Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.


This is not the original WordPress Wednesday post that I had intended to make, picking up from last week about changes to my site. It’s not even the backup subject that I started to write about, regarding cool WordPress themes for developers. This is a cautionary tale about saving your work.

See, I had originally planned to pick up from my previous post, and write about progress in working on this site. Except that last week went kaboom, and the first couple of days of this week weren’t all roses and bon-bons, either. So, I had started writing a post about some of the niftier WordPress themes that I’ve seen lately. And I had made pretty good progress on it, too.

Until my fingers accidentally brushed the keyboard in a fatal manner. I somehow managed to hit CMD-A (which does “select all”, followed by a few other random keys. So my post content was selected, then replaced by the other keys I had hit. And in an instant, before I really realized it happened, the WordPress auto-save function kicked in. When I tried to Undo the edit, it was to no avail, it only undid the last couple of keystrokes.

I had made the fatal error of not explicitly saving my post content along the way, so I had no post revisions to fall back on. Only the last auto-save, which contained the less than inspirational content of “kvx”. I didn’t think that “kvx” would be of much interest to my readers, and I don’t have time to recreate my original post right now. So instead, you get this hard-lesson-learned advice to always save your work-in-progress, even when there’s an auto-save function in your app.

As soon as time allows, I will re-write my post about WordPress themes for developers. Until then, please learn from my failure, and click “Save” frequently!

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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32 Responses to Auto-fail

  1. Jeremy Clark says:

    I’ve done this myself except it was with some out of control highlighting and pasting. I’ve gotten into the habit of saving whenever I start a new paragraph or especially if I venture of to another tab or task.

  2. Dougal says:

    Yeah, I’m usually pretty zealous about frequent saving. But for whatever reason, I didn’t this time. Doh!

  3. blacklin says:

    Earlier this month I vaporized an entry that I had actually posted, but for whatever reason, like you, I didn’t have a backup saved. I think I was altering my layout at the time and something funky happened. I had a back up of my database, but it did not contain that particular post (because I backed my site up before I wrote the lost post.)

  4. Tony says:

    I have done it about 4 or 5 times. I’m also in the habit of using ctrl+s to save a lot so I’ve done this in Microsoft Word aswell. On the other hand, I was upgrading my blog a while back and thought I’d nuked my blog when it stopped working but found I’d uploaded my testing config file over my actual one. Mistakes are so easy to make no matter what the software.

  5. Jeremy says:

    What a subject and what a reflexion on life! Gee you really were inspired and we were knocked over. If this transcendal post is setting a trend for the future, then we must quickly de-RSS ourselves from this site!

  6. Using Firefox and the lazarus extension helped me already several times in that situation.

  7. Daniel says:


    Great blog you were pretty unlucky, but try accidently deleting wordpress, your articles along with the database via fantisco.
    Luckly I got it back but I was missing some articles.


  8. More kvx! Need more kvx!

    Even so, commiserations on the mishap and the “helpful” autosave. I’m now tilting toward using OpenOffice for offline editing (Sun has a nice WP extension for it) on the Big Machine or Live Writer for my tiny lappie. I’m done with that phenomenon, too…

    Now about kvx.

  9. Jeffro2pt0 says:

    Ouch Doug. Despite WordPress having revisions and an auto-save function, I still find myself pressing on the Save button manually a few times while creating an extensive posts. Looks like I have a good habit that is not worth breaking.

  10. Paleo Pat says:


    I did something a bit more nifty than that. I was in the process of attempting to delete a single Blog posting and made a seriously stupid mistake and deleted like 3 days worth of Blog postings. I was not amused. 😡

    ….Needless to say, I won’t be doing THAT again. 🙄

  11. I am ashamed to say that I am terrible about incremental saves, and this has happened to me WAY too many times. I would be lost without the autosave feature, maybe one day, I’ll learn. Unfortunately, this bad habit has a way of ruining my design work, and writing as well. If it wasn’t for autosave, I might only save at the end of a project… And every project would take three times as long. Thanks for the great content.

  12. Sean Yeomans says:

    I’ve never, ever relied on auto-save. It was always one of the first functions disabled when I was working in Quark and Word, etc, over the years. Not only did I find it an annoying pause while trying to type or mouse work something, but i found it never actually saved anything more than 5 minutes ago, which is.. œons when you’re cooking with gas…
    Not that the pausing is an issue when working in a WP post, it’s not even noticeable.
    Regardless, manual save and save-often was my credo.
    I am, however, a creature of forget, rather than habit.
    So, I was wondering, how hard would it be to set up, say, instead of a periodic auto-save (or in tandem with), rather set up an automatic, pulsing red SAVE button be presented in a visually obvious absolutely positioned box, as an option, for people like us…
    every 5 minutes or some interval that can be changed in prefs.

    just a thought. The ajax is already there for auto-save… why not a trigger for a reminder as well?

    (unrelated… this editable comments rocks!)

  13. Jorge says:

    I guess it does happen more often than we would like to think so. I had it happen to me! I started to write my blogs on a word process application and copy and paste when I am done!

  14. Rich Schmidt says:

    So… WordPress doesn’t let you undo past an auto-save? That sounds like a design flaw…

    That is what you’re saying, right? Auto-save kicked in, and because of that, the undo history reset? Or are you just saying that you couldn’t retrieve your work because your most recent auto-save was the new garbage?

