The vast majority of tech support for your WordPress site goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes the client tells us something isn’t working right and sometimes we get an early indication of a problem because of our monitoring services.
About a year ago we noticed that one of our sites that usually loaded in approximately 1.5 – 2 seconds was taking 4 or more seconds to load. This was a signal that something was wrong. Without daily monitoring the page speed we never would have known. After some investigation we determined that a social sharing plugin was creating extra “requests” from external websites. This is something a client would never see or know about because it wasn’t a major issue like a virus or website down and it wasn’t visible from the front end. After we replaced the plugin and configured it on all the other websites where it was used, we notified the clients that we fixed something on their websites.
About Plugins and Themes
Because we manage several sites with a similar set of plugins we are able to prevent problems on dozens of sites when we notice something wrong on a single site. Most of the time is is an update that causes a problem. Issues range from:
- A coding error in the plugin or theme update
- A conflict between theme and a plugin or plugin and other plugins
- An incompatibility with the server
- Malware included in the plugin
Examples of Plugin or Theme Problems
From best to worst problems are:
- Appearance problems on the website
- Error messages on the website
- Something can stop working
- A user or owner can’t login
- Worst case a plugin or theme can cause the site to breakdown
- Minor Malware
- Major Malware is introduced on the website
Vulnerabilities in Plugins, Themes and WordPress Core
Vulnerabilities are another class of problems that can be mitigated by keeping everything up to date on a daily basis. In most cases by the time we learn of a vulnerability via Google Alerts and websites we monitor, we’ve already performed the necessary update.
Server Based Issues
Examples of things that can go wrong on a WordPress server:
- Incompatibility issues – if a plugin of theme is not using up to date code it may be necessary to downgrade the PHP version on a specific website account (cPanel)
- Security problems – Often users get locked out because they are unaware that they are doing something that looks suspicious or their computer is doing something that looks suspicious
- One site not responding – while this could be a server issue it may be a site specific issue.
- All sites not responding, Server Down – this is a misnomer because sometimes it is only one aspect of a server that is having issues. For example MySQL might not be responding which is enough to make it look like the entire server is down
What Do We do When Something Goes Wrong?
This is situational. Questions that arise are:
- What is the root cause of the problem? (Plugin, theme, server, malware, other?)
- Can it be fixed quickly?
- How long has this been a problem? (this is important because a problem may exist on recent backups too)
- Is this problem specific to one website, dozens, or thousands across the globe?
- Do we need help from a server technician?
- What is the best way to resolve this issue so it doesn’t happen again in the future OR to another website?
If it can’t be fixed quickly restoring the website from a backup is only one step. We have 3 different kinds of backups for every website so we have a lot of flexibility.
We have to do some troubleshooting if we think the problem will recur. In some cases we have to restore a site from a backup and then create an entire copy of a website to test and resolve a problem offline and later update the actual website. In other cases we may skip an update of an offending plugin or theme and work with the developer of the plugin or theme to resolve the issue.
Sometimes we work with our own programmer to resolve a problem and report it to the developers of the plugins or themes because their solution may not be quick enough. The highest priority is to keep your website up and running smoothly.
Malware varies widely. There are 4 main types:
- Drive-by downloads
- Pharma hacks
- Malicious redirects
Most are less dangerous than you would think. A few are major challenges that sometimes require completely deleting a site and the database and then restoring from an old backup. This is extremely rare but it has happened. The problem with restoring from a backup if you have an active site is you may lose some data. The worst infections change the content of the database tables and are much harder to clean up. In the worst situations we may rely on a third party to clean an infected site.
There is a Lot Going on Behind the Scenes to Keep Your Site Safe, Secure and Running Smoothly.
We continually make improvements and updates on our server, even when nothing is wrong. Just in the past year we have:
- Upgraded our server and moved our websites to a new premium hosting service in a better location
- Converted from database software from MySQL to MariaDB
- Upgrading PHP to 7.1 (98% of servers running PHP are running older versions than we are)
- Many other minor tasks and adjustments