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Anyone who has put serious time and effort into creating a WordPress website of their dreams will likely receive a painful jolt to visit the website, only to find a white screen of death (WSOD).
Yes, it hurts. It’s not just emotional pain though. Surprise downtime like this can lose you precious visitors, leads, sales, and income.
But like any problem, the WordPress WSOD can be solved if you don’t panic at the sight of it. The error is mystifying (because there are no error messages to show), but your website is still there. You can recover it.
Here’s how to do exactly that:
1. Ruling out User-side causes
Unlike other WordPress errors which clearly give you the error origin path and victimized bits of code, WSOD errors leave no clue. This is why you have to rule out the potential causes of problem, starting with your browser, system, connection, etc.
It’s pretty simple: clear your browser cache and retry loading your website.
Check to see if your website works on other browser(s) and different devices. Also try disconnecting and reconnecting, or access the website using another connection altogether.
If all of these yield the same result (i.e., a white screen) then the problem isn’t on user-side but in the code. If the website displays fine in one device/browser/connection, you have isolated the potential cause.
2. Make it Public
“This is to inform your visitors that the site is not inadvertently and mysteriously removed from existence, but is experiencing glitches.”
You can salvage some UX points and lost leads from visitors by letting them know that no, you’re not out of business, it’s just an error and it’s being dealt with. Ask them to check back in a while.
You can broadcast this message via Social Media or Email (to subscribers and/or registered users).
3. Analyzing and Troubleshooting
PHP as well as Database errors can come forward as a white screen of death. It can be caused by:
- Plugins and compatibility issues: If you can still login to admin dashboard, try deactivating all plugins and reactivating them individually.
If you can’t access admin, then use FTP to login. Go to wp-content/plugins. There will be a Plugin folder there. Change its name to plugins_old to deactivate the plugins en masse. If plugins were an issue, this should bring your site back.
- Theme: Switching themes or adding a website to WordPress multisite network could cause WSOD. Again, login to admin and switch to a default theme (E.g.: Twenty Fifteen). If you can’t access admin, login via FTP and go to wp-content/themes/folder and rename the folder for the active theme.
Once you isolate the theme or plugin causing the issue, contact your theme/plugin author for support.
Here are some common PHP or Database related errors and their solutions.
Sometime, despite all your efforts you still can’t find the cause of that white screen. This time, retry logging in to your hosting account. If you still don’t find any issues, or if you are unable to gain access at all, then get your hosting provider on the line pronto.
Like websites, servers need to undergo maintenance to avoid ‘soup kitchen’ status and keep them functional. Usually, the hosting providers release a notice to all websites on the server about scheduled maintenance at least 2 weeks before. This server maintenance can be the reason why your website is currently down, in which case you can only wait it out.
Check with the hosting provider’s website and your own notifications about scheduled maintenance. If your website down regardless contacts the support team and hash it out.
If we could foresee errors, they would never happen. White screen of death is no different.
The best you can do is to create a strategy for dealing with the downtime and make a sturdy plan to prevent it from happening. This includes regular maintenance on your own website, strict adherence to security protocols and consistently backing up your entire website (database included). WordPress has plugins (both free and paid) to help you with these exact tasks.
Learn more about managing auto updates for themes, plugins, and WordPress core itself to minimize the chances of an update catching you unprepared.
Keep calm and remember not to panic. WSOD looks worse than it is and with these tips, you can avert the ‘disaster’ without causing too much damage to your traffic and revenue stream.
Article by Tracey Jones
Tracey Jones is a web development professional with years of experience. Currently, she works for HireWPGeeks Ltd. A leading PSD to WordPress company across the globe. She is a passionate blogger who loves to write and share everything related to the world of WordPress.