Five WordPress secrets that will make your life easier

Tools on the site hat offer you better security and ease of use include PHP error protection, a debug mechanism, automatic updates and more.

Johannesburg, 24 Mar 2020
Read time 4min 10sec

We asked experienced WordPress developer Jonathan Bossenger to share a few WordPress tips and tricks that make the platform even easier to use. Here’s what he had to say:

Each time WordPress gets an update, new and interesting tools are added to it, making it more secure, robust and easier to work with. Here are five top tips to make WordPress, and your life, easier.

PHP error protection

Because of the open-source nature of WordPress, and its plug-ins and themes, experienced WordPress users warn against allowing automatic updates, and approach updates with caution. This is because a bug in either the core of WordPress or an updated plug-in or theme, could cause a fatal PHP error, and the often feared but much misunderstood White Screen of Death (WSOD).

However, since the 5.2 release of WordPress, there’s a feature called PHP Error Protection, which allows any user with administrator privileges to access the WordPress dashboard. This means you can disable or roll back any core, theme or plug-in updates that may have caused the error in the first place.

Site Health

Keeping your WordPress site up to date and secure can be a challenging task, especially if you’re not a developer. So, having a built-in tool that not only analyses your WordPress install, but also suggests what you can do to improve it, has been a much welcomed addition.

The Site Health feature released in WordPress 5.1 lets you know if there are any specific issues related to security or performance and provides guidance on how to fix them. It also allows you to access important information about your WordPress install, and the server infrastructure it’s hosted on, helping you make more informed choices if you ever run into any hosting issues.

Debug mode

A little-known fact about PHP, the programming language WordPress is written in, is that most Web hosting companies suppress all PHP notices, which include errors and warnings. While this might seem like a bad thing, it actually results in a better Web site experience for your visitors. Sometimes the notice might be as simple as a deprecation notice (meaning a piece of PHP functionality is going to be removed in a future version of PHP). Your visitors don’t need to see these notices.

However, being able to quickly turn these notices on is a tried-and-tested way of seeing what might be causing problems, from slow site speed to the WSOD. By simply setting three PHP constants in your wp-config.php file, you can view any and all PHP notices, either in the browser or in a separate debug.log file.

Minimum requirements update

This one is not so much a WordPress trick, but recently the folks building WordPress agreed to update the minimum requirements to the latest stable versions of PHP and MySQL. Working with users and WordPress hosting companies to get these updates means that WordPress sites are more stable, secure and, above all, faster.

You can use the Site Health feature mentioned earlier to check which versions of PHP and MySQL you are using, and the WordPress requirements page even includes a handy e-mail you can send to your hosting company.

Automatic updates

Everyone knows that Web sites are constantly under attack from bots and other malicious characters. From DDOS attacks to user database breaches, keeping your information safe and secure online is becoming more and more important.

By adjusting a few configuration settings in your WordPress site, you can enable both automatic core and automatic plugin and theme updates.

These settings are disabled by default and require some technical knowledge to register either the right configuration or filter settings, but if you care about the security of your WordPress site and its data, it’s a good idea to enable the core updates, at least.

These tips are all stability and security focused, and have been very recently added or updated in WordPress. As a developer, the majority of issues on WordPress sites are related to outdated versions of the WordPress software, installed plug-ins or themes. Once you solve for those problems, it makes working on WordPress even simpler, and more secure.

About Jonathan Bossenger

Jonathan Bossenger is a programmer, blogger and podcaster from Cape Town, SA with a passion for open-source software and WordPress. Currently, he is lead developer at Castos, where he helps build and maintain the Castos podcast hosting service and its Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin. Jonathan regularly contributes to WordPress, including co-organising the Cape Town Meet-up.

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