Server Troubles: 10 things I learned from having a flaky WordPress Install

By | December 17, 2007

Well, I’ve finished fixing the server yesterday morning… so if any visitors had come by in the last two days, they’d have been met by a spinning wheel, as the server overloaded itself.

December 17th stats

At first, I thought that I had been dugg like John Cow was recently, but I must admit… after looking at the logs, it was a problem with one of the WordPress installs… One of the blogs hosted on this server had six or seven plugins that hadn’t been used much and were conflicting with each other, WordPress and the server itself. Most of the time, things were fine. But somehow on Saturday, a set of circumstances conspired to turn this plugin into a nightmare scenario that prevented ALL the sites hosted on my server (including HTML sites) from loading. Anyway, …


… This is what I learned from the whole affair. Here are seven steps that can help you find and manage problems.

wordpress new

1. Keep your WordPress updated. Don’t let old and out of date versions stay on your server or hosting. Often WordPress is patched for SECURITY reasons. Using the most recent versions helps avoid your website being ‘hacked’. There are currently two tracks of WordPress. Whichever one you use, you need to find the most recent version on the website. Legacy Version and Latest Version.

plugins management2. Manage your plugins: when you upload a plugin, activate it or remove it. If you don’t use it, why waste the server resources on unused plugins. You can simply move it to your root directory where it can hide away out of trouble. Some plugins will cause problems even when they are just installed.

3. Keep your plugins updated as well. And if you update WordPress, update your plugins if possible at the same time. With WordPress 2.3.1 + there is a notification system of new updates for most plugins. If your plugin refuses to work, you had better remove it.

4. When you upload plugins, upload your plugins to the right place. Sometimes the zip files that most plugins use has an extra level of directories, so when you unzip the files and upload the entire folder the plugin is still invisible because it is TOO deep. Other plugins have special instructions that tell you to upload your plugin files to more than one directory.

5. Don’t upload plugins in several places or plugins that perform the same tasks, even if they are unactivated. They may cause problems with the installed plugins or with WordPress. For example, in the site there were three plugins handling sitemaps for Google and Yahoo! So, choose one and remove the others.

server logs6. Keep an eye on your server logs, esp. the error logs that your server generates every night. I noted that some days the files were quite big. Open and read them. You may not understand what the errors mean, but you can google the basic codes easily to give you some idea of what’s going on.

Also, if you are seeing a lot of errors, then you know that somewhere on your server, something is going wrong. The server logs are located usually in the root directory under ‘logs’ and the error logs are stored in an appropriate directory for your domain under that!

server errors7. If you are having problems with server stability, turn off all the plugins. Then slowly turn on each one in an incremental fashion over a long enough period. If the problem returns when you turned on one plugin, you may have the offender! Of course, you should also check the website of the plugin author to find out if there have been any recent problems.

For example, the plugin that was installed had a note that was new which said: “After almost 1000 downloads of this plugin and our own use on multiple hosts we have not heard of any serious issues untill the other day we were contacted about the plugin cuasing a huge overage in traffic for a site it had been installed on. …”

8. Limit the number of plugins and themes you have installed at one time. Each plugin and theme requires space on the server, as well as server CPU and memory. I don’t have a limit on the number of plugins you can have, but it is wise to keep the number down. Some plugins are largely redundant for those bloggers who have more than rudimentary knowledge of HTML and WordPress. For example, plugins for websites information, like Rankings and Signatures can often be mimicked by simple code placed in the theme or in the sidebar.

sidebar issues9. Keep your load time down, too. Often bloggers keep adding Javascripts, sidebars, PHP calls, etc., to the blog sidebars, but each of them slows down the load time for the readers. If you are not sure, you can test your blog with a stopwatch or a load time tool. Try to keep load times under 30 seconds on broadband. Otherwise users may just be tempted to close the window or enter another URL. After John Chow’s redesign, his load time shot up to over 45 seconds.

10. And don’t forget to contact your webhosting support , for more advice. They won’t be able to help much with a number of things because they can’t advise on every possible plugin-theme-application compatibility issue, but they will advise on basic things, and point you in the right direction!

So sadly that was how I spent my Saturday night and most of Sunday morning… fixing a server. Now it’s purring like a cat again, I learned my lesson on what NOT to do, and you guys get a post… ! So I guess it all comes out in the wash!

Let’s hear YOUR server horror stories… What happened? How did you deal with it? What other tips did you learn?

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