White Screen of Death in WordPress

Billie Hillier

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White Screen of Death in WordPress

We’ve all been there: you switch on your device, anticipating the usual dance of colorful pixels to bring it to life.

Instead, you’re met with a stark white screen, as lifeless as a blank canvas.

This eerily silent communicator of issues is what tech folks call the ‘White Screen of Death.’

As eerie as its name sounds, it’s a problem that demands attention, but not panic.

So let’s dive right in and unravel the mystery behind this phenomenon.

White Screen of Death in WordPress

White Screen of Death in WordPress

White Screen of Death Overview

The ‘White Screen of Death’ is a widespread term in the digital realm, referring to an error that renders your computer or website unresponsive, displaying nothing more than a blank white screen. While it can give even the most tech-savvy amongst us a momentary heart palpitation, the ‘White Screen of Death’ is usually solvable. It’s a symptom rather than the disease itself, acting as a crucial signpost that there’s something amiss in your system.

What is the White Screen of Death?

In its simplest form, the ‘White Screen of Death’ is a critical error or a system failure that results in your screen turning completely white without displaying any icons, error messages, or any other elements. It’s like walking into a room where you expect to find all your belongings, only to find it eerily empty.

While the ‘White Screen of Death’ is prevalent among several platforms, including computers, smartphones, and websites, it’s most famously associated with WordPress sites. Nevertheless, the cause and the potential fix can vary significantly across different platforms and systems.

Why It Happens

Diving deeper into why the ‘White Screen of Death’ occurs, we must first understand that it’s often the outcome of several potential culprits. It’s a way for your system to say, “Something’s wrong, and I can’t go any further.” Here’s a deeper look:

  1. Plugin or theme conflicts: Incompatible or poorly coded plugins or themes can lead to conflicts, resulting in the white screen. When a plugin or theme conflicts with another component of your WordPress site, it may cause a fatal error and result in the white screen.
  2. PHP errors: WordPress is built using PHP, and if there are syntax errors, coding mistakes, or compatibility issues in the PHP code of your theme or plugin, it can cause a white screen. PHP errors often occur after updating plugins, themes, or the WordPress core.
  3. Exhausted memory limit: If your WordPress site exceeds the allocated memory limit defined in the PHP configuration, it can cause the white screen. This usually happens when you have a large number of plugins or a resource-intensive theme.
  4. Corrupted files: If any core WordPress files or important theme/plugin files become corrupted or incomplete, it can lead to the white screen issue.
  5. Server-related problems: Server misconfigurations, connectivity issues, or problems with the web hosting environment can sometimes trigger the white screen of death.

How to Fix It

The solution to the ‘White Screen of Death’ largely depends on its cause. Here are some general steps you can follow:

  1. Disable plugins: Access your WordPress site via FTP or file manager, navigate to the “wp-content” directory, and rename the “plugins” folder to something like “plugins_deactivated.” This will deactivate all the plugins at once. Check if the white screen issue is resolved. If it is, then reactivate the plugins one by one to identify the problematic plugin.
  2. Switch to a default theme: Temporarily switch your active theme to a default WordPress theme (e.g., Twenty Twenty-One). If the white screen disappears, it indicates a problem with your theme. In that case, you can contact the theme developer for assistance or try reinstalling the theme.
  3. Increase memory limit: Edit the “wp-config.php” file located in the root directory of your WordPress installation and add the following line before the “/* That’s all, stop editing! */” comment: define('WP_MEMORY_LIMIT', '256M'); This increases the memory limit to 256MB. If it doesn’t resolve the issue, you may need to contact your web hosting provider to increase the PHP memory limit for your site.
  4. Reinstall WordPress core files: Download a fresh copy of WordPress from wordpress.org and replace all the core files on your server, except the “wp-config.php” and “wp-content” directory. Make sure to keep a backup of your existing files before proceeding.
  5. Check server logs: If the above steps don’t resolve the issue, you can check the server error logs for any specific error messages that might help identify the cause of the white screen. Your web hosting provider can assist you in accessing the server logs.

Best Practices to Prevent

While there’s no foolproof way to avoid the ‘White Screen of Death,’ certain practices can minimize its likelihood:

  1. Keep WordPress Updated: Make sure you are using the latest version of WordPress, as updates often include bug fixes and security patches that can help prevent such issues.
  2. Update Themes and Plugins: Regularly update your themes and plugins to their latest versions, as outdated versions can cause conflicts and compatibility problems.
  3. Use Reliable Themes and Plugins: Choose themes and plugins from reputable sources, as poorly coded or unsupported themes/plugins can lead to conflicts and errors.
  4. Activate Debug Mode: Enable WordPress debug mode to display error messages instead of a blank screen. This will help you identify the specific issue causing the white screen. 
  5. Increase Memory Limit: A low PHP memory limit can cause the white screen. 
  6. Check for Plugin Compatibility: Before installing a new plugin, ensure it is compatible with your current version of WordPress and other installed plugins. Read user reviews and check the plugin’s support forum for any reported conflicts.
  7. Disable/Remove Problematic Plugins and Themes: If you suspect a specific plugin or theme is causing the white screen, deactivate or remove it and check if the issue persists. You can do this by accessing your WordPress admin dashboard and navigating to the “Plugins” or “Themes” section.
  8. Test with a Default Theme: Temporarily switch to a default WordPress theme (such as Twenty Twenty-One) to determine if the issue is theme-related. If the white screen disappears with the default theme, you may need to investigate the theme causing the problem or contact its developer for support.
  9. Enable Error Logging: Configure WordPress to log errors to a file. 
  10. Use a Child Theme: If you modify your theme’s files, it’s best to create a child theme. This way, when the parent theme is updated, your changes won’t be lost, reducing the chances of conflicts and errors. Learn more about Child Themes.

While the ‘White Screen of Death’ can be daunting, understanding its causes and knowing how to address it can turn this tech terror into a manageable glitch.

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