Don’t Panic: Common WordPress Errors and How to Fix Them (Part One)

The vast majority of WordPress users managing and administering their own sites have most likely, at one time or another, received an error message or code that got their hearts racing and induced a bit of panic. Whether it’s the “white screen of death,” an inability to properly upload an image or an unintended redirect or continuous page load, these situations can be nerve wracking, especially for those people who aren’t sure how to fix them and find themselves needing to call in expert reinforcements.

Thankfully, due to the overwhelming popularity of WordPress, there are forums galore teeming with questions and answers on relatively easy fixes to some of the most common errors that can plague sites using the platform. Here are seven of the most encountered, with details of how and why they happen and, most importantly, how to fix them quickly and be back and up running smoothly in no time at all.

Internal Server Error

Sometimes displayed as “500 Internal Server Error,” this occurs when a server is unable to identify where a particular problem with the site lies so it essentially shuts everything down. To begin check for a corrupted “htaccess” file by renaming it something else (such as htaccess-corrupted) then reload the page and see if the problem is resolved. If you find the Internal Server Error message popping up more and more frequently chances are you’re stressing your PHP (hypertext preprocessor) memory too much and you’ll need to add more.

Problems Establishing a Database Connection

If you’ve ever modified your database credentials—such as where your database host is located or the user name or password—you’ll most likely receive an error message telling you the site cannot connect to said database. First check to make sure it’s both a front- and back-end problem, and if it isn’t your database has probably been corrupted. In most circumstances you’ll want to call in a WordPress expert to help mitigate the problem, but if you’re feeling confident and have the time check your settings at www.yoursite.com/wp-admin/maint/repair.php to make the repair. Just be absolutely sure to backup everything on your site before you start attempting this fix.

The Dreaded White Screen

Nothing can be scarier than seeing a plain white screen where your site should be—there aren’t even error messages to let you know what’s wrong. WordPress experts agree that most often the white screen happens because you’ve maxed out your PHP memory limit. First try disabling all your plugins and then re-enable them one at a time. It should be evident which one is causing the problem when you try to re-enable it. Make sure the troublemaker is working on the latest update, and if the problem persists delete it completely and find a more reliable replacement.

The 404 Error

If you see this error recurring on one page of your site you’ll need to reconfigure your permalink settings or manually update your rewrite rules. If this sounds complicated and scary, don’t panic—it’s pretty easy. Go to “settings,” then “permalinks” and click “save changes.” This will update those settings, but if it doesn’t work then manually update your “htaccess” file by logging onto your server and modifying the file by making it “writeable” and changing the permissions number. Then update your permalinks settings once more and see if the 404 error disappears.

Sidebar Below Content Error

If you discover that your sidebars are showing up below the content instead of where they should be—next to it—it’s likely you’ve forgotten to close an html tag or accidentally added an extra “closing div.” This most often occurs with sites using a custom theme, so first make sure there isn’t a problem with the width ratio (this is most common, and you can fix the problem by fiddling with the ratio until the page displays correctly) or with the “float property” (remember that “float: left” and “float: right” need to be added to all of the elements of a custom theme or they won’t function properly).

Missing Buttons

This problem occurs a lot: buttons start disappearing or showing up as white spaces. Most often this means that your JavaScript is not cooperating with your admin panel or your have a bad or corrupted plugin. Try clearing out your browser cache or switching to another browser all together. If that doesn’t solve the problem you can replace your “TinyMCE” folder with a fresh copy, but this solution may be a little beyond the abilities of most WordPress users, so don’t be afraid to seek help from the WP forum or call in an expert.

Image Upload Problems

Imagine opening up your site to find all your images are gone, and in their place are broken placeholders. This occurs when you have incorrect file and directory permissions in a WordPress installation or in your uploads directory. To fix the problem use at FTP client program to change the permissions for your image directory (one good program to seek out is Filezilla, which is free and easy to understand and use).

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