Wordpress troubleshooting guide for cPanel sites


The majority of web content at Michigan Tech is located on the CMS, at www.mtu.edu/<department>. For those who need a more customizable site, Michigan Tech IT offers space on our cPanel servers, which allow customized domain names (such as asterisk.phy.mtu.edu), and provide a control panel similar to a commercial hosting service, such as InMotion or Bluehost.

Although IT maintains the underlying cPanel server, it is up to the site owner to provide all content, and update and maintain any programs running on their site. If a site should become unavailable, IT will make sure the server is working properly, but we do not have the resources to troubleshoot individual sites.

Because of the increase in hacking activity lately, IT will now begin automatically updating certain software running on the cPanel servers, most notably PHP and Wordpress (including Wordpress plugins and themes). This will help ensure hackers can’t get into a site that hasn’t been updated, and take down all the other sites on the server.

Although most of these updates will not affect your cPanel site, occasionally an update will cause a site to stop working - in most cases this affects Wordpress sites, and is caused by an out-of-date plugin or theme. This troubleshooting guide will help you get your Wordpress site up and running again.

Troubleshooting Wordpress

The first thing you’ll need to do is log into your cPanel, located at <website>/cpanel (for instance, asterisk.phy.mtu.edu/cpanel). If you are not sure what your username and password are, please contact IT Help. cPanel offers a very useful tool called “WP Toolkit” that you’ll be using. There is a link to it in the left sidebar:

cPanel main screen showing WP Toolkit in sidebar

This takes you to the WP Toolkit page. Some sites have more than one Wordpress installation; in that case, their dashboards are all available from this page. In the screenshot below, we have clicked on the second Wordpress site listed, for Copper Country Architects. You can switch between the dashboard, plugins list, and themes, using the tabs circled in red:

WP Toolkit page

NOTE: Ignore any warnings about “SSL/TLS” or a “self-signed certificate.” We manage these outside of cPanel.

The first step to troubleshooting your site is to click the “Plugins” tab, disable all the plugins, and try your site again. If it works, you can re-enable the plugins one by one, testing after each one. Eventually you will find the plugin that is causing the issue. In the screenshot below, it was the plugin “Featured image widget” that was causing the site to break, so we left it unchecked. We also left a vulnerable plugin unchecked as well, to protect the site:

Plugins tab for troubleshooting

If you can’t find an update to the plugin that does not break your site, you will need to find a different plugin that does the same thing, or do without that functionality. Sometimes plugins are abandoned by their authors and eventually become unusable.

If disabling all the plugins did not help, re-enable them all and move to the second troubleshooting step. This time, you will want to click the “Themes” tab. Themes work a little differently, you only have one active at a time. Thus, you will want to make note of the currently active theme, then activate a different theme. If the site works again, there is an issue with the original theme. You can try to find an update for it, or use a different theme that doesn’t break your site. Again, themes are sometimes abandoned and will not work on newer versions of Wordpress.

Troubleshooting on the Themes tab

A bad plugin or theme is almost always the cause of a broken Wordpress site. If neither of these steps helped, however, or if you have a non-Wordpress site, you will need to look at your error log to see if it contains any clues, and act on them accordingly. 

First, try to load your site in a browser. Then, open the File Manager. This can be done one of two ways:

  • From the dashboard in WP Toolkit (see the second screenshot in this guide - click the “Dashboard” tab, then the “File Manager” link right below “Dashboard”)

  • From the initial cPanel page (see the first screenshot in this guide - scroll down to the “Files” section and click the “File Manager” link)

Once in the File Manager, find the file called “error_log”, click it once, then click the “View” button near the top:

File Manager window

This will open the log in another browser tab. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see if your most recent attempt to load the page generated any errors. In the example below, you can see where the plugin mentioned above, “Featured image widget,” is causing the error:

error log

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Article ID: 150787
Fri 3/31/23 5:31 PM
Fri 5/31/24 10:35 AM