Troubleshooting plugin problems in WordPress

You’ve just installed a new and exciting plugin on your WordPress site which you can’t wait to use but it breaks the site. You can no longer access the wp-admin dashboard and all your visitors are seeing a white screen of death when they try to load the page. Fortunately there’s an easy way to fix this and get your site up and running again in no time.

Firstly, you will need an FTP client like Transmit or FileZilla. This will allow you to access your server which is important since the wp-admin dashboard is no longer accessible. You’ll also need to know your server’s FTP, SFTP or SSH details (you only need one of these) in order to sign into the server. If you’re not sure what your server FTP details are then contact your host and they’ll be able to tell you. You’ll need a username, password, port number, and host address. The host address is typically your site address and the port number for FTP is usually 21 while for SFTP and SSH it’s 22. However some hosts use non-standard port numbers and so it’s important to check first.

Once you’ve got your FTP credentials, type them into your FTP client and sign into the server. I’m going to show you how to quickly and easily disable all your plugins. Once you’ve signed into the server you’ll find the plugins folder in /wp-content.


Go into /wp-content and change the name of the entire plugins folder to pluginsOLD. This will disable all your plugins and bring the site back online again giving you access to the wp-admin dashboard. If you know which plugin is causing problems then go into the plugins folder and instead change the name of that particular plugin by appending OLD to the end. This will disable just the one problem plugin rather than all of them. You’ll need to disable all of them when you’re not sure which plugin it is.


Once you’ve identified the problem plugin and removed it you can change the plugins folder back from /pluginsOLD to /plugins and this will reinstate all your plugins and the settings they had before. If you have dozens of plugins it can be tricky figuring out which one is causing problems. What I usually do in this case is disable half of them by renaming the individual plugin folders. Then check the site again. If it comes back online then re-enable half of the half and continue in this way until you’ve identified the culprit.

The same method works with themes. If you install or update a theme that breaks your site then you can change the name of the whole themes folder to themesOLD. The themes folder is also in /wp-content.

9 thoughts on “Troubleshooting plugin problems in WordPress”

    1. You’re not likely to ever need to do this. Unless you’ve got the Business plan you won’t be able to install plugins. If you do get Business and this happens to you then a Happiness Engineer will fix the problem for you. This is really for self-hosted WordPress sites.

  1. Once upon a time I was a ninja web developer – worth pointing out that most hosting accounts let you see the error log from the server for your hosting account – and that will usually have something descriptive in it. You are right though – first step to problem solving is always “when did it last work, and then what did you do to it?” lol

    1. Ah, that’s interesting. Most users I’ve had who need help with this either don’t know how to access the error log or their host takes a while to respond to support requests. Something else I sometimes suggest is to turn on debug in WordPress and then check the error log on the server but I thought I’d save that for a different tutorial 🙂

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