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Shopify theme 911: What do when your Shopify theme breaks

Shopify theme 911: What do when your Shopify theme breaks

It was a dark and stormy night.

You are just about to try a new app or add a customization to your Shopify theme. It seems simple enough, but one click later and your entire store is broken.

While this is the start of a scary story no Shopify store owner wants to be part of, it happens more often than you’d think and, over the course of running your business, it’s likely you’ll find yourself caught in a scary situation like this.

So, what can you do?

An ounce of prevention

The best thing you can do to rectify a complete breakdown of your Shopify theme is to prevent it from happening in the first place:

  • This is the single most important note: Always be sure to make a backup of your theme before making any changes. I repeat, always be sure to make a backup. You can do a complete theme backup, which is always the best and safest route, by exporting your theme. You can also make a “quick backup” of just the file you’re modifying, but keep in mind that there’s always the possibility that a single change can cause issues in multiple files.
  • Do not attempt to install apps, add customizations or update your code outside of normal business hours or just before a big sales day. For example, updating your store at 3 a.m. right before Black Friday is never a good idea. Not only are you risking having an inoperable store at a vital time, but it’s also going to be very difficult to get support for the issue during non-business hours or especially busy times. 
  • Likewise, plan ahead and add updates to your themes for important sales periods and add these features, apps and customizations to your theme well in advance. This will give you time to troubleshoot any issues that may arise and get the support you need or hire a Shopify Expert for further assistance. 
  • As an alternative to backing up your theme, which is still the most important thing you can do (that hasn't changed over the last three bullets), is to duplicate your current live theme and then make all your changes on this unpublished copy of your theme. You can preview the changes and test everything before publishing it and going live.

Common issues

There’s a variety of common issues that come up that “break” Shopify themes:

Shopify theme version history

  • Liquid errors occur when you’ve written Liquid code that Shopify can’t understand properly. The best way to resolve these is to use the “rollback” feature to go to an earlier version of the code. However, to be extra safe, you shouldn’t rely on this feature as there’s always a chance it won’t have the version you need — so, again, make sure you have a backup of your theme.

Shopify theme broken CSS

  • If your store loses all its formatting, there is likely an issue with your style sheet. You should try removing any edits or changes you made to your CSS file before the error appeared. It’s important to note that Shopify does not offer the “rollback” feature on CSS or JavaScript files, so here again having a backup of your theme is vital (pardon the pun, but are you sensing a “theme” here yet?).
  • App conflicts most commonly affect aspects such as your store layout, add to cart functionality or variant selections. It’s always a good idea to avoid app overload. If you do install apps and find there’s an issue, trying uninstalling them one by one to see if the issue is resolved. Unfortunately, uninstalling apps is not always as simple as removing it from your apps dashboard — search the app developer’s site for complete uninstall instructions to find any manual code edits you might need to make.


When you run into an issue and can’t get immediate support, there’s a few things to try:

  • Be strategic. Think about changes you’ve made recently and which issue is most likely to have caused the issue and start there. Eliminate the most likely possibilities before moving on to the less likely ones. 
  • Examine the code you’ve been working with carefully. Pay close attention to how similar code around it is written. Look for a missing or misplaced character, such as %, { or }. Make sure everything is spelled correctly. Shopify has full documentation for Liquid which also includes example snippets that can be very helpful in hunting down issues.
  • Use Google or your favorite search engine to see if someone else has posted a tutorial, blog post or discussion about an issue similar to yours. Often these posts include example code to resolve issues. 


If you can’t get your store back online but can’t risk losing business, think creatively about how you can get a “minimal viable product.” This concept, often used in startups, is based on the idea of having a site that functions — it may not have all the bells and whistles or features you want or even need, but at least you will be able to process transactions.

Of course, this is typically more of a “last ditch” effort, but it’s still a good option to consider when you’re facing a broken store:

  • Revert back to a previous version of your theme or backup version.

Shopify debut theme

  • Switch temporarily to a free theme, such as Shopify’s own Debut theme. 
  • If you need to forgo advanced features such as line item properties, custom cart attributes or messages, linked product options or other features but can still process orders, you may need to follow up with customers to get additional information to fulfill their order — but this is often preferable to not being able to make any sales at all. 
  • Finally, if only a certain feature or part of your store is malfunctioning, take a deep breath and consider the big picture — is it absolutely crucial to have this feature running? In many cases, if you reframe your thought process on being able to provide basic functionality, your issue may be able to wait until you can contact support or hire a developer. 

Support limitations

It’s important to note that many Shopify theme developers, including Out of the Sandbox, often do not offer 24 hour a day, 7 day or real time support via phone or chat. In addition, depending on how busy the theme developer’s support team is, it can take several business days to get a response.

In order to be fair, many theme developers also handle tickets on a first-come, first-served basis, so adding “urgent” to the subject line won’t speed up your response time.

Also keep in mind that since errors that break Shopify stores tend to happen when custom code or apps are involved, your theme developer may not be able to help resolve the issue. Most theme developers have policies that limit support to non-customized code and can’t guarantee that there won’t be any conflicts with third party apps.

Because of this, be aware that your Shopify theme support team may need to refer you to a third party developer to resolve the issue, which could also add to turnaround time.

If you a referred to a third party developer, keep in mind there most likely will be a significant added cost to resolving the issue — so try to distinguish between the “nice-to-haves” and the “must-haves,” which will be an important investment in your business.

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