Troubleshooting WordPress Plugins
It happens to everyone… you find a free WordPress plugin that is just awesome, and then something goes wrong or you find that the plugin simply doesn’t work. Your first instinct is that their is a problem with the plugin, but you don’t know how to be 100% sure.
Here is a step-by-step procedure that you should use, before contacting a plugin author, to determine the source of a specific problem:
- Cause the problem – Whatever the issue is, be sure you know what steps are necessary to cause the problem. If you can’t identify the specific steps necessary to cause the problem, you won’t be able to check if the problem still exists later on, and you won’t be able to clearly communicate the problem to people who can fix it. When you are trying to relay information to someone you hope can fix the problem, be sure to provide the following information:
- The version of WordPress you are running.
- The version of the plugin in question.
- A link to the page where the problem occurs.
- If the problem is in the admin area, create a new user with the appropriate permissions, such as ‘administrator’ and provide the username and password. This user can be deleted later after the problem has been reviewed.
- Describe any conditions that must be met before the problem will occur (e.g. a specific plugin must be active).
- Layout the steps necessary to cause the problem.
- Read the documentation – Before you get too far along, be sure to check the documentation for the plugin. Most plugins define which version of WordPress they work with, so check this first. Perhaps you don’t entirely understand how the plugin works or are trying to do something with the plugin that the author didn’t intend for it to do. If what you need isn’t supported by the plugin, don’t give up yet! Be sure to pass along your feedback to the plugin author, as they might be willing to include the functionality you need in the next release.
- Check for conflicts with other plugins – It is common for two plugins not to get along. The best way to check for this is to disable all of the other plugins on your site and see if the problem still occurs. If the problem still exists, you can rest assured that another plugin isn’t contributing to the issue and you can move on to the next step. If the problem goes away, you will want to re-activate each plugin one at a time; checking to see if the problem re-occurs every time you activate a plugin. In this way, you should be able to narrow down which plugin might be contributing to the issue. At this point, if you can’t really pin the problem on one plugin or the other, you may want to contact both plugin authors.
- Check for conflicts with the theme – Sometimes you, or a developer, will change the code in your theme, you will upgrade your theme, or you might have simply chosen a poorly coded theme. With all the plugins still disabled, switch over to the default WordPress theme. At this point, I am referring to the ‘TwentyTen’ theme that is the default when you install WordPress. If switching to the default theme doesn’t fix the issue, continue to the next step. Otherwise, the theme is the problem and you will want to take a closer look at it. You will probably want to get in touch with the theme author, or a good WordPress developer should be able to help you out.
- Do a quick search – Take a look on the WordPress support forums to see if anyone is having the same problem, or if the plugin author is aware of the issue. If you discover that the plugin author is aware of the problem, but there is no solution right now, subscribe to the thread where the issue is discussed. You will receive emails related to the problem as progress unfolds. If you can’t find anything related to your problem, move on to the next step.
- Post your problem on the WordPress support forums – Make sure to go to the plugin download page on WordPress.org and click on the ‘Forum Posts’ link in the right sidebar. Anything you post here is usually monitored by the plugin author, but others are able to respond to your question as well. If someone else is capable of answering your question, you may get a quicker resolution to your problem and that is one less email the plugin author has to worry about. Just be sure you wait a few days to see if you get a response.
- Contact the plugin author directly – If the plugin author has provided any kind of contact information, you may contact them directly with your issue. Not all plugin authors respond quickly or are eager to solve problems, but that is their prerogative. If a plugin author is not cooperative, you may want to pay to have them or another WordPress developer take a look at your problem; or you may simply want to discontinue using the plugin. Hopefully, you will find that most plugin authors value the feedback of their users and will do what they can to help out. If you get personal help from the plugin author, you will probably want to make a donation in order to thank them for their time.
Author’s Note: Plugin authors provide plugins for free and it takes a lot of time to code a quality plugin, provide support for it, and make sure it is compatible when WordPress is updated. It is rude to be demanding when you want to see changes made to a plugin. Always be kind and courteous, keep in mind that the plugin author may be very busy, and consider donating if you make use of a plugin on your website.