An In-Depth Look at wp-config.php

Troubleshooting a WordPress site often requires you to edit the wp-config.php file. If you’ve only worked with the WordPress dashboard, editing code can be a bit intimidating. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it seems! All you need is to understand the structure of the wp-config.php file. Then, you can troubleshoot with confidence by editing wp-config.php in File Manager!

In this article:

A Little About PHP

WordPress is built using the PHP programming language. New WordPress designers often need to troubleshoot configuration files long before studying PHP. You don’t need to be a PHP expert to troubleshoot a WordPress site. Just a bit of PHP is enough. All you need to understand is what the different parts of the configuration file are doing.

Comments

Most programming languages will use comments. This is code that is ignored by the computer. Comments let programmers explain things directly in the place it matters most. Comments make it easy for someone else to edit or update code later.

The PHP programming language has two different ways to write comments.

// Single line comments begin with two slashes. 

// Everything after those two slashes is part of the comment as long as it is on the same ‘line’. 

/*
This is a multi-line comment.
It begins with a slash and an asterisk. 
It ends with an asterisk and a slash. 
Everything in between is part of the comment.
This lets you easily write long, detailed comments!
*/

You will see many variations of comments throughout the wp-config.php document. Some multi-line comments put an asterisk at the start of every line. This serves no technical purpose, but helps the comment stand out.

Be Careful How You Edit

If you need to make any changes in your wp-config.php file, be sure to only change the specific value you need to update. For example, take a look at the code sample below:

/** MySQL database password */
define( 'DB_PASSWORD', 'oSPWN5TYyrHt' );

If you need to change the database password listed here, only change the password itself. Leave the single quotes and other punctuation unchanged. In PHP, even small things like parentheses and semicolons can be important! If you aren’t sure about something in the wp-config.php, leave it as is. Better yet, make a backup copy of the wp-config.php file in File Manager first!

MySQL Settings

If you’re troubleshooting a database error, the MySQL settings section is the first place to look. There’s a lot going on in this section.

// ** MySQL settings - You can get this info from your web host ** //
/** The name of the database for WordPress */
define( 'DB_NAME', 'wpsitename_wp724' );

/** MySQL database username */
define( 'DB_USER', 'wpsitename_wp724' );

/** MySQL database password */
define( 'DB_PASSWORD', 'vBNER5NGzrO9' );

Usually, the name of the database and user match so that it’s easier to keep track of what goes with what. If you’ve had to set up the database again after moving your site, check the wp-config.php file. Be sure the names and password in the file match what you’ve set up on the server.

The rest of the section will not normally need adjustment. It ties the site to the version of the database on the server.

Keys and Salts

The section labeled Authentication Unique Keys and Salts generates randomized keys. These are used in a variety of security situations and help encrypt parts of your WordPress site. Some security plugins may change these keys. There are also a handful of situations where you should change them manually. For most users, though, these keys and salts rarely need to be updated. A yearly update helps keep the site secure without requiring much extra maintenance.

The Table Prefix

/**
 * WordPress Database Table prefix.
 *
 * You can have multiple installations in one database if you give each
 * a unique prefix. Only numbers, letters, and underscores please!
 */
$table_prefix = 'wpqp_';

Table prefixes help specify which tables in a database belong to which site. This prevents data overlap if different software uses the same database. You will rarely need to adjust the table prefix. It is sometimes required when moving a database from a previous host. Some people like to change the table prefix for the sake of WordPress site security.

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Using Debug Mode

/**
 * For developers: WordPress debugging mode.
 *
 * Change this to true to enable the display of notices during development.
 * It is strongly recommended that plugin and theme developers use WP_DEBUG
 * in their development environments.
 *
 * For information on other constants that can be used for debugging,
 * visit the Codex.
 *
 * @link https://codex.wordpress.org/Debugging_in_WordPress
 */
define( 'WP_DEBUG', false );

When debug mode is on, a WordPress site displays error messages on the site itself. This is great for troubleshooting, but not something you want to be active all the time. Not only does it make the site look unappealing, leaving the site in debug mode is a security risk. Debug mode publicly displays information that, outside of troubleshooting, should usually be kept private. All it takes to turn debug mode on is changing ‘false’ to ‘true’. Be sure to turn debug mode off when troubleshooting is done.

Happy Publishing!

The remaining entries of wp-config.php are file paths required for WordPress to run. As the comments suggest, there is nothing more for you to worry about editing or changing.

Remember that, like any form of editing, it’s good to make backups. It’s a great idea to make a copy of your site’s wp-config.php file. Name it something like wp-config.php.default.bak. The ‘bak’ is an easy reminder that this is a backup file. The bak extension also prevents the file’s PHP code from running. With a backup copy, you can always return your wp-config.php file to its default state. You can make your edits with confidence, knowing that you can’t permanently mess up anything.

RH
Ronnie H Technical Writer

Ronnie is a technical writer and content specialist at InMotion Hosting.

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