Trouble Updating WordPress or WP Plugins? Try Asking Your Host to Increase Your PHP Memory Limit

I’ve been struggling to upgrade my WordPress site for some time now.

I couldn’t download plugin updates, let alone install the latest version of WordPress without using a plugin like WordPress Automatic Upgrade. That plugin throws WordPress into a fancy maintenance mode, so you can go about your upgrading business. It works well, but it’s not meant for making quick plugin upgrades.

The final straw came today, though, when after manually updating a handful of plugins, I was unable to reactivate all my recently activated plugins. I tried activating them all at once and when that failed, I went in batches and finally, one by one until almost every one was turned back on. When I finally got most of my plugins going simultaneously, I faced another conundrum—couldn’t see any content on the plugins.php page on my WordPress backend.

Update 10/12/2010: WPEngineer published a great article on WordPress memory limit issues today.

Prior to all these shenanigans, I had also given up on trying to activate the Scribe SEO plugin along with any other plugins due to it triggering a fatal error claiming lack of memory. Although inconvenient, at least this issue had an error dialogue and provided a clue. I figured all the other plugin issues were related to this memory issue, as well.

I did a quick Google search to try to understand memory issues as they pertain to WordPress (and more importantly, how to get around this on a shared host). One forum explained that this was actually called a PHP memory limit.

I had dealt with this issue once before—a long time ago—back in my WordPress salad days. At the time, the PHP memory limit set by my work’s webhost was crashing my first WordPress site several times a day. Since I knew very little about WordPress then (or any kind of web development, for that matter), I never did figure out a good solution to keep that site from going down. I think I just ignored the downtime as best I could and passed the buck when I moved on to a new company.

Anyway, this time I had the benefit of four years WordPress and development environment experience. After learning a bit about PHP memory limits from the forum I mentioned, I checked to see if any plugins could solve my issue. It was a long shot, but I did find a plugin, WP Overview (lite) Dashboard Memory Bump Usage, that allowed me to see my site’s memory usage and limits.

So after seeing the numbers in front of me (32MB available, 31.3MB used) and making a final attempt at changing the values through CPanel, I was finally ready to submit a support request. When I finally contacted WPWebHost to see if they would up my PHP memory limit, of course they said yes. Within 10 minutes, I was ramped up to 64MB, my plugins page was working and I even activated Scribe, the plugin I originally gave up upon using.

I have to say, that it’s very cool to see everything working on the backend of my WordPress site. I bet I could even update my plugins and upload images to my posts without bringing down the whole site, too. So if you are having issues updating your site, contact your webhost. You may have a very low PHP memory limit that only they can change for you.

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