We’ve all been there.
We visit our site first thing in the morning and … nothing.
We install or update a plugin and … nothing.
We make an update to our theme and … nothing.
Actually, it’s far scarier than nothing. It is – dun dun dun … the evil, the nefarious White Screen of Death.
Anyone who has ever run a website can relate with the instantaneous wave of panic such a sight is met with.
In this post, my goal is to help you channel that panic into productivity.
I will give you a few easy troubleshooting steps that you can take immediately. More often than not, these steps will help you isolate and even solve the issue.
And I’ll let you in on a little secret: if your reaction to seeing the White Screen of Death is to panic and run straight to your hosting provider’s help desk, it is quite likely they are going to ask you the questions I’ve listed below or jump right into performing the troubleshooting steps. That is, once your ticket gets to #1 in the queue.
So why wait?
Something is wrong with your site, and more than likely you possess the power to identify and possibly even fix it. You just need to ask yourself these questions and follow these steps.
Question #1: Are You A Synthesis Customer?
If so, I have some great news for you.
Troubleshooting step: Log into your Customer Portal and view recent errors.
Synthesis provides you with an easily accessible log of recent errors that your site has experienced. This often allows you to immediately diagnose the source of your white screen issue.
Here are the detailed steps for accessing the log errors:
- Log in to your Customer Portal.
- If you have multiple sites, click into whichever one is white screening.
- Underneath all of your FTP, PHPMyAdmin, and other info, you’ll see a row for “Server Info” with a blue link that says “View.” Click it.
- A screen will pop up showing any recent errors thrown by your site.
The log error(s), if you have any, may look like hieroglyphics to you. That’s okay. If so, just read through the errors and see if you see a URL that ends in or contains the following:
- “plugins” – the URL will point to a specific plugin path, which may be the one causing the issue.
- “themes” – the URL will point to a specific path within the theme, possibly the file causing the issue.
If it’s a functions.php issue and you recently edited your functions.php file, revert back to the pre-edit or default state.
If it’s a plugin issue, and you see one plugin path coming up over and over again in the logs, deactivate the offending plugin. This will get your site back up and running. If you can’t narrow it down to one plugin, or you need help deactivating a plugin when you can’t access your site, click here.
If you see theme paths in the log errors, click here.
Question #2: Did you recently install, update, or otherwise touch a plugin?
The vast majority of White Screen of Death cases that I’ve seen come into our help desk end up being plugin related. If you were working with a specific plugin right before the White Screen of Death appeared, it is likely that isolating the issue will be easy for you.
Troubleshooting step: Deactivate the plugin you were just working with.
Simple right? If that plugin was indeed the issue, then your site should come right back up. Whew. At that point, you can then figure out what the issue with the plugin might be:
- If you were editing the plugin, revert to the original code.
- If you updated the plugin and it caused an issue, contact the plugin developer.
- If you were installing the plugin for the first time, check to see if it is compatible with your version of WordPress (which is hopefully the most current one).
Question #3: Were you recently working with your active theme’s functions.php file?
The other usual suspect when it comes to White Screen of Death cases is edits to the functions.php file.
Troubleshooting step: Revert to the pre-edit (or original) functions.php file.
Your site will come back up if this was the issue.
On a related note, here is a word to the wise regarding editing your functions.php file … or any WordPress file for that matter: make code changes in a text editor as opposed to the WordPress dashboard!
With a text editor, you have the option of clicking Edit – Undo to quickly remove changes one by one. When the White Screen of Death is costing you pageviews, troubleshooting speed is of the essence. You cannot Edit – Undo in the WordPress dashboard, so not only is there no quick way to revert change by change, but if you make extensive changes and cannot remember them all you’ll just have to revert to the original and start from scratch.
Question #4: Did you answer “No” to questions 1, 2, and 3?
So maybe you weren’t just working with a specific plugin or your theme’s functions.php file, but the White Screen of Death took hold of your site anyway. This happens. Even if you don’t have an immediate guess as to the specific source of the problem, you can still move forward knowing there is a decent chance that it’s somehow plugin or theme related.
But how do you isolate the issue?
Is It a Plugin Issue?
Troubleshooting step: Rename your plugins folder to “_plugins” and then check your site.
The best way to accomplish this is via FTP. If you are looking for a good FTP client, you can check out Transmit (Paid) or Cyberduck (Free).
Renaming the plugins folder will automatically deactivate all of the plugins on your site. You *shouldn’t* lose any settings upon reactivating the plugins (I never have), but you never know. Understand that this is a risk, but it’s one worth taking if no one can access your content.
Once you’ve made the filename change, reload your site. If you still get the White Screen of Death, move on. It’s obviously not a plugin issue.
But if your site comes back up, then you know there is a plugin issue. Now you just need to isolate which plugin it is. To do this, go to your dashboard and navigate to the plugins page. You’ll notice that all of the plugins are visible but deactivated. Start reactivating them one by one. After each activation, reload the site. At some point it will white screen again, and then you’ll know that the last plugin you activated is the culprit.
At that point, you can activate the rest of the plugins, make sure the site is still up, and then dig into what the specific issue is with the problem plugin.
So what do you do if it is not a plugin issue?
Is It a Theme Issue?
Troubleshooting step: Rename your themes folder to “_themes” and then check your site.
The best way to accomplish this is also via FTP.
Renaming the themes folder will automatically deactivate your current theme and replace it with the WordPress default theme. You *shouldn’t* lose any settings or widgets upon reactivating the themes folder (I never have), but you never know. Understand that this is a risk, but again, it’s one worth taking if no one can access your content.
Once you’ve made the change to the themes file, reload your site. If you still get the White Screen of Death, move on. It’s obviously not a theme issue either. At this point, contact your developer or hosting provider. Your white screen issue is more complicated than most.
But if your site comes back up with the themes folder changed (you’ll see your content with the WP default theme), then you know there is an issue with your previously active theme. You can either dig into it yourself or contact your developer for assistance.
At this point, if you have another theme that you want to use instead of the WP default, activate it while working on the issues with your main theme. Unless this theme has an issue as well, your site should display fine with it.
Question #5: Is your site still white screening after all of this?
If yes, get help.
It’s at this point you’ll definitely want to pull your developer and your host into the conversation. Let them know all of the troubleshooting steps you’ve already taken and give them any other pertinent information you’ve gleaned. They’ll appreciate it, and it will prevent them from wasting time doing work you’ve already done.
Then hopefully you can beat the White Screen of Death together in short order.
For additional information on this topic, check out Nick the Geek’s Site Recovery Tips and Tricks.