Fight the WordPress White Screen of Death in 17 Minutes

    Shreya Reddy
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WordPress White Screen of Death

Did your WordPress website just throw a blank screen at you? That’s the infamous ‘WordPress White Screen of Death’.

Is it displaying an error message that isn’t helping at all? Have you been frantically trying to google your way out of this problem?

STOP PANICKING. The WordPress ‘White Screen of Death’ can be fixed.

Calm down, take a few deep breaths, get yourself a glass of water, and then get to work.

You’ve been struck by one of the most common WordPress errors, the WordPress ‘White Screen of Death’. We’ll discuss what that really means and how you became a victim of this unfortunate situation; but first, let’s fix this.

#1 Get in Touch With Your Tech Guy 

I know I promised I’ll help you handle it. But, this had to be addressed. 

We’re going to be dealing with some really important files here, and it’ll be great if you have an expert to fall back on; or at the very least, someone who knows a little bit about what they’re dealing with. 

Nevertheless, let’s get started.

#2 Set WP_DEBUG to ‘true’ (3 minutes)

In simple words, you need to turn on the debug mode in order to locate any errors that might have occurred.

Step 1: Open the wp-config file. 

Now that you’re locked out of WordPress, you need to use an FTP to access your wp-config file. This file isn’t built-in with WordPress. It’s created specifically for your site during the WordPress installation process. 

Step 2: Locate define(‘WP_DEBUG’, false)  and change it to define(‘WP_DEBUG’, true);

Step 3: Since you’re already working with the wp-config file, check the file for any white spaces.

This file is one of the most important files in your WordPress installation. Some extra spaces may be causing an issue, and you’d be better off correcting them. Save the file and continue.

Step 4: If there is an error shown, you’ll know exactly what the problem is and you can resolve it. Else, read on.

Debug Mode Shows an Error (3 minutes)

Step 1: If there is an error clearly stated, you’ll know exactly where to locate it. When you do, try deactivating the particular theme or plugin.

Step 2: If you notice the error still persists despite fixing it, or the error might be present for no apparent reason at all, it could be because of a file transfer issue. Replace the particular file, and try again.

Step 3: Also, try deactivating any caching plugins, and try again.

#3 Increase the Memory Limit (2 minutes)

Sometimes, it could be a memory error. Seen the ‘memory exhausted’ error message being displayed before? 

The default memory is set to ‘128M’. To increase the limit to say ‘256M’, you need to make the following changes in the wp-config file:

Step 1: define(‘WP_MEMORY_LIMIT’, ‘256M’);

Step 2: define (‘WP_MAX_MEMORY’, ‘256M’);

Step 3: If nothing works, add memory_limit =  256M; in your local php.ini file (you can access the file using: phpinfo() function):

#4 Deactivate All Plugins (2 minutes)

It’s likely that a plugin you recently activated, updated, modified, might be causing a problem. 

Step 1: If you have FTP access, the simplest to do is to deactivate all plugins by renaming the plugins folder. 

Step 2: If not, you can deactivate the plugins using phpmyadmin. 

Step 3: If you do not know which plugin caused the issue, try activating one plugin at a time, to locate the troublesome plugin.

#5 Deactivate Current Theme (1 minute)

So, it wasn’t a plugin issue? 

The next most likely element to cause the WordPress White Screen of Death is a theme.

Step 1: Deactivate the current theme. This will activate a default WordPress theme.

Step 2: You can now test if things start working properly.

#6 Check for Extra Spaces in functions.php (3 minutes)

Step 1: If you’ve figured out that your current theme is causing a problem, check your functions.php file. 

Step 2: Locate any extra spaces which may have been causing the issue. This may seem trivial, but it could be the real underlying issue.

#7 Check for iframes Before the Header (1 minute)

 It’s possible that you’ve been hacked.

Step 1: Get rid of any iframes present, that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

#8 Restore the Database (2 minutes)

This is not the final resort, but it sure is the best bet you have. Especially if none of the above steps have worked for you.

You know how everyone keeps on telling you that it’s important to have a backup of your database? It’s to help you on a rainy day.  

And guess what, the rain is here, and it’s pouring. When nothing else has helped you, it means that there was no issue with any of the files. This implies that there could be an update or a configuration issue. 

Step 1: Backup and Restore your database and check if things work.

The above listed tried and tested steps should do the trick for you. If not, we’d love to help. Write to us and we’ll reach out to you as soon as possible.

P.S: I really did time myself. Also, you can get this fixed a lot faster if you locate the problem in one of the earlier steps; so you don’t have to go through the entire 17-minute drill.

You can also check out:

What Caused the WordPress White Screen of Death?

Honestly speaking, dealing with the WordPress ‘White Screen of Death’ is frustrating. When you’re in the middle of something, it’s like you’re unexpectedly struck by lightning. 

The WordPress white screen of death could be caused by one of several reasons like a plugin compatibility issue, a theme issue, file transfer complications, memory problems, etc. Even an update that isn’t tested properly could break your entire site!

Sometimes, the reason might be obvious. For example, when horror-struck, you must have activated a new plugin, or you might have been working on one. In that case, you know for sure that this plugin is causing the complication, and you can resolve the issue accordingly.

Avoiding the Hiccups

One way to avoid this would be to use a staging site – a replica of your main site that can be used for testing purposes. By updating your themes and plugins on the staging site, you eliminate the risk of affecting your live WordPress website.

Another way of avoiding a situation like this in the future, you need to keep your site in check. In other words, you need to manage it right. That includes taking regular and timely backups, security scans, database optimization, staging site creation, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Which brings us back to where we started – get an expert on board.

Although WordPress is an easy-to-use CMS, there are a whole bunch of things that could go wrong if all the right measures aren’t taken. Moreover, you need to know exactly how to go about a particular situation. 

For instance, say this WordPress white screen of death was caused by a new plugin update. You identified the plugin that caused it and deactivated it. What next? You need the functionality that this plugin adds to your system, but you cannot afford to have your site blank-out again.

The ideal way to go about it would be to roll back to a stable version of the plugin, fix the issue, and then update it. Basically, you need someone who knows what they’re working with. 

Parting Thoughts

Have these steps helped you tackle the WordPress White Screen of Death? Did you happen to figure out another approach to fixing it? Is there another critical step that you think deserves a spot on this list? 

We’d love to hear what you’ve discovered. Hit us up in the comments sections below to share your experience with all of us.

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Shreya Reddy

Shreya Reddy

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