  15. Dougal says:

    @Martin: I’ll have to look into that Lazarus extension…

    @Rich: No, the inability to undo was just a fluke of whatever keys I inadvertently pressed, and unrelated to my auto-save problem. The bigger problem was that the auto-save happened just after I wiped out my post text, and it only keeps the most recent auto-save.

    It’s really annoying, too, because I thought I had thought about saving the post earlier, but decided to make just one more edit to this, and one more edit to that, and…

  16. Jeffro2pt0 says:

    I guess revisions are only created after the post is published?

  17. Stijn says:

    ‘… and click “Save” frequently!’

    Or you could just choose to write offline.

    While I do get the point of having post revisions, I find the system so horribly annoying I’d rather disable post revisions entirely. It would prevent auto-fail as you demonstrated, and imho would make the database a little smaller (right?).

  18. Dougal says:

    @Jeffro2pt0: No, revisions are created every time you click Save, even if you’re still in Draft status. IF I had saved at some point, I would have been able to recover at least some of my work.

    @Stijn: Post revisions werent’ the problem, here. My problem was that I didn’t have any revisions to fall back to. And the last auto-save happened at a time that rendered it less helpful than usual.

  19. Rich Schmidt says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Dougal. From your original post, I was getting the idea that your dilemma was somehow caused by WP’s auto-save feature. Even the title (“auto-fail”) seems to be calling it a failure of the auto-save feature, instead of chalking it up to a limitation of the browser’s undo feature and some bad timing on the auto-save’s part. 🙂

    It sounds like, even if WP didn’t have an auto-save feature, you’d still have been screwed. 🙂

  20. I’m now in the habit of drafting and publishing posts with Windows Live Writer then appending images and captions post-publish.

  21. Eats Wombats says:

    What? Incredible! This has NEVER happened to me. How could you do that? It’s unbelievable. You must have felt a complete dork.

    Just kidding.

    You know, a hardware solution is not that expensive. You can buy a little keyboard sniffer for not very much these days. I’ve read that they’re used in some data centers for audit purposes and to make 100% certain that no reset passwords ever get lost. It’s a bit surprising that in 2008 nobody sells a keyboard with a buffer. Imagine the headline: Browser crashed? Vista gone to lunch? Never lose work again!

    Meanwhile… commiserations. Excuse me while I find some wood.

  22. creativeherb says:

    Back when I still used hotmail, it would happen to me frequently. An accidental click of the back shortcut key or forward link, and everything would be wiped. Especially sucks when it’s a lengthy email. Most other intelligent programs/sites would keep the buffer, but of course not microsoft.Eventually I just migrated to Gmail and never looked back.

    Here’s an idea: Do select-all Copy on a regular basis and before you do anything that might risk a crash. Saved me quite a few times!

  23. Leefe says:

    Reminds me of ‘fun’ I’ve had because of a small child sitting on the chair next to me pressing the power button on my laptop.

  24. domainpubber says:

    Bummer. I don’t trust web apps that much and the WordPress editor tool is not exactly a good word processor. I always write and edit posts in MS Word, copy and paste to notepad when I’m ready to format the post in WP and then copy and paste clean text into WP before using FCK editor to format and publish the post.

    Call me old fashioned but writing a post in WP just sucks all the way around. Also, I have a backup copy of every post in case something really goes wrong 😛

  25. hbdark says:

    LoL. i did not encouter that problem before. but thanks for advise. i also lazy to retype again if it fail.

    Lucas grabeel rocks

  26. Wayne says:

    With the talk of people deleting posts accidentally, maybe WordPress could benefit from a “Recycle Bin” of sorts??

  27. teddY says:

    Sorry to hear about that. I remember in the past, WP2.6 used to save your post frequently as different revisions but looks like they’ve scrapped the feature. Now WordPress only creates a revision when you explicity ask it to save your post.

    I’ve experienced a few hiccups like that before… that was when I started to type proper (in my aim to achieve perfect touch typing in a week) so I kept hitting the control key instead of his less harmful counterpart, shift. Since then I’ve learned to save frequently or at least, copy the entire HTML code into an open notepad document. The latter isn’t exactly reliable when my computer decided to throw me that BSOD right in my face. I ended up having to retype everything… angrily.

    Take care! I guess that deletion isn’t a bad thing afterall – you have in mind what to write about your new update now and have lots of time to refine on it. Good luck!

  28. Pingback: WordPress themes for developers | geek ramblings

  29. Web Talk says:

    Guys at WordPress should take care about this side. A few weeks ago it happened to me too and the autosave didnt save anything! they should focalise about improving the features wordpress has got already instead of creating new ones (which means…more issues)

  30. Very good advice, sadly, I too have made similar “brushes” on my keyboard, and lost material written while I was inspired, and lost EVERYTHING I wanted to say

  31. Auto save has screwed me a couple of times and I have learned not to rely on it. I fell to it using the program openoffice and accidentaly altered a very important spreadsheet. I erased some formulas and couldn't get them back cause of the auto save. I had to an old version of the spreadsheet and then update it. It was a pain. Great advice thanks!

  32. Jeremy is there any connection between you and the top gear guy??

    Emil Noleggio

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