Locked Out Of WordPress editor?

One fine day, I discovered I was locked out of WordPress. At least, that is how I described it to myself.  Furiously, I blamed the new theme I had installed. I changed the theme and found the same problem. I could not access options available for several themes.  To be more accurate, I could access some of the options that were available in the live customiser, but not options available outside of the customiser. This was irritating (and before the recent changes to the customiser.)

I clicked through several plugins, and found that I could not access editor functions . I kept receiving error messages saying I did not have permission to do this.

I was know feeling extremely disempowered. I did not know enough to fix these issues, and most worryingly I knew not how deep the problem was. There was  however only one possible source to this problem.

I had hired a designer to make some chances to the site, and paid his premium hourly fee. And he was trying to take me for ride.  

Old Problem

I paid the fee as “technically speaking” the designer had completed most of the assignment. I say technically speaking, because I could have done much the same as he had done in about half the time. Basically, for every bullet point on the specification, he had installed a plugin. After he finished I had literally about 30 plugins.

In addition, he had literally broken the membership system on the website twice. Yes, that takes a special kind of talent. After I paid him – literally the day after I transferred the funds into his account – I had error messages on the site saying something or the other was not working. I was now freaking out, as my site had been offline for over six weeks and I could not understand the error messages. The designer I had hired fixed the problem, but I was now very uncomfortable, and justifiably so.

I  hired a developer who I had worked with before, and he helped to provide me with a level of comfort. More recognisable plugins were instituted, plugins with licenses that required the designers developer license were removed and a new membership plugin installed. I was very thankful to my developer for assisting me and shifting his schedule, and doing the work at a fair price.

Finally, I thought I had rid myself of this dude masquerading as a high end WordPress professional, charging “value based prices”.

 Searching for solution.

I had an intuition that the designer had done something on my website that preventing me from accessing the editor functions but could not pin it down. I send an email to the developer who had helped me earlier. He was extremely busy, but willing to help. He completed several tasks, but we could not still find the reason.

I searched the Internet and stumbled across a tutorial from Corey Freeman . Freeman argued that designers and developers should not lock clients out of WordPress visual editors. He wrote:

There is the occasional talk about how to keep web development clients out of the visual editor so that they can’t press buttons and mess up a completed website. “With great power comes great responsibility” and all that.

So I understood the problem now clearly. I knew the words to describe my frustration:

I was locked out of theme and plugin editors in WordPress.

Identifying the problem was a huge challenge. The developer helping me on this project, (Thanks, Zahir)  could not understand this at a conceptual level. It was outside of his frame of reference that a web professional would lock a client out anything without telling them. A couple of more searches and we found a possible method for doing this on WPBeginner.  Syed Blakhi provides a one line of code


All you have to do is open your wp-config.php file and paste the following code:

define( 'DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT', true );

And you are done.

Eureka! This piece of code was found in the designated file, and removed. This solved the problem.

Lessons Learnt


First, being incredulous does not help. In fact I was indignant and likened this challenge to my website being hijacked. The emotion I would argue is justifiable, but I had to do something about this.  I settled on two things to improve on:

  • (1) finding a pool of designers and developers I could outsource work too and
  • (2) becoming a more independent WordPress owner.

Second, cancel contracts that are not working early. I had several warning signs that the relationship with the designer I had selected was not working out. I should have paid him what was due, and cancelled the contract. This is easier said than done, because I work as a freelance public policy analyst and know that clients can overreact at times, and honestly wanted this relationship to work.

Third, ethics matters. The designer in question had no ethical qualms about locking me out of my website, and not communicating the decision to me. More importantly, by locking me out of the editor without my knowledge, he was creating a dependent relationship. I would need to turn to him at every turn for smaller changes I needed. As an example, I could have been and have been  duped into believing that the new theme I was tested was poorly coded and that he managed to solve the problem, when all he had was access to the theme options.  The developer who came to my rescue is a much more honest person to work with.

The silver lining out of this process is that today I am a lot more knowledgeable about WordPress, not knowledgeable as a coder, but knowledgeable as a website owner. It means I still make mistakes everyday, just (hopefully) smaller ones. In some respects, WPossible would have never emerged had I not had this experience.

The next installment in this series titled “Rookie Mistakes With WordPress” covers my experiences of purchases on ThemeForest and CodeCanyon.

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