The ‘White Screen of Death‘ (WSoD) is a well-documented WordPress error which can stem from a number of different causes, and is every bit as annoying as its blue-colored Windows cousin. What makes this error so troublesome is the complete lack of any error messages when it occurs, which can make it a nightmare to troubleshoot.

Thankfully, the WordPress community is nothing if not resourceful, and over time they have discovered how to tackle the most common sources of the White Screen of Death. Still, due to the nature of this error, solving it will often require you to troubleshoot your WordPress install from top to bottom in order to find the culprit.

Before we delve into the troubleshooting process, let’s take a moment to go over the most common causes of the WSoD.

What Causes the White Screen of Death?

Despite the lack of information displayed on the WSoD, over time the WordPress community has narrowed the list of usual suspects down to the following:

  1. A low memory limit set by your hosting service, which is most often seen in shared hosting scenarios.
  2. A theme not playing nice with one of your plugins or vice versa.
  3. A poorly coded theme or plugin causing an error when WordPress is updated.
  4. A compatibility issue between plugins.

Don’t worry, we’ll be going into more details regarding each one of these possibilities in their own sections while covering the troubleshooting process.

Step by Step Troubleshooting

If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’ve run into the WSoD at one point or another. What you may not be aware of is that it’s been known to affect random parts of WordPress sites in different cases. While some may find the white screen when trying to access their dashboard, others may find it only affects their front end or just a specific page.

So, how do you fix an error that can strike random sections of your site and doesn’t provide you with any useful information? By leaving no stone unturned, of course. Since we know the most common causes of the WSoD, all you need to do is check each of them, in order, to find exactly where the error lies.

Since the WSoD usually affects the WordPress admin panel, we’re going to teach you how to troubleshoot the issue using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) manager. If you haven’t had the chance to get acquainted with FTP yet, don’t worry – it’s pretty simple. Take a minute to read through that guide if necessary, and when you’re done, open your FTP manager of choice. For the purposes of this guide we’re going to be using FileZilla, but there are other solid alternatives, such as CuteFTP and SmartFTP.

1. Check Your Memory Limit

When people talk about memory in the context of WordPress, they’re usually referring to PHP memory, which is allocated for plugins or any sort of files to execute their scripts. As we mentioned in the What Causes the ‘White Screen of Death’ section, this is most likely to happen due to hosting limitations.

It is one of the most common errors you might run into while using WordPress and it’s pretty easy to fix, so open that FTP manager and let’s get to work!

N.B. some hosts won’t enable you to increase your PHP memory limits directly, and in such a case, you might have to contact their support staff in order to ask them to do it for you.

First of all, connect to your FTP server using your credentials, and once you’re in, find the public_html folder of your WordPress install:

The public_html folder as seen from within FileZilla.

Get in there and look for the wp-config.php file, then right-click on it and choose the View/Edit option. If you haven’t set a default text editor for this action, it’ll prompt you to do so at this point:

Choosing a text editor for the wp-config.php file.

After you’ve chosen your editor and opened the file, add the following line within the main PHP tags:

define(‘WP_MEMORY_LIMIT’, ‘64M’);

Save and close the file and check if the error persists on your site.

Be sure not to make any other wild changes on your wp-config.php file unless you want to end up with an even more broken site. If this didn’t fix the error for you, it’s time to move on to the next step.

2. Check Your Plugins

Over the course of your relationship with WordPress you’re likely to accumulate a lot of plugins, and sooner or later you’ll run into an error related to one or more of them – it’s just a fact of life. However, troubleshooting these issues can be quite simple, even if they’re as serious as the White Screen of Death.

The first thing we need to do is rule out whether the error is caused by plugins at all, and in order to do that, we’re going to disable all of our plugins at once, instead of going down the list one by one. Head over to your public_html folder and find the wp-content folder therein:

The wp-content folder as seen from FileZilla.

Click on it, then select the plugins folder inside. What we’re going to do is rename the Plugins folder itself in order to trick your WordPress install into believing it’s not there and, therefore, being unable to load anything contained inside. Rename the folder to anything you like, or something such as plugins-deactivated if you’re worried about forgetting which one it is:

The renamed plugins folder as seen from FileZilla.

Once that’s done, check if your site is working. Even if WordPress can’t load your plugins, you should be able to access your dashboard without any issues if the source of the WSoD was one of those we deactivated.

