How to troubleshoot unpredictable WordPress Multisite plugin behavior

In the exploration and hunting of WordPress Multisite Monsters, you often come across a situation that is unique to WordPress Multisite installations. Plugins tend to have a lot to do with Multisite issues, especially when it comes to controlling their behavior. From not being able to get the required theme-specific plugins to load correctly, to unpredictable plugin behavior across the network, Monster Site hunters have to become acutely aware of new weapons in the fight to keep their sites alive!

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Upload Here
Recently, one of my “unique situations” had to do with a particularly wild plugin that liked to create its own dynamic pages. However, when you added this nasty beastee into the Plugins section of Network Admin (as I had done with all my plugins within the WP Multisite world up until now), it spread its dynamic-creating tentacled-self all over my network. I only needed it functionality for one of my subsites, not all five! But this plugin had other plans, and before I knew it, it had disrupted all sorts of configurations, permalinks, and formatting. Worst of all, it removed previously peaceful content with a vile error message and something akin to “No content yet. Please check back later!” Yeah, no kidding. Of course it didn’t have any content, since I hadn’t added any yet to the one site it was “suppose” to be used for. And just like that, I had created another Monster!

No Davy Jones’ Locker Just Yet
Ok, the first rule of Monster Sites is “Don’t Panic”. That may also work for galactic hitchhikers, but the same concept applies here too! Fortunately for those in the Monster Site business, there is often someone out there who has had the same problem. And when enough people has the same problem, someone puts the XBox controller down, cracks open an IDE, and writes a plugin to solve it! In this case, our frustrating Mister “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” plugin has an extreme weakness in the form of the Multisite Plugin Manager (written by Aaron Edward from UglyRobot). At the time of this writing, my Monster is running WordPress 4.3.1 and using Multisite Plungin Manager (MPM) version 3.1.4.

According to the WordPress.org Plugin Directory page for MPM, it states:
Plugin management for WordPress Multisite that supports the native plugins page and the WPMU DEV Pro Sites plugin! Used on thousands of multisite installs across the web. Previously known as WPMU Plugin Manager, it uses a backend options page to adjust plugin permissions for all the sites in your network.

Batten Down The Hatches
Now, I really get nervous when I see that a plugin has not been updated in over a year (in this case, not since April 2014). And all sorts of red flags start to pop up when it also shows that it has not been tested with my version of WordPress. However, when it comes to Monsters, sometimes you have to trust your gut. And an hour of research that includes sources that I trust, I started to get the idea that MPM was the only plugin that could do what I needed done: shut down intrusive plugins that cannot stay inside their own sub-site box! So I threw caution to the wind and installed it…

loading… loading… All done!

Time For That Plugin To Walk The Plank
At first I wasn’t sure what, if anything had happened. My Monster site didn’t explode, nor did that plugin that I was having problems with suddenly behave. No, I had to do the next step in the process and actually READ the instructions on how MPM worked. No worries! Here is what I learned:

Step #1
Deactivate the monster plugin in Network Admin

Step #2
Go to the subsite you intend the plugin to work with

Step #3
Go to THAT SITE’S Plugin link in the Admin Menu

Step #4
See the list of Deactivated plugins

Step #5
Pick the plugin you want to work only for that site

Step #6
Activate the plugin

Step #7
Now only THAT SITE will have use of that plugin!

It was a Christmas miracle! Suddenly I had full functionality of that one plugin on the site I wanted it on, and did not have it anywhere else. The Multisite Plugin Manager had chopped the tentacles off at the shoulder and pushed the monster plugin back into the pit for which it had come!

It’s Now Safe To Go Back Into The Water
Since my battle with that monster plugin, I have found that the Multisite Plugin Manager to be a powerful weapon against all sorts of other monster plugins! Don’t want all that WooCommerce stuff junking up all your subsites? MPM – Boom! Don’t need BBPress on every site? MPM – Boom! Like a harpoon, Multisite Plugin Manager pins down all those Admin-heavy plugins that you only need on one site, and keeps your other sites free to play safely in the surf!

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Posted by Kyle Bondo

@Trenchbucket -- Creative strategy dragon, off-road racing podcaster, WordPress & PHP developer, outdoor race promoter, and US Navy Veteran. Current products: Reckoneer, Merchants of Dirt Podcast, and Wolf Bouncer All-Mountain Series.

Buckets of Strategy
We think about six
impossible things
before breakfast.
Do not miss the
next six!
Let's Strategize
Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime.
Buckets of Strategy
We think about six impossible things
before breakfast.
Do not miss the next six!
Let's Strategize
Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime.