Rescuing a WordPress site from a plugin update fail

Updating plugins on your WordPress website is a critical task to ensure your site is safe and secure at all times. But sometimes, those updates can throw a spanner in the works and cause your site to fail. Most of the time, updates will not cause any issues at all for your WordPress site, but there are many reasons why they could: a possible coding error in a new version, an incompatibility with another plugin or even an incompatibility with the version of PHP your server is running.

If your site stops working after any update, even a WordPress core update, the core update is almost certainly not going to be the root of the problem; it is very often down to a plugin being incompatible.

When we get the occasional support ticket where a WordPress update has resulted in a site returning a white screen or an error, the last thing we want to do is reverse your updates. We instead work with you to find out the cause of the issue. The vast majority of the time all we need to do is either disable or update a plugin which is using outdated code.

How to disable a broken WordPress plugin?

If you do find your site is not working after a recent update there are easy ways to identify the plugin causing a problem and several ways to disable it.


If you use an FTP client to login to the file structure of your site, which is explained in our How to get started with FTP guide, you can navigate to your website’s error logs. As soon as you login via FTP you will see several folders, one of which is the ‘statistics’ folder. If you open up ‘statistics’, then ‘logs’ from within it, you will see a handful of error log files.

On Professional and Business hosting packages, the relevant logs can be found under – open that file and navigate to the bottom of it, you will likely see an error which relates to a plugin, such as:

Your error logs might not look exactly like this, but the important parts to note are the ‘fatal error’, meaning this caused something to no longer load on your site, possibly the entire page, and the plugin name, which in this case is ‘wiki-page-links’.

So, now we know the plugin possibly causing our site to break, we need to go back to our root directory via FTP, and go to the ‘wp-content’ folder, and then ‘plugins’.

From here you can force the plugin to disable by simply renaming the plugin file, for example, we would rename ‘wiki-page-links’ to ‘wiki-page-links-disabled’. This should allow you to login to WordPress again and you can either delete, update or reinstall the problem plugin from the plugin repository. In some cases a re-install might fix a problem, but if the plugin is not vital to your installation, it might be worth simply removing it.

Via WP-CLI (WordPress Hosting only)

If you are using our managed WordPress hosting you will have some access to your site over command line via SSH. On the WordPress Hosting we give customers access to WP-CLI – handy command line tools for managing your WordPress installation.

To disable a plugin via WP-CLI first you must access your site via SSH, as illustrated in our guide ‘How to login to WordPress Hosting using your SSH key‘. When you are logged in you will be able to type commands to manage your WordPress site.

Similarly to the FTP method, we need to find out which plugin is causing the trouble. To do this, use the following command from within the domain root to grab the last 20 error logs from your PHP error log on the WordPress hosting:

This will return the same kind of errors as previously shown. Look for fatal errors and plugins associated with them. If a plugin is giving a fatal error it will need to be disabled to bring the site back to normal, which we will do next.

First you need to step into your httpdocs folder by typing:

This will take you into the folder where you can access your WordPress site and use WP-CLI. To test WP-CLI is working, you can do a simple version check:

This will return the version of WordPress your site is currently running:

If we are happy that WP-CLI is working, we can now use it to disable a troublesome plugin. First, you can grab a list of your plugins by using the following command:

This should return a list of all your plugins, what version they are running and whether they are enabled or not. If there is an update available on the plugin which is causing problems you can update it as follows:

Replace plugin-name with the name, or slug, exactly as it is given in the output of ‘wp plugin list’, for example our plugin is listed as tfsp_tools in the command line. If no updates are available you can deactivate the plugin using:

When the plugin is deactivated it should bring your site back up and running providing it was the source of the problem. From this point you can consider deleting the plugin if it is no longer needed and no longer compatible with the latest version of WordPress.

Alternatively if you have disabled a plugin which you believe is vital to your installation consider contacting our support team before restoring a backup or reverting to an older version of the plugin or WordPress. Our support team will see if they can offer any further advice as we’d much rather help you keep your site up to date.



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1 Comment

  1. Well written!