Now, if the error is gone, it’s time to return your plugins folder to normal and look for the real culprit inside. To do this, you simply have to repeat the same process as with the plugins folder itself. Rename each individual plugin’s folder, which will force it to deactivate and check if the WSoD persists on your site.

If one of your plugins turns out to be the source of the WSoD, you have several courses of action. The first would be to outright delete that plugin if it doesn’t perform a function vital to your site, in which case you can always see if there are any comparable alternatives out there (which, since we’re talking about WordPress, there probably are).

However, if you’re fully committed to the plugin in question, your options are a bit more limited. First of all, check if you had the latest version installed, and if not, get that updated version and upload it using your FTP manager, then check if that solved the issue. If that doesn’t do the trick, you can reach out to the plugin’s developers for support.

Finally, if none of the steps above took care of your White Screen of Death, then it’s time to check out whether you have a problem with your theme.

3. Check Your Theme

If your WSoD issue isn’t a problem with your PHP memory limit or a plugin compatibility issue, we’re down to either your theme, or aliens. Sadly, we can only provide help with the former, but feel free to contact NASA if you think the latter is more likely.

In order to rule out your theme, we’ll have to follow the same process as we did with plugins, which means forcibly disabling it using an FTP manager. Let’s return to the public_html folder, then go to wp-content and find the themes folder therein:

The themes folder as seen from FileZilla.

Locate your active theme’s folder inside and change its name. Doing so will forcibly disable it and revert your WordPress website to the latest default theme, Twenty Sixteen. If you previously deleted the WordPress default themes, you’ll have to download Twenty Sixteen, extract the theme’s folder from the compressed file, and upload said folder via FTP to the themes directory:

The Twenty Sixteen theme folder as seen from FileZilla.

Once that’s done, access your site and see if the White Screen of Death error still persists. If it’s gone, the issue was likely to be a compatibility error between your former theme and your current version of WordPress, since we already discarded the plugin factor.

Now, changing themes can be quite a headache, but if the issue was a compatibility error with WordPress core, perhaps yours wasn’t coded that well to begin with – maybe it’s time to consider switching to a reputable premium option such as Divi? (Ahem.)

But wait – what if none of these steps fixed your WSoD? Then it’s time to break out the magnifying glass.

4. Check Your Logs

In this scenario, the WordPress debug mode is your magnifying glass – it will enable you to look at detailed error logs, which should help you pinpoint the source of the error. (And even if the previous steps did solve your little White Screen of Death problem, knowing how to turn on the debug mode can come in pretty handy.)

In order to do so, let’s fire the FTP manager back up and return to the content folder, located in public_html. Then, open the wp-config.php file once again and add the following lines of code within the main PHP tags:

define(‘WP_DEBUG’, true);

define(‘WP_DEBUG_LOG’, true);

define(‘WP_DEBUG_DISPLAY’, false);

The first line of said code activates the debug mode; the second instructs WordPress to save the debug output in a debug.log file which will be created in the same directory as wp-config.php, and the final line of code tells it not to display the errors it finds on your site. This way, you can go over your error logs calmly without worrying about scaring (even more) visitors away.

Hopefully, a quick look at your error log will point you in the right direction in order to fix your WSoD. Don’t worry – the log itself is pretty easy to interpret, even if you don’t have much coding experience. Any error logged will display both its source within your WordPress directory and a timestamp, making it easy to narrow down the source of your woes.

Once you’ve found the real culprit, which is likely to be a theme or plugin that made it past the previous troubleshooting rounds, repeat the steps we outlined until the WSoD is gone for good. If you want to unlock some of the debug mode’s more advanced capabilities, we also wrote a small tutorial on the subject a while back.

Conclusion

The White Screen of Death can be pretty scary, thanks in part due to sounding like a death metal album. However, once you’re aware of the factors which may cause it and have gone through the process of troubleshooting your site back from it, you’ll be more than prepared to tackle anything that WordPress might throw at you.

Just remember, if you ever run into the WSoD, be sure to:

  1. Troubleshoot directly from your FTP server if you can’t access your WordPress Dashboard.
  2. Check your memory limit.
  3. Check your plugins.
  4. Check your themes.
  5. If all else fails, activate the WordPress debug mode and check your resulting logs.

What’s the worst error you’ve run into while using WordPress and how did you solve it? Share your horror stories with us in the comments section below!

Article thumbnail image by Liudmyla Marykon / shutterstock.com


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