If you have browsed the internet or managed a website, you may have noticed that errors are inevitable despite all your efforts towards stopping them. But a good webmaster knows how to assess the situation and troubleshoot the error in the most effective way possible.
Out of the many errors that can bring down a WordPress website (and significantly disrupt the business), White Screen of Death (WSOD) is probably the most annoying that requires an immediate fix in order to bring the website back online.
Now, White Screen of Death can be fixed simply by following the recommended checklist and using the appropriate tools. If you wish to troubleshoot this error yourself, follow along as I demonstrate several effective ways of fixing White Screen of Death that could paralyze WordPress websites.
What is the White Screen of Death?
It is crucial to understand the problem before finding out a possible fix for it. It is quite possible that a problem can have multiple solutions. However, finding the solution that provides the shortest and most effective fix is preferred as such a solution means a significant edge over the competition.
As you can probably guess, WSOD in WordPress just displays a blank white screen. It is possible that the website is working without any issues while the admin or some of the posts show a white screen. Usually, the main culprits behind this error are infected PHP or database files.
However, it is not always this simple and there are times when the underlying cause is more complicated. Thus, it is essential that you know more than one ways of resolving the issue!
Troubleshoot White Screen of Death in WordPress
Let’s get down to the brass tacks and see how to fix the WordPress White Screen of Death error.
Check for Server Availability
First of all, rule out the possibility of an unavailable server by using an online status reporting tool such as isthiswebsitedown. This tool determines whether the problem is the result of a full/corrupted browser caching or IP issues or the website is down due to the unavailability of the hosting server.
If the server is down, get in touch with your hosting provider to get it back online ASAP. This is one of the areas where managed cloud hosting platform like Cloudways outshine the competition.
Clear Browser Cache
Sometimes, simply clearing the browser cache does the trick. Websites use browser caching for better user experience and faster browsing. However, as time passes, the cache gets cluttered with data and cookies that are no longer needed.
To resolve this issue, simply go to your browser’s settings and clear the cache of your specific website by going to All cookies and site data [chrome://settings/siteData?search=cookie].
If you wish to remove all the cookies and cache then navigate to History tab in Chrome and clear data.
Once the process finishes, go back to your website and hit Refresh. If you see the wp-admin screen, you are good to go. If the problem is still there, jump to the next step.
Note: The above process can also log you out of some websites or remove the data.
Enabling Debug Mode
If clearing browser cache does not help, the next fix is to enable the WordPress to debug mode. This mode highlights some important information about the errors that have caused the White Screen of Death in WordPress.
In order to enable the debug mode in WordPress, you need to access the wp-config.php file. You can access this file either by logging into your CPanel or by connecting to your server via SFTP using FileZilla (or a similar FTP client).
Open the file in any text editor and look for the following line:
define (‘WP_DEBUG’, false)
Change it to
Save the changes and upload the updated file. Now return to the browser and refresh the screen. You will still get the White Screen of Death, but this time with an error message displayed on it.
For example, you might see something like:
Cannot redeclare get_posts() (previously declared in /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-includes/post.php:1624) in /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-content/plugins/my-plugin/my-plugin.php on line 21
The above error message states that there is an error at line 21 in one of the plugins. At this point, you may either contact the plugin provider or replace the plugin with something similar. If that’s not possible, simply disable the WordPress plugins altogether.
Increase Memory Limit
WordPress runs on top of PHP. As such both layers need adequate memory for execution. Sometimes the limit gets exhausted resulting in errors like White Screen of Death and 500 Internal Server error.
Setting the memory limit is easy. If you are on Cloudways, log into your platform account and navigate to Server Management → Settings & Packages. In the BASIC tab, increase the MEMORY LIMIT from 64 (default) to 128 MB.
Add the following line:
Save the changes and upload the file.
Now return to wp-admin, refresh the page and check if the error is still there. If you still see the White Screen of Death, take a deep breath and try the next method.
Disable Plugins & Themes
This is probably the simplest method and is often the first step in the majority of the troubleshooting guides. However, I have placed it at the end because this requires a lot of time and can possibly alter the appearance of your WordPress site.
Let’s see how to disable both the themes and plugins one-by-one without causing any damage to the WordPress site.
Disabling the theme
If you can access the wp-admin, the simplest way to disable the existing theme is to switch over to the default Twenty Nineteen theme.
Log into your WordPress dashboard and go to Appearance → Themes and activate the default theme.
If you are unable to access the wp-admin due to the White Screen of Death error, access your server using FileZilla and rename the wp-content/themes folder to something like my_themes.
This will disable the existing theme and WordPress will replace it with the default theme.
Disabling the plugins
You may disable all the plugins easily through wp-admin and activate them one-by-one to see which plugin is causing White Screen of Death error.
However, if you are unable to access wp-admin, use FileZilla again and this time rename the plugins folder. If your website starts working, rename the folder back to plugins and start testing each plugin individually by renaming them one-by-one.
Resolve Syntax Errors
Developers and web site owners often add custom PHP code inside functions.php file to add/optimize a specific functionality. Sometimes, the code is added to integrate a third-party service or to enhance an existing feature as WordPress allows to add custom code when needed.
The recommended practice for adding custom code is to make notes about every change you make in functions.php file. Better yet, keep backups of the original file to avoid such issues. If you have made any changes recently, reverting might get you out of this situation.
Taking backups is a good practice and should be performed regularly. Cloudways allows its customers to create staging sites. The data on these sites can be PULLED to a live website if you come across any frustrating errors like WSOD and are unable to troubleshoot it.
All you need to do is to log in to your Cloudways platform and go to Application Management → Staging Management. From the settings, PULL the changes from the staging site.
If you are not on Cloudways, you can take a full backup using a WordPress backup plugin and retrieve the backup of WordPress website using cPanel.
By now, I hope that you will be able to fix the White Screen of Death in WordPress. We covered a lot of ground and discussed various methods. There is no specific order in which you need to troubleshoot the error. Being a webmaster you should be able to analyze the error and according to past events, you should be able to select the right approach to resolve WSOD.
I would love to know what worked out for you and if there is another solution out there to resolve this error effectively.
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Ibad Ur Rehman is a WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways. He likes to explore the latest open-source technologies and to interact with different communities. In his free time, he likes to read, watch a series or fly his favorite Cessna 172SP in X Plane 11 flight simulator.