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WordPress and the White Screen of Death

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August 17th, 2010
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WordPress, WordPress Troubleshooting

Nothing can be more unsettling than an obvious problem with absolutely no error or diagnostic message, and that’s exactly what the infamous white screen of death is. Imagine that you were changing a setting on your blog, installing or upgrading a plugin, upgrading to the latest version of WordPress, or simply returning to your blog at the start of a new day, and you see nothing but white.

Unfortunately, the white screen of death became all too well-known in the WordPress community when a few incompatible plugins began to cause the issue after users upgraded to WordPress 3. Today, most white screens of death are either caused by plugins or themes (theme functions can sometimes interfere with core WordPress functions). If you want to immediately attempt to find the culprit, you can enable debug mode, but even that can produce nothing more than a blank screen, so why not attack the problem head on?

We’ll start with your plugins. If you have access to your admin panel, try deactivating all plugins. If you don’t have access to your admin panel, try manually resetting your plugins. If that resolves the issue, reactivate each one individually until you find the cause.

If your blog showed no signs of improvement after deactivating your plugins, then it’s time to move on to your currently active theme. If you have access to your admin panel, try switching to the Default theme (WordPress 1.5 – 2.9.2) or the Twenty Ten theme (WordPress 3.0 and higher). If you don’t have access to your admin panel, access your server via FTP or SFTP, navigate to /wp-content/themes/ and rename the directory of your currently active theme, which will force the Default theme (WordPress 1.5 – 2.9.2) or the Twenty Ten theme (WordPress 3.0 and higher) to activate. This will hopefully rule-out a theme-specific issue.

Though plugins and themes are the most common cause of the white screen of death, there are a few rare causes as well. If the above troubleshooting steps failed to resolve the issue, please contact the WordPress Support Forums.

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Comments

  1. Digital Agency (1 comments.) says:

    Great post. I’ve been lucky not to have ever dealt with the white screen of death, but I definitely know a few people that were pulling their hair. Very helpful. :)

    • Rick Rottman (10 comments.) says:

      If you ask me, unless you’ve felt that gut wrenching feeling when the browser stops loading and the screen turns pure white, you cannot claim to be a WordPress blogger. :)

  2. Pua (1 comments.) says:

    I ran into this exact problem recently, and didn’t know what was going on. Turns out, I’d put an extra blank line while editing functions.php, which caused the white screen.

  3. Justin Parra (1 comments.) says:

    This is a great article. I had this problem yesterday after a WordPress update. What helped me and a lot of other people too was going back and overwriting the functions.php file in your theme with the original. After that, everything was back to normal!

  4. Sherry (1 comments.) says:

    This is a great post; I used both of these methods. An additional method would be to view the source of the page – where did it stop loading? That can be a good indicator as well.

  5. Andrea_R (6 comments.) says:

    And check your error logs. :) A good amount of the time, server logs will show *exactly* what php function is causing the issue, and where.

  6. Larry (1 comments.) says:

    I do a lot of custom Thesis theme development and have this problem if I mess up my PHP syntax. I’ve found running a PHP validator on the code prior to saving it really helps and catches those stupid but all too common mistakes. It certainly doesn’t catch everything, but definitely catches enough to really help.

    I agree though that if you’re not doing custom development, 99% of the time it’s a plugin issue.

    • Rick Rottman (10 comments.) says:

      I had a theme do it once or twice. If you press Preview and it doesn’t load, needless to say, do not activate the theme.

      When it happens and I know it’s not the theme, I FTP in to change wp-content/plugins to wp-content/plugins999. WordPress will then automatically turn off all the plugins. I then re-create a new wp-content/plugins folder and one by one, move each plugin over by importance, activate it, and I see what happens.

      One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes it’s not just one specific plugin that causes the problem, but a combination of plugins combining to create a conflict.

  7. Greg Beatterman (1 comments.) says:

    Oh the white screen of death. It really can drive a blogger crazy. My usual experience with it, is when I try to install a new theme and then once you activate it, everything goes blank white and you can’t even see your dashboard anymore..great post

  8. Andreas Nurbo (1 comments.) says:

    One situation that I have encountered a bunch of times is White screen of death without any errors in code.
    The solution was to move plugins folder from wp-content, refresh frontend and then adding it back in. I have no idea why this have solved the problem it just does.

    • Gerson Perez says:

      It works… at least in this right very moment for me, it worked!
      Thanks.

  9. Mark says:

    I am in total agreement with this post. The Themes in particular appear to require the “proper” installation of older themes which can cause these pronlems. My first site that went wrong was more about problems with the plugins. My second site required me to fix the themes too! Quite frankly, some of the issues with themes and plugins are barely believable, including an issue with a blank line at the start of my wp-config.php file that foxed me for at least 2 days!

    Good luck with any upgrades to 3.0 and above!

    Mark

  10. Udegbunam Chukwudi (3 comments.) says:

    This white screen of death thingy isn’t helping my present fear of upgrading to WordPress 3.0 :-(.

  11. nomadone (2 comments.) says:

    I tried to post a simple non-spamy comment and it said my comment wasn’t accepted?

    • James Huff (109 comments.) says:

      If you posted the other comment around the same time as this, I checked both the spam queue and the trash and I couldn’t find it. Maybe it was just a momentary glitch?

  12. Kira Sherrine says:

    Thanks!! I built my own theme form scratch and when I loaded it I got the blank white screen. I was scared id have to rework the whole thing but then I saw on here that it might be the functions.php and it was… a syntax error!

  13. Christina (1 comments.) says:

    Also, check the file permissions. A client whose site had been up for quite some time…well the host went and changed the file permissions. So any time a plug-in was activated…the white screen of death appeared.

    Chris

  14. Paul McConnochie (1 comments.) says:

    Thankyou so much! Your troubleshooting tips helped enormously. My plugins acted up, so I deactivated them in MySQL. And did some updates. Now all is well. Many thanks!

    -Paul.



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