Having a problem with your WordPress website? Chances are good the source of the problem is compatibility issues.
Your theme, theme customizations, plugins, and WordPress itself may all be just fine, but somewhere in there you have pieces of software that aren’t playing nicely together.
Since WordPress and all themes and plugins are updated regularly, everything may have worked together just fine yesterday, but today they are not playing nicely together.
Here’s an example. The screenshot below shows how our lab site looked before we installed Jetpack:
Here’s how it looked after we installed Jetpack:
Jetpack broke our slider. The circled item in each screenshot is Clicky analytics. The straight line in the second screenshot is Jetpack analytics. It may be that you can use Clicky or Jetpack but not both. We didn’t explore the issue further. We just uninstalled Jetpack and the site is fine.
Fortunately, this is usually the case: as soon as you identify the issue and uninstall the element that caused the issue, the issue is fixed.
Why is WordPress subject to compatibility issues?
If you have a web firm build a website for you from the ground up, you have basic code created by one person or a team working together. Everything has been built to work together, so you don’t face compatibility issues.
You may face plenty of other issues. For example, you’ve probably paid a lot more for all that custom development. And you may be dependent on your web team — if they haven’t built your site with management in mind, it might be hard to find someone else who can work with it if the people who built it go out of business or stop supporting your website for any reason. If they don’t keep it up to date for you, it will become obsolete at some point and you’ll have to start over with a new website build.
If you use WordPress, you may have a software platform built by one team, a theme built by someone else, and a bunch of plugins and extensions built by other people. WordPress websites often use lots of different bits of software from what you might think of as a software library. The makers weren’t working together, so the software also may not always work together. A line of code from one plugin might interfere with a line of code from another plugin.
On the other hand, your website can have functionality and flexibility that would have been cost-prohibitive before WordPress.
How can you avoid compatibility issues?
If you’ve ever tried to contact your theme builder for support with a compatibility issue, you’ve probably gotten an answer that includes a statement like, “We do not recommend the use of third party plugins.” In other words, they want you to choose a theme that does exactly what you want your website to do — theirs — and never add any plugins.
This is a way to avoid compatibility issues.
Another option is to use the default WordPress theme and Jetpack, a WordPress super plugin that has lots of apps. Chances are good that these elements will not have any conflicts. The same is true for the Storefront theme, WooCommerce, and the various modular extensions WooCommerce offers. Since they all come from the same makers, you probably won’t have problems with them.
A custom website with plugins chosen and configured by your designer/developer team can be expected to come to you with no compatibility issues. There may be problems in the future if those plugins change, but that won’t be your problem if your web team is your webmaster. If you do not hire them for ongoing maintenance, then any incompatibilities that arise over time will be your problem.
The more you customize and the more special plugins you use, the more likely you are to have compatibility issues somewhere down the line. This is a trade-off; your website will do what you want, but you may have to deal with problems in the future.
Troubleshooting for compatibility issues
Realistically, most websites will have some incompatibility issues at some point. Here’s what you must do, or have your webmaster do for you:
- If a problem comes up, remember that it is likely to be a compatibility issue. Don’t panic.
- Back up your website. Make sure you know who to contact if something goes wrong.
- Deactivate all your plugins. At this point, something dramatic might happen to your website. Call for help if you lose access.
- If you can, check to see whether you still have the problem you had before. If not, one or more of the plugins caused the problem.
- If you see the same issue, change to a default theme and see if you still have the problem. If the problem is solved, your theme is the problem.
- Begin activating your plugins, one at a time. I like to start with the most important ones. For example, if you have an ecommerce website, begin with your shopping cart.
- After each activation, check your website. Go to a page, refresh the page, check how it looks on your phone, etc.
- At some point, your problem will reappear. The plugin you reactivated just before this point is the problem. Deactivate it again. if you can manage without it, delete it. If you need it, deactivate all the plugins again and reactivate this plugin. If you do not have the problem at this point, then it is the relationship of this plugin with one or more of the other plugins.
- Continue with the reactivation process.
With any luck, you will have found the culprit and you can replace it with another plugin or another theme. This is the solution for some 98% of all WordPress problems. If your problem is one of the other 2% of problems, or changing the plugin or theme is not a good solution, you should get in touch with a WordPress expert at this point.
But most of the time, this process will solve your problem.