site, start looking for newer alternatives.

Back to: Keep Your Website Hacker-Free and Running Smoothly