Restoring WordPress After a Crash

Your WordPress blog has crashed … now what?!
Not a happy day when this happens. I know, I had one. Luckily, just one.

For a new blog this isn’t actually that big of a deal. In most cases you can go even as far as installing the whole blog one more time, and tracking down the cause of the crash, but for blogs that have been around for a while and have a constant stream of people visiting them this may result in some serious consequences…

I’m not exaggerating here. Imagine you’re using WordPress to run your site where you’re selling a product or something, and the thing crashes just a couple of hours before TechCrunch was supposed to publish a post about you. Or even worse … it is your client who experiences such a scenario … guess who is to take the blame.

As I mentioned, this happened to me. Well, I didn’t have a TechCrunch coverage waiting in line, OK, but the day was painful anyway. I didn’t see it coming. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know what to do at first. In other words … it was beautiful. Here are some things I learned that day.

Protecting your blog against WordPress crashing

Well… actually there’s not much you can do in terms of the crash itself.

BUT

There are four things you can take care of that will minimize the possibility of such an event occurring.

Use a good and trustworthy hosting service. When selecting a provider try to find some information about downtimes, support (is it 24/7 by phone), and customer reviews.

Install only quality themes and plugins. You don’t really need every new plugin that gets released, only a few essential ones will do.

Do not use “admin” as the login for any account on the blog.

Make sure that the passwords are complex and don’t contain any dictionary words. This goes for your WordPress accounts, database account, hosting account, and FTP account.

The above precautions are a must. I know that using a password like “ilovebeer” is easier to remember and quicker to type into the field, but it’s really not worth it. That being said, the unfortunate truth is that these precautions won’t protect you against WordPress crashing, so you need to take care of some additional things if you want to be able to get your blog back to work as soon as possible.

First of all, have a backup strategy. In some cases, a backup might be your only way of getting your blog to work again.

Secondly, remember to update your blog safely every time you do it. A great deal of crashes happen immediately after or during an update. This is due to the fact that it’s the time when many files get altered by new code, which can sometimes act strangely.

… OK, so your blog crashed anyway; what to do? Here’s the first step:

What did you do?

Most of the time a crash happens right after you’ve changed something in your blog. Maybe you’ve installed a new theme, or a new plugin, these are the basics. Maybe you’ve been doing something more complicated, like implementing a hack, or even altering the WordPress core files.

Simply take a piece of paper and write down everything you’ve done most recently. It’s most likely the first item on the list that caused the crash. Simply reverting it will get the job done 90% of the time.

Anyway, in my case the crash was caused by two plugins not willing to work with each other. Here’s what I did, and what I think is a good strategy for dealing with most crashes of this kind.

1. You need FTP access

You need a way to get to your hosting account and access all the files directly, hence FTP.

2. Delete the plugins

Delete all the new plugins you’ve installed lately. If your WordPress admin has crashed also (which it did in my case) then you don’t have a way of doing it properly. In such a case just connect to your site via FTP and delete the subdirectories in your plugins directory. Don’t worry, you won’t lose the settings of your plugins. Those are stored in the database.

Nothing? Still crashed?

3. Move the theme

Actually, just change the name of your theme’s directory. This will force WordPress to switch to the default theme. This should solve the problem. The default theme is not the default theme without a reason. It has been constructed to be 100% in tune with all the other parts of WordPress and cooperate with everything else without a glitch.

Still nothing?

4. Restore from a backup

At this point I’d advise to simply grab a backup and restore the site using it. If it’s not the theme or the plugins then who knows what it is. Using a backup is often the easiest and fastest way out.

Now, this is really unlikely, but if your site is still not working it means that your core WordPress files are in some way corrupted. So take the final step.

5. Remove WordPress

This sounds big but actually it isn’t. What you do is make a copy of your wp-config.php file and then delete the whole WordPress directory from your hosting account.

By the way, I hope you still have your backup of the wp-content directory. It will come handy in a minute.

Then you take a fresh ZIP file of WordPress and extract it where the old one used to sit. Next bring back your wp-content directory. Finally copy the old wp-config.php file into the main directory. After doing all this your blog simply has to give some signs of life again.

0. Turning everything back on

If at any point your blog has started to work again you need to be careful when enabling all the plugins back and activating the old theme.

Activate one plugin at a time carefully observing all effects it has on your blog. At some point your blog will crash again but this time you can identify the cause of this crash immediately and eliminate it.

What if you didn’t do anything?

You’ve simply woken up and your blog isn’t working, and it’s not related to anything you’ve done? Well, this is the real fun stuff.

Three main things might have happened:

You got hacked.
The crash is due to a server error.
The site crashed because there was too much traffic to it.

