I spent a couple of hours the other night helping a friend de-bug a WordPress 3.0 failure on a website. She had recently upgraded to WordPress 3.0 and discovered the tag function on one of her sites no longer worked. My area of technical knowledge is different from hers, so she sent out an SOS.

Since she had upgraded multiple sites to WordPress 3.0 and none of her other sites on the same server were experiencing the problem, we knew that the problem was unique to her site. Step 1 in technical troubleshooting is identifying whether the problem is general, in other words the problem is being experienced by others, or specific, the problem is unique to a situation.

We also looked online to see if anyone else was reporting the problem. We didn’t find any posts about this problem — when we started (Once we identified the culprit, it was easy to phrase the search query so that we could find where others were reporting the same problem. Isn’t that always the case?)

Since the only change to the site was the WordPress 3.0 upgrade, we began by doing a re-installation including a backup of the database, wp-config.php and themes before completely deleting the wp-admin and wp-includes directories/folders on the web server This is how you do a safe WordPress installation. Always do a backup of your database, your theme(s) and your wp-config.php file before installing a new version — even if you are doing the automatic upgrade. Trust me, the day you skip the backups is the day Murphy’s Law is enforced. And I have the bald patch (from pulling out my hair) to prove it.

So Step 2 is to go back to the last change made before the problem was noticed.

In this instance we started by checking if there was a problem with the installation of  the files, perhaps there was a data transmission error during upload. We also had a backup version of WP 2.9.2, the previous version installed on the site, that we could re-install, if necessary.

The re-installation went fine, however, the problem still existed. At this point we had two approaches we could take: revert to WordPress 2.9 or look for conflicts between our set up and WordPress 3.0. If this were a technical problem on my computer, I would probably try to revert to the last working version, however, since WordPress is a web application that interacts with various modules known as plugins, I recommended we start looking for a bad plugin (Bad plugin! Bad plugin! No Cookie!). If the problem had begun immediately after installing a new plugin, there would have been no question — deactivate the plugin. Remember, Step #2, go back to the last change made before the problem was noticed.

In this instance, a conflict between a plugin and either a new version of WordPress or another plugin is not unusual. So WordPress Warriors begin deactivating plugins one by one. Therefore, Step 3 is to begin deactivating plugins one by one.

Different people take different approaches to this process. If a new plugin was installed immediately before the problem was noticed, that’s the first plugin I disable. Often the last plugin installed is the culprit. But since no new plugins had been installed in several months, in this case, we knew it was not necessarily the culprit. In this instance I began with the least critical plugin. I deactivated it and then went back to a post to see if the tag problem was solved.

No luck. %#%$@#! Oh, well, that’s to be expected. This is how we learn patience, grasshopper.

I made a note of the plugin I had tested and the response, if any. Step 4 is documenting everything that you do and the results. If you have to contact additional technical support, a record of what you have attempted and the results will save you time and money. For one thing, the new technical support person knows what hasn’t worked.

I reactivated the plugin I had deactivated and then deactivated Headspace 2.

Problem solved. Yes!

In this case, I was lucky. My third attempt at a solution was the right one.

And then, just to confirm that we had identified the problem, I reactivated the Headspace 2 plugin — and the tag problem returned. We had definitely identified the problem — a conflict between WordPress 3.0 and Headspace 2 that broke. Once again I deactivated the plugin. And we decided that it would be best to wait until there was a Headspace 2 upgrade rather than change to a different SEO plugin.

And finally, Step 5 is to record the solution. You never know when you might run into the same problem again. Also, I then published the problem and solution on my website to help anyone else who was had it (and having found the solution, we discovered googling “headspace 2 WordPress 3.0 problem” showed that we weren’t alone with our problem).

Sharing your experience and solution is just good karma!

Well, I hope this helps you the next time you face a technical glitch.