Last Saturday afternoon, around 3:30, my Thesis theme for WordPress “broke”. Suddenly, website visitors started seeing (or not seeing) black text on a black background with no sidebars. Basically, within seconds, my blog became illegible. Why? What had I done and how could I get it back?
Discovering that my WordPress Blog Theme was Broken
Well what I had “done” was go into the design options for my theme and make a very simple change to one setting. It was such a minor change that I hadn’t made a new backup of my blog. (Oops! – I’m a huge proponent for always backing up your blog before making any changes, no matter how minor.)
I did have backups. What I expected to lose was the most recent comments and replies. I could have lived with that. To my surprise, restoring my SQL database didn’t work. Okay . . . my next step was to restore my entire website (the“ /public_html/” folder). Well, restoring that didn’t work either. So, what next?
Since my blog posts were completely illegible, I temporarily turned on a generic theme. (Even if it wasn’t pretty, at least it would appear that my content was intact and that my blog still existed.) Then, I started tracking down the cause and a solution.
Fixing a “Broken” WordPress Theme
Here are the steps that I took to troubleshoot and rectify the problem:
- Deleted my cache using the W3 Total Cache WordPress plug-in that I had installed. (Didn’t work.)
- Deactivated and deleted the W3 Total Cache WordPress plug-in that I had installed. (Didn’t work.)
- Restored my SQL database using WP-DBManager, my WordPress plug-in for backups. (Didn’t work.)
- Restored my entire website using Filezilla, my FTP (File Transfer Protocol) software. (Appeared to fix the problem for a few minutes and reverted to not working.)
- Tested a different theme to verify that the problem was with Thesis. (Verified.)
- Temporarily activated a generic theme.
- Searched the DIY Themes support forum for a solution.
- Implemented the solution and reactivated Thesis 1.8.2.
It turns out that the W3 Total Cache plug-in sometimes causes issues if you’re running Thesis 1.8.2 on a WordPress 3.2.1 blog. To be specific, when object cache is enabled. The solution was to re-enter all of the settings on the design options screen in Thesis.
The Importance of Documenting Your Website Design
When I launched my blog in March of 2010, it was a bit of trial and error where I played with fonts and colors and tweaked my design to fit into the brand that I was trying to build. (I was experimenting with blogging at the time and I wasn’t working with a professional graphic designer.)
Not expecting to ever need to recreate my blog design, I didn’t have a formal process for tracking changes. Thankfully, I track almost everything in Excel spreadsheets. So, the information that I needed to recreate my design was documented. It just wasn’t in one place. Plus, I had written it for an older version of Thesis. (This wasn’t going to be fast or pretty.)
- Restoring backups won’t always be the solution.
- You never know when you’ll need documentation of something as (seemingly) simple as font sizes, colors and column widths.
- Being connected to a community of bloggers provides moral support, ideas and is an effective way of being alerted to problems. (Thanks to everyone who contacted me to let me know that I had a problem.)
Bottom-line, my website was in varying stages of “ugly” for approximately 28 hours while I troubleshooted the problem and repaired my WordPress theme. Hopefully, I didn’t lose any new blog readers during that time. In the scheme of things, that’s relatively minor but it still was a wake-up call that no matter how prepared I thought I was, it’s awfully easy to miss something.
Have you run into a similar situation with your website? Have you ever encountered an issue that couldn’t be solved by a simple restore? Do you think you could easily recreate your site if suddenly you lost all the settings for your theme? As for my blog, at the moment, I don’t have a caching plug-in installed. So, I’m also interested in recommendations and opinions. Do you notice that my site is loading slower?