WordPress White Screen of Death – Tony’s Tech Tips

by Tony Gamble
Illustration by Steven Sallay

Illustration by Steven Sallay

You’ve worked hard to set up a functionally vibrant website built on WordPress, perhaps with some help along the way. You log in today to publish a new post and you see that there are some updates available. Great! It’s always prudent to keep plugins and themes up to date. Click! The WordPress workhorse puts the wheels of the update in motion and you wait. And wait. And wait. Uh-oh.

Something has gone wrong somewhere along the way and the new update for the plugin doesn’t seem to be taking. Oh well. You close the page and go back to your website, only to be presented with a message declaring that the site is temporarily down for maintenance. Or even worse, you get the dreaded WordPress “white screen of death (WSOD)”. Rather than leap from a fourth floor window, may I suggest the following fixes:

  1. FTP Client ScreenshotLog in to your server either with a FTP client or via your host’s C-Panel File Manager in the browser. In the root directory of your website, you should see a file named “.maintenance” (note particularly the dot at the beginning of the name). Simply delete this file and your site should be back to normal. Unless you’re dealing with the WSOD, in which case…
  2. C-Panel ScreenshotStill in the FTP client or C-Panel File Manager, navigate to /wp-content/plugins and find the folder named for the plugin you were updating. Delete or move this folder out of the plugins folder and your site should now load just fine, with the exception of the functionality provided by that plugin. Don’t remember which plugin you updated? Move all of the plugin subdirectories out of the plugins folder and place them back, one at a time, checking each time to see if the site loads. When it doesn’t, you’ve found your culprit. This goes the same for themes, found in /wp-content/themes. A broken theme can just as easily cripple your site.

What if none of these attempts prove fruitful? Is your site hosed? Of course not. As a last-ditch effort to get you up and running again, go to WordPress.org and download the latest version of WordPress. Unzip this file and upload everything except the /wp-content folder, overwriting the existing files.

“Wait! Won’t I lose everything I’ve worked so hard to build to this point?”

No, actually. That’s one of the beauties of WordPress. All of your content and settings are stored in the database on your host, so re-installing WordPress is like re-installing Windows or OS X with your documents and settings in place.

Like this hands-on approach and easy solutions that you can handle without hiring a developer? Get up and running easily with help from the Creating and Maintaining a WordPress Website course, available from Jester Creative and Eliquo in-class and online.

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