Scary WordPress Moments

October 31st, 2008
Blogging Essays, WordPress

Happy Halloween to everyone! At this All Hallows Eve, I would like to talk about Scary WordPress Moments. Since I have been working with WordPress for some time, I have had quite a few scary moments with WordPress. One stands out in recent memory.

WordPress Pumpkin by Eric Martin Displayed with permission

Let me start by saying that I am a huge proponent of backing up my blog. I put together the original WP-DB-Backup which has been enhanced and fixed through the years and is a fantastic plugin. I use it religiously combined with a couple of tricks I picked up from readers along the way. I have the plugin backup my databases everyday and email them to a “backup” gmail account. I also have filters setup in the gmail account to delete daily backups as they come in, thus managing space (gmail keeps deleted emails for 30 days). So I have a rolling 30 day backup of all my blog and all of it is automattic.

That being said, about two WordPress point releases ago, I had sat down to backup, upgrade and fix Weblog Tools Collection after the release of the major upgrade. This blog is not that big or popular but it is my baby. It has taken on a life of its own and I have mangled and modified the code in many places to do things my way. Even though the code is fun to play with, the modifications cause me huge headaches when upgrading (my own fault). So my obsession for the blog and the custom modifications combined with a large database and a complex theme structure makes upgrades harrowing to say the least. Heck Matt has goaded me to upgrade this blog many times in the past after I had failed to do so for many weeks after a release. So I have an established and documented procedure to upgrade this blog which I keep up to date with all the changes required to counter and/or fix the modified code. However, during this one upgrade, I somehow missed a crucial step. You see this blog uses a table prefix from the Cafelog days and I had forgotten to change it in the config file before uploading it. Some reader managed to run the “new” setup for the blog between me uploading the files and then going over to the admin panel to upgrade it.

I thought I had somehow lost my blog and that the original tables with my precious data in it had been replaced with fresh new ones. I remember my blood running cold and panic starting to set in. I know WordPress quite well and I know how it works. I had made a backup before I started upgrading and I had followed all the steps for the upgrade. But for a brief few minutes that Saturday morning, I was truly sweating bullets. What bothers me now is that I did not recognize the problem soon enough. It took me almost five minutes to realize what had happened and take steps to fix it. As a reminder of that day, i never deleted that set of tables and have left them intact.

What Scary Moments have you had with WordPress? What did you learn from them?




  1. JackBook (1 comments.) says:

    One day before suspend day on the old server, and we still not finish backup all files and database yet, caused by there was no backup wizards and wp-db-backup cant backup all databases perfectly even its only 70MB. And we have to backup all databases manually. I think it was the most scariest wordpress moment for our blog.

    From the moment, I learned about how to choose the best hosting, with no hidden cost :-” Thats why we moving to new server.

  2. Jess Planck (4 comments.) says:

    I once accidentally pasted an sql command on the wrong database of an old WordPress install that converted the database and tables to UTF-8. Of course the default database was set up originally as latin_swedish.

    This will of course cause complete catastrophe, and I couldn’t log in or reset passwords.

    Lesson: Always make sure you looking at the correct window in your terminal cause that unix prompt thing is gonna look the same on your test site and the clients site. Oh and backups.. more backups.

  3. Lisa says:

    Just this week, my web hosting company was doing some cleanup on Fantastico files I don’t have the permission to access. Somehow, they deleted not only the old install listings I asked them to remove, but all the database users connected to those installs, regardless of whether those users were associated with other databases.

    For about two hours, I was trying to figure out why two of my four WP installs were dead in the water. Going to the site main pages just gave internal server errors. When I tried to access the admin panels, I got WP database connection errors, which made me look at the config files, check the databases, and eventually put together that my problem was that the username and login for those databases no longer existed.

    Thank goodness for the WP error messages, or I never would have connected the dots. And yes, once I got the sites up and running again, I immediately made backups, because I’ve been sort of lax about doing them regularly—so, thanks for sharing your method of rolling them through gmail!

  4. James Dimick (23 comments.) says:

    Quite a while back (while I was making the switch to WordPress) I neglected to backup my database (which was then Textpattern). I imported everything into WordPress and I thought all was fine so I deleted all my Textpattern stuff. Later I found out that somehow all the dates for the comments had been reset to some time back on midnight of 1956 or something to that effect. Since I had not created a backup I just had to leave it like that. Looking back, I don’t think it was really that big of a deal but I remember how frantic I got when it happened.

    I now backup my entire server every time I make a change (and also at certain intervals). So, I think I did learn from that experience.

  5. usws (1 comments.) says:

    It’s a nightmare everytime i type in my blog url and end up with a whitepage. Don’t know and can’t tell you the reason why which makes it even worse a nightmare!!

  6. Miroslav Glavic (2 comments.) says:

    I was moving from webhost to webhost……..the database was backed using phpmyadmin on my old host’s CP. They were not happy, they gave me all the data on mysql and actual files. It was something very bad. Always back up BEFORE telling your current webhost that you are moving…

  7. fred (2 comments.) says:

    I crap my pants pretty much everytime I need to update to the newest version, it’s not hard, but I’m lazy and tend to use the plugin instead, so I hope for everything to come nicely done.

