A not uncommon issues that many WordPress users experience when updating plugins is an incomplete update that can, at worst, render you site totally inaccessible. The good news is that , more often than not, your site files and database tables are safe so you have not lost any data – your access is restricted by missing plugin files that failed to fully install during the update.
If you have auto-update enabled on any of your plugins this issue can occur without you knowing and your site visitors could have had that negative experience that very site owner dreads – error messages and an unresponsive site. For that reason we recommend that you do not enable auto-update for any of your plugins, instead you should schedule regularly site maintenance audits and update plugins, themes and WordPress itself while you’re at the helm.
Updating WordPress plugins is easy, and WordPress provides a system to facilitate one-click updates within your admin area. For more on updating WordPress plugins see our how-to guide to updating WordPress plugins.
So how do you know that a plugin has failed to update correctly? Often you immediately lose access to your site and are faced with PHP warnings of missing files, a rather basic page that indicates your site is unavailable for maintenance, or a server response indicating an error.
WordPress is a been around the block a few times, well written and used by millions CMS so how can this happen? Well there are a few reasons. If you are using a very cost effective shared server, your update may have been affected by a time out or memory resource issue. There could also be an issue with file and folder permissions preventing the plugin from deleting or updating files. Another common issue is incompatibility with other software, often WordPress itself but other plugins can cause issues too.
That’s how and why it happens, now how can you get your site back and update that plugin? The only way to resolve this problem is to manually update the plugin, that is to bypass WordPress and get into the back-end of your site to overwrite the files directly. To do that you will need FTP access to your server and we recommend you use Filezilla for this task.
You will also need the FTP login details for your server, specifically the host, username and password. If you do not have those details you should check emails that you received from your hosting provider when setting up your site, or reach out to your hosting provider who will be able to provide those details for you.
Once logged in you will need to locate you WordPress installation. Most likely this will be on the root, but you may have installed WordPress in a separate folder. Either way you are looking for a folder called wp_content, this folder contains the all of you plugins as well as many files that relate to the content and presentation of your site.
Once you have located the wp_content folder, open it and look for the plugins folder. In here you will see a folder that contains the plugin that failed to install, among other plugin folders – you can easily identify it because the name of the folder will be same as the plugin name.
Once you have the correct plugin folder, click on it and rename it by appending _old. This will effectively remove the plugin from view and WordPress will no longer be able to find it. This is a good thing since the files that failed to install or update are all contained within that folder, and with it out of the way you will be able to access your site again.
Now that you have access restored, navigate to the plugins page in the admin section. You should see that the plugin in question has been deactivated by WordPress via a notice at the top of the plugins page. It will do this automatically when it cannot find a plugin.
This is a good thing, it means that we can now remove the renamed folder from the server. We recommend that you save a copy of the renamed plugin folder to your local drive just in case you need any of those files later.
With a copy safely copied to your local drive you can now delete the renamed plugin folder and start the process of manually reinstalling the plugin.
First, locate the plugin on wordpress.org. Enter the name of the plugin in the search box and you will be presented with a selection of plugins that in some way match that name. Once you have found the correct plugin, click on it to go to that plugins’ page. There you will see a Download button that will allow you to download a zipped file that contains all the files and folders required for this plugin. Click on that download button and save the file on a local drive in a new folder.
Once downloaded, unzip the file into the folder you created in the previous step. Once complete you should have a folder named with the plugin name and within it you will see all files and folders required by the plugin organised in the correct order ready to be uploaded to the server.
Return to Filezilla and, if necessary, reconnect to your server. Locate the WordPress plugins folder on your server and upload the freshly unzipped plugin folder to it. You are effectively replacing what you deleted earlier in this process, but his time it is a full and complete collection of files and folders.
When the upload is complete, return to WordPress and access the plugins page in your admin area. Now you should see the plugin back in the list of installed plugins. You should also notice that it is not activated, and you will need to click on the Activate link to enable the plugin.
And that is it. You should find that not only have you regained full access to your site but you have also installed the latest version of the plugin that failed. All of your data stored in the WordPress database should be unchanged and any data related to your plugin should be available to you once again.