Fixing WordPress White Screen of Death

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Hardly anything that you experience online will compare to the feeling you get when you try to navigate to your WordPress website and you’re looking right in the face of poof!….nothing. No website, no content just plain old white web page background.

The first thing you might think is that your precious website has been hacked, but that’s not always the case; there’s another problem with this nature. This is the annoying little problem notoriously called the WordPress white screen of death (WSOD). This common problem is one that shuts down both user and visitor access.

As these functions are critical, let’s jump into the most common root causes and practical solutions for fixing the infamous WordPress white screen of death; so that you can happily get out of limbo and progressively function as quickly as possible.

White screen of death
Sitepact experiencing White Screen of Death

Breaking down WSOD

The white screen of death is an indication that something has gone temporarily wrong on your WordPress website. Yes, it is fixable but it most likely happened because of a bad plugin, faulty theme or memory limit being exhausted. The confusing thing is that WordPress doesn’t always display an error message, so figuring out the exact issue is left to how well you troubleshoot.

error 500

In some of the worst cases, your administrator area and visiting area are both disabled. In other cases, you can access the dashboard of your site. We are going to assess both cases and expand on the possible causes and solutions for each and include the use of the cPanel.

The most common issues

There are a few aching issues that result in the white screen of death and they can be categorized as follows:

  • Hosting
  • Fatal Error
  • Caching
  • Plugin error
  • Theme error
  • Configuration errors
  • Debugging
  • Exceeding memory limits
  • Auto-update error

Of this list, plugin errors are the most common and easiest to fix; but they are still able to lock you out of your website completely.

Hosting

If you are on a free plan such as the ones on 000webhost.com you’ll find that the WSOD happens pretty frequently. These sites are great to build demos and test plugins, however, the level of maintenance required is high and the support is low.

Siteground hostimng
SiteGround Hosting plans

When you are finished with these platforms, using a good hosting company like SiteGround will guarantee 99% uptime so you don’t have to worry.

Recovery with “Fatal error recovery mode”

WordPress 5.2 introduced a feature to combat the white screen of death. Fatal error recovery notifies you that your site is available and then you will receive an email with a link that allows you to access your website in recovery mode. When you gain access to your website your plugins or themes that are giving the issues will be paused so you can then delete or replace them to recover your site.

Caching

Did you know that your cache could be the problem? If you use a caching plugin and have access to the dashboard but not the front end of your site, then it’s worth a try to clear the cache of your site. This may then resolve the issue.

You should also try to clear your browser cache to see if that will help. In some cases, this might be all that you need.

Another simple solution is to click at the right of the address of your page and press enter. This should allow you temporary access to your site/admin area. However, this does not always work. And if it doesn’t then no worries, we still have more solutions to cover.

Reloading by clicking at the address bar

Plugin errors

A bad plugin update can drive you into WSOD and completely shut you out. If you are able to get into your admin panel deactivate all the plugins by using the bulk actions menu. If the problem is solved then you have a solution. The next step is to activate the plugins one by one and then refresh the site after each plugin is activated. By doing this you will see which plugin is causing the issue.

If you are unable to get to your admin area you can use your cPanel or an FTP client. For this demonstration, we are going to use SiteGround’s cPanel.

Step 1 – Login to your account and navigate to the cPanel

Step 2 – Navigate to file manager and select “Web Root” > Go

Step 3 – Navigate to wp-content

Step 4 – Rename the plugins folder then reload your website.

You can rename your plugins folder to something like plugins_rename. This will deactivate all your plugins. If your plugins are the issue then your website will load. The next thing to do is to revert the changes to the original name and rename the plugins one by one to see which one is causing the issue then delete it from the file manager.

If the plugin that you are using was working before an update, then you can do well by contacting the plugin developer and making them aware of the issue.

Theme errors

Navigating to your themes folder is similar to the process described above. Make sure you have the default theme installed then rename the active theme and WordPress should revert to the original. If you do not have the default theme you can download it here and then upload it to your file manager.

Make sure you do your research in order to find out the most reliably coded themes for your website, because this can affect many more factors that can make or break your website.