The last two scenarios on the list is where you should start your investigation. Contact your hosting company and ask what’s going on. Remember when I said that 24/7 support by phone is something to search for? That’s why.

If it was a server error or a traffic crash then it’s something the hosting company should handle on their own. And you should use this time to search for a new hosting provider or selecting a more expensive hosting plan. If your site has crashed due to any hosting related issues then it’s likely to crash again in the future.

If the host says that everything is fine you’ve probably been hacked. A hack can be a tough thing to deal with. In my opinion using your backup is the best way out of it. You should also change your passwords immediately after bringing the site back up. Now, why am I telling you not to fight with hacks by trying to go into the source code and looking for changes? This is simply not worth it. You never know how deep the hack goes. Even if you manage to remove the direct cause of the crash you never know what else is still sitting in other places. Therefore, you can never be 100% sure that all changes have been reverted until you use a backup.

As far as I can recall I think I brought my blog back up within one hour. This was the time it took me to delete all plugins, and then turn them back on, one by one until I identified the problem. From that point on I am very careful when installing anything new on my blog. It’s like a box of chocolates … you never know what you’ll get.

I hope a situation when you have to use any of these techniques never occurs. An odd thing to say for a post’s author, but anyway, I really wish this to be the case.

Were there any epic crashes in your WordPress career? Feel free to share.

there are 35 comments added

  1. Keith Davis 26th January 2012

    Hi Karol Love the blog - very trendy. A good check list when it all goes wrong and sensible security measures. I also use a few security plugins. Every little helps. And... stay away from those free themes - use a theme with a proven record.

    • Karol 29th January 2012

      That's right, free themes are evil and they often contain some strange encrypted code. It's best to stay away from them.

  2. wordpress management service 27th January 2012

    Hi Karol K, I like this post, its very well written. I think taking a complete wordpress backups which includes Widgets, themes, plugins, and SQL database from time to time will avoid this type of situations.

    • Karol 29th January 2012

      There's nothing like a good backup strategy. I agree.

  3. Rod Druce 27th January 2012

    Well written mate. I am thinking now that not all backup software is equal. Is there a particular WP backup plugin/software you recommend?

  4. Karol 29th January 2012

    Sure, check out this article: http://themefuse.com/blog/do-you-have-a-wordpress-backup-strategy/ There are a couple of possibilities explained there.

  5. Sebastian Green 30th January 2012

    This exact thing happend a while back. Client rang saying "Site has gone down!". I asked them when they last logged in, what changes had they made etc.... They said "we have not logged in in weeks and not made any changes" - turns out 10 mins before they called, they had installed a dodgy plugin which took the site down! What I learned from this scenario - if the site has multiple users, check the plugins first. I always rename the plugins directory first via FTP. If the site comes back up then bingo, its a plugin. Then I go through one by one each plugin.

  6. seo 31st January 2012

    Hi there would you mind letting me know which webhost you're utilizing? I've loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you recommend a good web hosting provider at a honest price? Cheers, I appreciate it!

    • Dimi 1st February 2012

      No at all. We are using VPS.net. Hope this helps. Cheers

  7. Mike Otgaar 1st February 2012

    Backups have saved me a lot of hassle over time. I had one (Drupal ) site crash last year from a hacking attack - needed a full re-installation of everything. Backups are the easiest fail-safe way to recover from those dodgy plugins and other such similar problems. I have a multi-faceted backup strategy - Databases backed up daily - stored on server and dropbox, and downloaded manually at regular intervals. Uploads and other similar folders (one plugin uses another upload folder for images), backup automatically weekly (local and dropbox) and more often if required (depends on activity). Entire site backed up weekly. Finally I do regular site synchs via FTP. (Dreamweaver synch). I find this particularly useful if the site develops problems - files that have changed on the server get flagged before overwriting local copies...

    • Karol K 7th February 2012

      Wow, this is a really impressive backup strategy. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Harold Compton 1st February 2012

    Thanks for the info. I'm going to print this out and stick in my "HELP" folder just in case. Keep up the good work.

  9. Angela Fitch 1st February 2012

    Yes, I crashed my site a week or so ago trying to add a signature to my blog through the advice of another blogger. Seems the instructions were not complete and I know at least one other blog went down as well. The site was restored through the backup and I will not be playing in my code again. :) Thanks for the article, very helpful!

    • Karol K 7th February 2012

      Unfortunately, not every advice is applicable to every blog. Differences between themes are the most common causes of such problems.

  10. Brent Tilley 2nd February 2012

    I'm fortunate enough to know PHP and the innards of WordPress that I created/modified my own theme for my blog. I also do regular database backups which everyone should do.

