WordPress White Screen of Death: What is it?

  • By Darrel Wilson
  • Last Updated: November 20, 2019
White Screen of Death

If you’ve been using WordPress for a while, you’ve probably encountered the infamous White Screen of Death. According to the official Codex, it’s one of the most common WordPress errors and it can happen while you’re logged into your site as well as while you’re attempting to log in.

In this post, I’ll explain why the White Screen of Death (or WSOD for short) happens and how you can quickly solve it.

Why Does the White Screen of Death Happen

According to the WordPress Codex, the White Screen of Death is caused by database or PHP issues. It usually happens for a few reasons:

  • One of the plugins you have installed are causing compatibility issues
  • Your theme can be causing a compatibility issue with another theme, a plugin or WordPress itself
  • Your theme is missing or was renamed

Once you know what the main culprits are when it comes to WSOD, it becomes much easier to troubleshoot the root of the issue and fix it.

How to Quickly Fix the White Screen of Death in WordPress

There are a number of steps you can take to fix the WordPress White Screen of Death and get your site back to normal.

Disable your themes and plugins

The first thing you should do when you encounter the WSOD is to disable your active theme and the plugins to rule out any compatibility issues or conflicts. As mentioned above, the WSOD can be cause by themes and plugins compatibility issues. These issues can happen when you install a new plugin or theme or when an update to a theme or plugin is released.

To disable the themes and plugins, you will have to access your site via SFTP using a program like FileZilla or by logging into your cPanel and going to your File Manager.

Then, navigate to your plugins folder and rename it to something like plugins_old. This will disable all of the plugins on your site. You can then go back and check if the WSOD has been resolved. If you can access your site, it means one of the plugins caused the issue.

You will then need to rename the plugins folder back to “plugins” and rename each plugin folder inside of if it using the same pattern, one by one, until you find the plugin that caused the issue. Once you have found the offending plugin, uninstall it and either find a replacement or consider getting in touch with the developer and find out about a possible fix.

The same approach can be used with your themes. If you have only one theme installed, be sure to download the default WordPress theme from the repository and install it so WordPress can revert to it once you deactivate your active theme. Then, repeat the same steps as you did with plugins until you find the offending theme.

Resolve Syntax Errors

If themes or plugins aren’t what’s causing the WSOD, it’s time to look elsewhere. Sometimes, the White Screen of Death happens when you’re editing theme or plugin files and either mistype the line of code or forget to include a closing bracket. If that happens and you encounter the White Screen of Death, you will need to resolve those syntax errors.

To resolve it, access your site either via SFTP or through cPanel and remove the last bit of code you entered manually. Then, check your site to see if it’s loading properly. If everything works, double-check your code and make sure to type it in correctly.

Switch on Debugging

Another way to fix the WSOD in WordPress is to turn on debugging. As you might have guessed, you will need to access your site either by SFTP of by logging into your cPanel. Locate the wp-config.php file and find the line that reads:

define( 'WP_DEBUG', false )

Change the line so it reads:

define( 'WP_DEBUG', true )

Save it and then check your site. You should now see error messages that will provide more information and point you in the right direction towards finding the cause of the white screen error. In most cases, you will be able to determine whether a theme or a plugin is causing the issue. You can then disable and uninstall the culprit and reach out to the developer to notify them about the issue and find out when a fix will be released.

Increase Memory Limits

In some cases, the White Screen of Death happens because your memory limit has been exhausted. This is usually caused by a plugin or a theme that has a large number of files and your server can’t process them.

To fix this, you will need to increase the memory limit of your server. There are several ways to do this, depending on your hosting environment:

  1. Access your wp-config.php file either through SFTP or cPanel. Add the following line of code:
define('WP_MEMORY_LIMIT', '64M');
  1. If the above doesn’t work and you’re using a hosting company that uses Apache servers, edit your .htaccess file to include the line:
php_value memory_limit 64M
  1. If your host is using NGINX, then you will need to edit your php.ini file to include the line:
memory_limit = 64M

Once you have increased the memory limit, check your website. If the error is gone, you can proceed to work on your site as usual. If the error is still there, you will need to increase the memory limit more or contact your hosting company to help you resolve the issue.

Check for Failed Auto-Updates

Lastly, the White Screen of Death can sometimes be caused by a theme, plugin or core update that was interrupted due to a server timeout. While there is nothing you can do to prevent server timeouts, the first thing you should do is access your site via SFTP or cPanel and delete the .maintenance file. This will restore your website and you will be able to access it via wp-admin.

You can then try to perform the update again or manually update themes, plugins, and WordPress core files.

How to Reduce The Chances of WordPress White Screen of Death Happening Again

The White Screen of Death can happen for a number of reasons but there are a few steps you can take to reduce the chances of running into it.

  • Perform regular website backups and make sure they are stored offsite. Use cloud services such as Dropbox or an external hard drive and make sure to use a plugin like UpdraftPlus so you can quickly restore the backup if needed.
  • Double-check each and every line of code you’re about to add to your site or better yet, create a staging environment to test the changes before adding them to your live website
  • On a similar note, consider using a staging website to test plugin and theme updates before updating them on your site
  • Use a hosting company that provides 24/7 support so you can get help with your website if none of the above steps work
  • Consider using a plugin like User Activity Log to keep a detailed log of changes, updates, and other activity on your site

Final Thoughts

WordPress White Screen of Death is not a fun experience. While annoying, there are steps you can take yourself to troubleshoot and fix the issue. Use the steps outlined in this article to help you diagnose what caused the White Screen of Death on your website and resolve it quickly.

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One thought on “WordPress White Screen of Death: What is it?

  1. I am no longer positive the place you’re getting your info,
    however great topic. I needs to spend a while learning more
    or working out more. Thank you for fantastic info I was looking for this info for my mission.

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