WordPress White Screen of Doom

Have you ever been happily toiling on your WordPress blog, finally fixing that widget issue that’s been bothering you for the last few millennia, when all of a sudden, you go to refresh your site and get the White Screen of Doom? I’ve also seen it referred to as the “Blank Page of Death”. Whatever you call it, it’s not a good feeling!

Maybe you even venture back to your WordPress Dashboard to see if there is anything obvious to fix. That’s when you may discover that there is a white screen there, too…

Don’t despair! I’ve seen many broken sites through from White Screen back to full functionality. In most cases, it can be a simple fix. Other times, your situation may require a complete rebuild. However, even a simple fix requires getting good information from a diagnostic approach.

Here are several of the most common possible causes for the WordPress White Screen phenomenon, and a few tips on how to get going again when this kind of incident strikes your web site.

N.B. Before you begin troubleshooting, ALWAYS back up your site including parent theme, child theme (if applicable), Uploads, and Plugin files AS WELL AS create a full backup of your database through MySQL. I like to keep backups organized in folders by date, and by build. The important thing is to keep the theme files and database backup together so that you can actually use them in the event that you need to!

Plugins

The most common scenario to produce the WordPress White Screen is that you have recently added or updated a Plugin that is either broken or incompatible with your current site theme.

To determine if it is a Plugin causing the break in your site, start by renaming your site’s Plugins folder using an FTP client like FileZilla. This will temporarily reset all Plugins in that folder to an installed but inactive state without actually changing your settings.

Refresh your site in your browser. Make sure you hard clear or bypass your in-browser cache completely, or you will not see the effects of disabling the Plugins folder. If the problem is resolved when no Plugins are active, you will need to narrow it down to which Plugin is causing the problem.

Rename the Plugin folder back to its original name, and then after entering the Plugins directory via FTP, rename each Plugin folder, one at a time. Test your site after each Plugin is disabled, and then re-enable the tested Plugin before you move on to the next one. If it is a Plugin related problem, you will discover the culprit with this method.

Once you identify the Plugin, you can either research the issue in that Plugin’s dedicated forum (if applicable), or simply remove the Plugin in question, and replace it with something more suitable.

Perhaps a Plugin audit did not resolve your White Screen problem. What else have you done with your site lately?

Recent WordPress Update

Sometimes, a site’s web host server will time out at the most inopportune times. If you are in the midst of upgrading WordPress itself, and either your host’s server falters or if your Internet connection falters, problems can ensue.

Fortunately, this is not very common and usually has to do with overzealous file permissions, but could also be due to php or session limits by your server. If your installation fails, it may be hard to see if its in whole or in part failed. If you suspect that this is the issue at fault, I would recommend doing a fresh manual install of all core WordPress files.

Caveat

If you haven’t had the White Screen of Doom, but instead find that your site says “Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance” after your update, the solution is simple. Simply navigate to the root of your site in FTP, and delete the temporary file named .maintenance. WordPress usually deletes this file itself, but if a glitch causes it to skip over that file, it will remain in a perpetual update loop until that .maintenance file is removed.

Check wp-config.php

Did you recently change the details of your database within php myadmin? It is possible that your wp-config.php (found via FTP in the root of your site) needs updating. Open the file in a text editor, and check your username and all other pertinent credentials as well. If you find errors, correct, clear your cache in WP (if using caching), and clear any browsers you might be using to view the site.

Caching Software

Sometimes, especially with W3 Total Cache, caching Plugins can cause the site to get hung up. This can happen after configuring settings in W3 Total Cache, Plugin incompatibility with W3 Total Cache, and even theme conflicts.

In fact, I’ve seen enough issues with W3 Total Cache being either directly or indirectly implicated in site performance issues, that I usually recommend against using this particular Plugin. I have even seen cases where trying to remove the old cache produced by W3 from the server caused site instability.

At the very least, turn off caching for your site while you are troubleshooting. It makes life much easier.

If you are using WPEngine as your host, you will need to work harder to clear your cache. This firm prides themselves on their caching which is awesome, but clearing that cache can be quirky and sometimes takes a few attempts to have the clear ring true. If you have access to your WordPress Dashboard, you can try clearing it there. If you don’t have access, you can clear it through your WPEngine Dashboard.

The Theme Itself

If you have recently made changes in your code, or just installed a new theme, this could also cause the WordPress White Screen. To eliminate this possibility, change themes in the Appearance section of WordPress or (if you don’t have WP Dashboard access) simply change the name of the live theme in the Themes folder. Doing so will default the site to the default theme installed in your themes folder. If the problem resolves, there is likely a problem in the theme. It may be that the hook has not been placed properly or that you dropped a colon when you were editing.

Keep in mind that you may need to reconfigure your side bars or custom theme Dashboard settings but, hey, that’s better than a White Screen forever!

Error in the Code

This can happen to experienced developers, and newbies alike.

If you are suddenly getting an error message in lieu of a white screen, odds are good that you have an error in a line of code somewhere. Think back to the last theme or Plugin file you edited. Have you recently added a new functions.php file? Did you forget to close an HTML element? That would be the first place to look for missing opening or closing tags, misplaced JavaScript, and the like.

.htaccess

Maybe you added some new code to your .htaccess file in an effort to improve speed or block spammers. Whatever the case, you should access the file via FTP and replace the code in it with this standard .htaccess block for WordPress. BEFORE YOU BEGIN make sure you take a backup of your .htaccess file.

# BEGIN WordPress

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]

# END WordPress

Save your changes to the server, and refresh your site. If that worked, you will know that the problem was with your .htaccess file amendments. Carefully put your custom .htaccess code, block by block back into the file, saving and refreshing along the way. This will allow you to identify which block is causing your problems.

For Advanced Users

You can turn on WP_DEBUG to see a readout of the code errors and server signals on your site. You will need to use an FTP client for this approach. This can also be useful in troubleshooting situations where WordPress was improperly installed by a web host’s script installer.

When All Else Fails

If you feel like you’re in over your head, you can hire me to help resolve your theme issues.

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