Configuration errors

If you have made configurations to your site’s function.php file and the WSOD follows, Congratulations, you’ve learned to never edit that file unless you made a backup and it’s absolutely necessary. There are other ways to insert code in your website via shortcodes or using code snippets. Using these tools is relatively safer.

But let’s say you did not do this, if you can access your admin you simply just retrace your steps and delete the changes made, if not then you have to use your cPanel to navigate to the file you’ve edited and then change it. If you do not remember what you did you can always replace the file by downloading the theme and then re-uploading the corrupted file.

Debugging

While debugging doesn’t solve the problems, enabling it will expose the errors within your site. Whenever there is an error the script ends before any content is displayed. You will then get alerted so you can find the bug that’s bugging the website.

In the 83rd line of your wp-config.php file, you will find.

define( 'WP_DEBUG', false )

You will have to change the “false” to true and that will enable debugging. If you do not find this code anywhere in your wp-config.php file. Then add it or add:

define( 'WP_DEBUG', true);
define( 'WP_DEBUG_LOG', true );

Increase PHP memory limits

Sometimes the issue is that the website is failing in the middle of a script. If this is the case, you have a limitation with your memory limits so you will need to add some more. Navigate to your wp-config.php file and add the following code:

define('WP_MEMORY_LIMIT', '64M');

If that doesn’t work there are other options. Navigate to your .htaccess file that is located in your root directory and add:

php_value memory_limit 64M

If .htaccess is not available for you, add to your php.ini file and increase the limits there.

memory_limit = 64M

And if you still need more memory added then just contact your host. SiteGround has incredible support services; you should try them out especially if you’re on an EIG company’s hosting platform.

Increasing PHP text processing limit

With this code, you are able to increase recursion and backtrack limit on your long articles. Navigate to your wp-config file and enter:

/** Trick for long posts */
ini_set('pcre.recursion_limit',20000000);
ini_set('pcre.backtrack_limit',10000000);

Auto-update error

Rarely, your WordPress will fail to update due to a server time-out. This sometimes tends to lead to the white screen of death. If this happens, then just navigate to your root directory and see if you can find a .mantainance file. Delete it and refresh your website.

Using an FTP client

The most popular FTP client is FileZilla, it works across all platforms and is really easy to set up.

Download FileZilla and input your site name, username and password then the port number. Use 21 for FTP or 22 for SFTP.

The navigation for the folders will be the same and managing them should be quickly understood.

With FTP’s you might encounter server errors, therefore, it is better to use your host’s cPanel if you have access to it.

How to prevent WSOD

It doesn’t take much to encounter the WSOD. A simple plugin update or theme update can send you into a frenzy especially if it’s your first encounter.

With the above solutions, you are equipt to manage this error. Let’s see how we can ensure that it does not happen again.

  • Backup your website before changes – Any changes that you make to your website, be sure to make a backup; you can do this by using a third-party plugin or another third-party service.
  • Pay attention to the notifications – Even without editing the debugging file, you will get notifications about updates with WordPress, plugins, and themes.
  • Update in a safe environment – If you handle your updates manually try to test them in an isolated environment where you can see the issues that may arise.
  • Update code in a safe environment – Likewise with your updates, make sure that you have a test area for them.
  • Check your site log – You should be aware of the persons who make changes to your website. You should also create restrictions to ensure that whoever uses your site does not break it.

These solutions are not all exhausted, so if you have any recommendations you can list them in the comments below.

Finally

If you have come upon the white screen of death, then it should only be a small encounter. Fixing a plugin, theme, or memory file mostly solves the issue. This list is not fully exhausted and there are more technical ways that involve hosting and configurations. With that being said, Enjoy the revival of your website.

If you should encounter a white screen of death or other WordPress errors difficult to fix, feel free to reach out to us and we will be happy to get you up and running again. We handle website speed optimization, content editing, security, website updates, and much more maintenance perks. Check out our plans – Maintenance Plans

Sitepact Maintenance Plan pricing

Post other major causes of WSOD in the comment or @ us on twitter.

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