  11. Becky 29th October 2012

    I have been having quite the panic attack. I recently took over updating our website from a former employee. I saw that there were 15 updates needed to our plugins so I hit update all and the website went down and not wordpress says my log in and non existent!!! I have no way to log in and fix the problem. What do I do!??!?!?

    • Karol K 15th November 2012

      I would advise deleting the plugins you've updated via FTP.

  12. Judy Maloney 8th November 2012

    I updated my plugins successfully, but when I tried to update Wordpress, the site crashed. I could use advice on how to fix it! I can't log in or fix it, like Becky's situation.

    • Karol K 15th November 2012

      You can try these things. Either delete the plugins via FTP (not permanently, just download them to your local drive, for example) and see if that changes anything, or if all else fails download your theme files via FTP and wp-config.php, and delete everything else. Get a fresh install of WordPress, upload it to the previous location and put your theme and wp-config back in place. Or, you can just restore your site from a backup.

  13. Virendra 27th November 2012

    I need help.. Today my blog was not there, then i checked & found that the host deleted my account & everything about it. But i have a database backup of my blog. I signed up another hosting site, installed wordpress successfully, then i loged in to phpMyAdmin & restored the backup. But after restoring my blog is not opening, browser showing error- redirecting loop. Please help me how restore the backup correctly..

  14. Bethany 27th December 2012

    I think my blog has been hacked. Unfortunately, I didn't figure it out until I had already "backed up' my site several times. I had recently installed Wordfence, but it seemed to make it worse! What now? I don't want to lose my blog posts and comments threads...

    • Karol K 5th January 2013

      Why do you think that it got hacked? What's going on exactly?

  15. Sudeep Acharya 27th February 2013

    Hi Karol, It has started from last satuday,my website goes off with a message of 500 internal server error.When I log into dashboard, it becomes online again. My host (awardspace-paid plan) says that it is not from their end. They also suggest to do the fresh install of wordpress.If I need to reinstall can I do with one click installer by my host. Please advice.

    • Karol K 2nd March 2013

      Essentially, you can. But you have to create a backup of all the files in wp-content and wp-upload first. And also don't forget about the database so you can restore the data after the reinstall.

  16. Andrew Newey 19th March 2013

    Going through your steps now - thanks for the article mate. The annoying thing for me is that wordpress crashed as a result of installing a Backup plugin! That's right - I was about to start tinkering so I installed and activated a plugin called Backup. On activation, the whole site went kaput.

  17. Melissa French 30th March 2013

    Thank you so much! Everyone else was saying to go to my control panel to fix my exploded site, but of course I couldn't even get that far. Now my site is back up! Yay!

  18. Eusebia 10th April 2013

    Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful post. Thanks for providing this info. My page - Eusebia

  19. bdp-more-details 18th April 2013

    Finally! An excellent review. I am excited to analyze your next report. Your efforts is noticeably treasured.

  20. Http://Datarecoverytoronto.Org/ 25th April 2013

    Hello there I am so excited I found your blog page, I really found you by accident, while I was browsing on Bing for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks for a remarkable post and a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the awesome jo.

  21. kassiekopp 3rd May 2013

    Do уou have anу video of that? I'd care to find out more details.

  22. laurence 3rd May 2013

    Ideal and informative report! I wonder what your future work will be. Hope to see more review from you in the future.

  23. G. C. 3rd May 2013

    Hi Karol, thank you for your great article; very useful for all of the wordpress commnunity. I wonder if is it possible to rebuild a web site having only its database. Thank you.

  24. watna 21st May 2013

    hi karol i have a problem in my wordpress site i just added a string ' by mistake while editing and the site crashed this is the line of error in /homepages/27/d464218369/htdocs/wp-content/themes/wootique/includes/theme-woocommerce.php on line 43 how can i solve it for my hosting company says it can t do nothing for me it is up to me to do a backup i can t even get to my wp dashboard thank you

  25. Christina 25th May 2013

    Hey there. I'm having huge problems. I activated a new theme and this is what I got: Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 33554432 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 122880 bytes) in /home/meerkati/public_html/wp-admin/includes/dashboard.php on line 698 I have tried to get hold of my web host but they have not replied. you said to Move the theme Actually, just change the name of your theme’s directory, so that it will go back to the default. Sounds great but I don't know how to do that. Can you help? Thanks Christina

  26. this 15th July 2014

    I just want to say I'm beginner to blogging and site-building and really savored this website. Very likely I’m going to bookmark your website . You really come with amazing posts. Thanks a lot for sharing your website.

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