    I know I can download the database backup, but as I said, i’m a lazy fat-ass.

  8. Jhay (1 comments.) says:

    Hmmm… worse thing on my blog, the image doesn’t go on the center even if I put the right tag/code just like “center” img “/center”. that’s why I ended up making all my image width set to 570px. boooo!

  9. redwall_hp (40 comments.) says:

    I lost 3/4 of a 600+ word post that I spent quite some time working on, and I didn’t notice until it went live, with the post ending abruptly in the middle of a sentence. I checked my email backup account, only to find that the plugin was set to only backup every week… That’s about it, it was gone, because of a save glitch with WordPress (my net connection was interrupted briefly while I tried to save, and I guess not all of the post made it to the server?). I sort of re-wrote the rest of the post later, but it didn’t come out anywhere near as good as the original.

  10. Justin Sainton (1 comments.) says:

    How about a 2500+ page site, all ‘posts’ set up as pages nearly crashed a VPS, simply changing them to real posts fixed it….crazy!

  11. Kevin Paquet (8 comments.) says:

    I wrote about my scariest WordPress Moment on my blog (click on my name)
    To make the story short, it was on the Software Freedom Day when I had to talk about WordPress :D

  12. aronil (2 comments.) says:

    My scariest moments are always the upgrading process. You honestly never know when something could go wrong and when you refresh the page all you see is an error code for some php line. Lol. That freaks me out, but since they have instant upgrading plugins and what not even on the webhosts. My life has been easier.

    But now I have an even bigger worry. When i shift to a new webhost.. oooooooooooooOOOOOOoooohhh :P Fun post!

  13. Chetan (9 comments.) says:

    That WordPress Pumpkin is quite nice :)
    Happy Halloween to all .

  14. Jeff Chandler (295 comments.) says:

    Mark, excellent post idea to bring WordPress and Halloween together :)

    Hmm, scariest moments for me while using WordPress is nothing like the other stories that have been told, but there was a time when I was scared to push the publish button. I was scared because for what ever reason, a new post would sometimes overwrite a previous post but the comments, tags, and category that was used for the previous post would be in tact. I couldn’t figure this problem out and each time it happened, I had to use my FeedReader to get my content that was overwritten in the database and I had to rearrange it so the content matched the comments.

    I’m no longer scared to push the publish button since I fixed the issues by setting the correct time in the WordPress administration area. Turns out, it had been an hour off and I believe that is the reason why some posts were being over written. Hasn’t happened since the time change.

  15. Paleo Pat (4 comments.) says:

    Anytime I’ve typed in my Blog’s URL and gotten the dreaded, “Unable to establish Database connection”. Which has not happened on this server, but it has in the past. makes one go “aaaaaaah!”



  16. Cyndi (1 comments.) says:

    After an upgrade to 2.5 (I think it was), done by my ISP, I started having insane problems. Looking at an unfinished post in HTML would cause it to revert to the first save (the one done when I put in the title) and my work was gone forever. This happened a few times and there were a couple where I hadn’t backed up my content with cut and paste. Publishing ceased to work too and my blog was shut down for a couple of weeks.

    Posting to WordPress forums got me nowhere and I couldn’t find anyone with a similar problem. You’d think something this big would be reported. My ISP hadn’t a clue.

    Finally, someone at the ISP did some testing over the phone. We figured out that WP2.5 was completely incompatible with Firefox2 on a Mac running 10.2.8. When I’d tried to upgrade to FF3 in the past, it said I needed OS10.4. Though at this point, that wasn’t the case. I installed FF3 and WP worked again. Now I have OS10.4 running as well and everything on WP works (except for the Flash photo uploader, and the spellchecker is wonky).

    Losing finished posts and settings is scary, but wiping out an hour’s worth of work that you are still in the middle of is infuriating too. Makes you hesitant to type anything, because it could be lost.

    With luck, I won’t suffer through more unannounced and unacknowledged incompatibilities (honestly, not everyone has the money to upgrade hardware and OS software).

  17. Roger Hamilton (2 comments.) says:

    Happy Halloween! Worse thing is when there are no backups and it crashed..

  18. lucas (1 comments.) says:

    wordpress its self is a nightmare.

  19. Garritt Hampton (1 comments.) says:

    Thanks for the great post. It is reassuring to know that other people have these scary moments too. I know we all know in the back of our minds, that these sort of things happen to everyone, it is always nice to here about other “failure to backup/update/restore” horrors. I have had too many to mention.

    I am especially glad you wrote this post, because I didn’t know about the WP-DB-Backup plugin. I am going to install this one right away. I am pretty good about backing up, but I usually just export my posts, and download my files from my host using FTP, but your idea of setting up a “Backup” gmail account is a great one. I will be setting this up immediately.

  20. ro says:

    I use a localhost server to test some wordpress trix before I upload to a webhost. i was scared when i saw a lot of “incoming linke” to some strange indian and russian sites, I thought it was a big stream of hackers who have visited my localhost


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