What to do if a WordPress Update Breaks your Site
Determine first if you can access your website at all.
Choose from one of these options:
- Your website is still visible on the front end, but things have broken or moved out of order, and your website is still accessible from the backend.
- The front end of your website is a plain white screen, but you can still login to the backend.
- Your website is showing “the white screen of death” on BOTH ends – i.e. it’s not accessible at all, from the front end AND the backend.
Option A: My Website is Accessible but Broken
Your frontend and backend are accessible, but the frontend is not working correctly (things may have moved or are out of order).
This is obviously a direct result of the new plugin software having been updated by the plugin developer, and it’s no longer 100% compatible with your website. This could be because the plugin now has a few bugs in it, or it because the developer has made changes and it doesn’t work with some other element of your website.
Let’s start by checking if the problem is a plugin conflict:
- From the backend of your website, deactivate each plugin, one by one, and check your website front end by refreshing the page, after each deactivation.
- If it works after you deactivated a particular plugin, it means that your updated plugin is conflicting with that deactivated plugin.
- Reactivate all the plugins you have just deactivated, except the one that you have now determined is causing the conflict.
- Now you must decide if either of the plugins (the most recently updated one, or the one that’s causing the conflict) can be removed from your site altogether, or at least replaced with a similar plugin that doesn’t cause the same conflict.
- Delete the deactivated plugin and replace it with one that doesn’t break your website.
Once you remove the source of the conflict, your website should start to work properly again.
If deactivating the plugins doesn’t fix the issue, then try switching to a native WordPress theme (like TwentyTwenty) to see if that seems to fix the issue on your website. If it does, then your plugin update is conflicting with the theme you are using.
You’ll need to decide whether it’s worth changing your theme to a more versatile option, or replacing the offending plugin with one that doesn’t conflict with your theme. This often happens with free themes that aren’t well-built or aren’t particularly versatile. It’s why we only build WordPress websites using premium (paid) themes.
Sometimes, the only thing you can do is to upload an earlier version of the plugin and wait for the developer to release a new update that hopefully works with your website and doesn’t break anything. (I would advise you NOT to do this but sometimes, it’s the quickest fix.) You would most likely need to do this using FTP software to access the server of your website directly.
If you want to access the server directly, FileZilla is a really great piece of software you can use to do this.
You will also need an FTP login to access your website. This login includes:
Your IP address or FTP username
The port number
Depending on your server setup, you will need to locate the WordPress installation. You will know you’re in the right folder when you see the folders “wp-admin”, “wp-content”, and “wp-includes”. Open the “wp-content” folder, then the “plugins” folder. Here you can directly overwrite the plugin on your server.
Option B: My WordPress Admin Backend is Still Accessible
The update broke your website front end (it probably shows a white screen) but the admin backend is still accessible.
This issue is likely to be fixed by using the same instructions given in Option A. Your update likely created a software conflict, which can be fixed using the steps above.
Option C: My Website is not Accessible at all
Don’t panic! This can be a little scary to approach but most things are possible to fix!
In this case, the WordPress update broke everything so you won’t be able to access your website through the normal WordPress admin backend, and you won’t see anything on the front end either. You’ll need to access the server directly.
You can do this in two ways:
- Via FTP software (I personally find this easier and more versatile, but you might prefer the other option). FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol and is a quick way to access the files on your server, i.e. your WordPress installation files, directly.
- Via your hosting control panel (sometimes called Cpanel, depending on the software your host uses).
If you decide to access your website via FTP, you will need FTP software (like FileZilla) and an FTP login (usually supplied by your website host). This login includes:
Your IP address or FTP username
The port number
If you prefer to use the server’s control panel, you will need a login (also usually supplied by your host). This login includes:
A URL (website address) where you can fill in your login details
Please remember that these methods are allowing you to access your website files directly on the server. It is much easier to click the wrong thing or delete the wrong file here, which could make it difficult to fix your website. Please tread carefully! Work slowly and pay attention so you don’t click something by accident, or delete something by mistake.
Whichever way you decide to access your server, you need to log in and locate your WordPress installation. If you’re using the server’s control panel, you could search for something like “File Manager” to access the WordPress files.
You will know you’re in the right folder when you see the folders “wp-admin”, “wp-content”, and “wp-includes”.
Use your Direct Server Access to Check if it’s a Plugin Conflict
A quick way to check if a plugin is what’s breaking your website is to rename the plugins folder. Open the “wp-content” folder. Rename the “plugins” folder to “plugins-x” and refresh your website’s home page to see if anything shows up. Also, refresh your admin page (www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin) to see if your backend is working or not. This essentially deactivates all your plugins in one go. If this doesn’t fix your site, then the plugins are likely not the problem.
If renaming this folder fixes your backend and shows something on your frontend, you now know that a plugin is the culprit, and the cause of your website breaking.
Rename your plugins folder back to “plugins” and open the folder. Here you can rename each folder, one by one. Renaming the plugin folders manually deactivates them on your website, so you don’t need the WordPress admin backend to deactivate the plugins while testing. After you’ve renamed each folder, refresh the front end and backend of your website to see if they start working. If not, rename the folder back and do the same rename/refresh to the next folder.
Always remember to rename the folders back to their original filenames so you don’t break anything permanently!!
If renaming a particular plugin fixes your website, you have found the source of the conflict. Now you can go back to the WordPress backend (which should be working now), delete the offending plugin, and replace it with a different plugin that will do the same thing on your site.
You MIGHT find that all the other plugins are deactivated. This is because you renamed them on the server and effectively manually deactivated them. Activate all the plugins (except the one that broke your website).
Did your WordPress website update break because of a theme conflict?
If renaming the plugins DIDN’T work, your theme might be causing a conflict as a result of your WordPress update. In this case, you can change the theme of your website uses by using PhpMyAdmin, but this is a little too technical for this article. If you need some help with this, please ask us. Fixing broken WordPress website is our specialty.
If nothing is helping after the WordPress update broke your website, you might need to restore a site backup.
Do you have external backups of your website? (EXTERNAL means backups that are stored off site – i.e. not on the same server where your website is hosted. We store all our backups on Dropbox, so this method would work for you too.) If you have backups, you can always roll back to a backup of your website when it was all working correctly. Ideally, you should backup your website AT LEAST once a week. (More often if your site changes regularly or is an online shop and receives lots of orders. You always want to have access to the most recent version of your website possible.)
Did you backup your website before you updated any software?
You should have also backed your website up right before you performed any updates whatsoever. By doing this, it’s really easy to roll back to a previous backup if an update breaks your WordPress website. We like to use the Updraft backup plugin because it handles backups so well. You can learn more about how to backup your website effectively in our website backup guide here.
If you have backups, you could just roll back to a previous version of your website and wait a while before updating the offending software again.
This might be a very tough lesson that you really need to set up backups for the future of your website.