The huge variety of available plugins is a big part of what makes WordPress so great. But because there are so many plugins from third-party developers, you can occasionally run into compatibility issues. To find those issues, you’ll need to know how to perform a WordPress plugin check.
By choosing your plugins, themes, and other tools carefully, you can prevent most problems before they happen. What’s more, diagnosing and dealing with compatibility errors if they do occur isn’t difficult.
Why plugin compatibility errors happen (and how they can affect your site)
There are many excellent plugins, and most WordPress users will install at least a few. In general, there’s no problem with doing this. However, once in a while you may encounter a plugin compatibility issue. In other words, you might install two plugins on your site and find out they don’t work well together.
There are a number of reasons this might happen. For instance:
- Both plugins might be trying to change how the same feature works, but in different ways.
- The plugins could have been developed with different versions of WordPress in mind.
- One or both of the plugins may simply be poorly-designed or coded.
It’s worth noting that this issue isn’t exclusive to plugins – you can also see compatibility issues arise between a plugin and your active theme or your version of WordPress.
What does a compatibility error look like? This question can be difficult to answer, since the specific problem you’ll see will be based on the plugins involved. However, in general, these errors cause a specific feature on your site to function incorrectly or stop working.
This feature may be inherent to the plugin causing the problem. Alternately, it might belong to another plugin, theme, or WordPress itself. In rare cases, incompatible plugins can even break your site – so this is an issue to take seriously.
How to diagnose a potential plugin compatibility error
If you think you may have a plugin compatibility problem on your site, don’t panic. In most cases, it’s easy to diagnose and deal with these errors. You can simply perform a WordPress plugin check, to see whether one of your plugins is actually causing the issue you’re seeing.
The best way to do this is to disable your plugins, one at a time. We highly recommend doing this on a staging site for safety reasons. So you’ll want to start by creating a copy of your live site first (if you don’t already have one). Next, log in and navigate to the Plugins tab in your dashboard:
Here, you’ll see a list of all the plugins installed on your site. Under each one, you’ll see an option labeled Deactivate. The following process will help you carry out a WordPress plugin check for compatibility errors:
- Deactivate one of your plugins – preferably the one you most recently installed or updated.
- Check out your site on the front end, test whatever feature wasn’t working, and see if it’s fixed.
- If the problem has gone away, you’ve found your culprit! If not, reactivate the plugin and deactivate the next one on the list.
- Repeat the previous steps until you find the plugin causing the issue, or until you’ve gone through every plugin on your site. If none of your plugins are to blame, you’re likely dealing with a different type of WordPress error.
Once you’ve figured out which plugin is giving you trouble, you have a few options. You can try uninstalling and reinstalling it, and see if that resolves the issue. If it doesn’t, you’ll either need to contact the developer for help fixing the error, or find a replacement plugin that does the same thing (more on this in the next section).
Finally, it is possible for a plugin compatibility error to prevent you from logging in to your site at all. In this scenario, you can still carry out a WordPress plugin check. You’ll just need to use File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to access your site’s files directly. You can find more details on how to do this in our article on the subject.
Automate your WordPress plugin check
While the manual process above is simple, it can still take some time to manually deactivate all of your plugins, especially if you’re using a lot of plugins. To automate the process, you can try the free Plugin Detective plugin:
This plugin, which won WordCamp Orange County’s 2018 Plugin-a-Palooza contest, basically does exactly what we described above…just automatically.
Once you install it, you can use the new Troubleshoot option on the WordPress toolbar.
How to prevent plugin compatibility errors in the first place
While it’s certainly possible to diagnose compatibility issues after-the-fact, it’s better to try and figure out if a plugin will break your site before you actually install it.
While you can never 100% guarantee this, there are ways to significantly decrease the chance of encountering any compatibility issues.
Before installing any new plugin, you’ll want to:
- Make sure the plugin is compatible with your version of WordPress. This information is listed on each entry in the WordPress Plugin Directory, and on most other sites that sell plugins.
- Check to see if the plugin has been updated recently. In general, avoid plugins that haven’t been updated within the past six months.
- Take a look at the plugin’s user reviews and ratings. These will give you a general idea of its quality. Plus, people will often mention any compatibility issues they’ve encountered in their reviews.
- Consider whether the plugin’s functionality overlaps with anything already installed on your site. Having two plugins that affect the same feature doesn’t guarantee there will be a problem, but it does increase the risk.
If you’ve gone through this list and the plugin you’re looking at satisfies each point, you’re probably safe installing it. Just to be certain, however, it’s still smart to activate it on a staging site first. That way, you can run a WordPress plugin check and catch any issues before you install the plugin on your live site.
By using plugins, you can modify WordPress to add just about any feature you want. While this is great news, it’s also important to be aware of the risks involved. The more plugins you install on your site, the more likely you are to run into a compatibility error at some point.
Fortunately, most compatibility problems are easy to deal with via a simple WordPress plugin check. You can diagnose them by systematically deactivating each plugin on your site until you find the one at fault. Of course, we all know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For this reason, you’ll also want to vet each new plugin carefully before adding it to your site.