A blank drawing pad, similar to the White Screen of Death.

The White Screen of Death: Why It Happens, and How to Fix It in WordPress

The ‘White Screen of Death’ (WSoD) is a horrible error for a website owner to encounter – one of the worst, in fact – especially if you don’t have the knowledge to fix it. With only a blank screen staring back at you, there’s absolutely no indication of what’s happened, and no way of knowing what to do next.

However, like the childhood monsters lurking under your bed, there’s nothing to fear about the WSoD once you confront the problem head-on. All it takes is a logical process to root out the cause and get your website back online.

In this article, we’ll look at what causes the WSoD, before running through six steps you can take to banish it forever, making everything right with the world once again.

Let’s get started!

What Causes the White Screen of Death?

In a nutshell, the WSoD is a completely blank screen that greets you when trying to access your website. While there are many potential causes, you’ll typically find the issue is down to one of the following three:

  1. Incompatibility between your theme and a plugin (or plugins), or between plugins.
  2. A poorly coded theme or plugin.
  3. A low memory limit set by your hosting company (mostly seen in shared hosting environments).

Based on these reasons, we can start to build a plan of attack for dealing with the WSoD – so, let’s get cracking!

6 Steps to Fix the White Screen of Death on Your WordPress Website

There are six steps you’ll potentially need to carry out to fix your WSoD. We say “potentially”, because it’s likely you won’t need to carry out every step to fix the problem, so you can breathe a little easier! Furthermore, there’s nothing stopping you from tackling these steps in any order you like if you suspect a certain cause – we’ve just presented them in a logical order based on the most likely of issues.

Finally, in order to complete these steps, you’ll need a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) manager. Don’t worry, they’re simple to use, and just as easy as finding files on your computer. Once you’re ready, you’ll need to open your FTP manager of choice – we prefer using the open-source FileZilla, though there are plenty of others out there to choose from.

Step 1: Modify Your Memory Limit

Your WordPress hosting provider will allocate a certain amount of memory to your installed plugins, or for files that execute scripts (such as JavaScript), to enable them to operate correctly. If this is set too low, it could potentially cause the WSoD.

It’s worth mentioning upfront that some hosts won’t let you alter your memory directly – in these cases you’ll have to drop them a line and ask them to do it for you.

To change your memory settings, you’ll need to open up your FTP manager, and connect to your server using the correct credentials (usually found within your host’s admin panel). Once entered, click Quickconnect:

Logging into your FTP manager.

You’ll see your website’s folders and files on the right hand side, so navigate to your ‘home’ folder – likely called public_html or www. Once there look for a file called wp-config.php. Right-click it and select View/Edit. You may see a prompt asking you to choose a text editor, so select the default for now:

The config menu with View/Edit highlighted.

Once the file is open, type the following code on the next line after <?php:

define(‘WP_MEMORY_LIMIT’, ‘64M’);

This tells your WordPress server to allocate a little more memory to your plugins. Having saved and closed the file, browse to your website. If you’re still experiencing the WSoD, you’ll need to move onto the next step.

Step 2: Check for Incompatible Plugins

Plugins are an inherent part of WordPress, but they can also be the cause of website errors, including the WSoD. Fortunately, problematic plugins are quite simple to troubleshoot. Start by navigating to the wp-content folder within your FTP client:

The wp-content folder.

Once inside, right-click on the plugins folder, select Rename, and append -deactivated to the folder name before pressing the Return key:

Renaming the plugin folder using the right-click menu.

The idea behind this is to stop WordPress from loading your plugins while you check for errors. Open your website again, and if it’s back online, a plugin was the cause of the WSoD.

From here, rename your plugins-deactivated folder back to plugins – which will reactivate everything – then follow the above renaming process for each individual plugin within your plugins folder, one by one, until you find the one that causes the WSoD.

Once you’ve identified the faulty plugin, you’ll need to decide if the plugin is vital to your workflow. If it is, re-download the latest version, try reaching out to the developer for advice, or replace it with an alternative. Of course, if the plugin isn’t vital, trash it.

It’s worth mentioning that there could be more than one plugin causing the WSoD, in which case, you’ll have to identify both via the above approach.

Step 3: Check for Incompatible Themes

If your WSoD woes are not memory or plugin related, the next step is to rule out your themes. Fortunately, this follows the same process as plugins – namely navigating to wp-content, and renaming your current theme’s folder to force WordPress to load the default Twenty Sixteen theme:

Renaming a theme using the right-click menu.

If you you have deleted Twenty Sixteen, you’ll need to upload it again manually into your themes folder. Once done, check your site again. If it’s back online, a compatibility error between your theme and WordPress is the likely cause. At this point, you can attempt to contact the developer for advice, or choose an alternative theme – we suggest one with quality support and regular updates, such as Avada.

If you’re still staring at a blank screen, it’s onto the next step.

Step 4: Check for Blank Space Within Your Files

If you’ve been editing certain files such as functions.php and wp-config.php, blank lines within them can also cause the WSoD. For wp-config.php, this is relatively easy to fix. Using your FTP manager, navigate to the file and check for blank lines at the very start (before the opening <?php tag), and at the very end. Simply deleting them, then saving the file, should be enough.

The functions.php file is found within the wp-includes folder, and if you’ve been editing it, adding a rogue blank space is easily done. Unfortunately, due to its size, you may have trouble locating the offending line. The most practical solution is to replace your existing functions.php file with an unchanged version, then once again checking your website to see if the WSoD has disappeared.

Step 5: Enable Error Reporting

WordPress’ debug mode is like a powerful telescope, enabling you to hone in on exactly what’s wrong with your website. This step is handy, even if your WSoD problems are sorted, so let’s take a look.

In your FTP manager, open up your wp-config.php file once more, and underneath the opening <?php tag, add the following code:

define(‘WP_DEBUG’, true);

define(‘WP_DEBUG_LOG’, true);

define(‘WP_DEBUG_DISPLAY’, false);

Simply put, the first line activates the debug mode, the second tells WordPress to save a debug.log file in your home folder, and the third tells WordPress not to display these errors on your site for all and sundry to see.

Each error within your debug.log file is pretty easy to interpret – the error shows the location within your WordPress directory along with a timestamp, and it’s likely going to be a theme or plugin that slipped through the net earlier in the investigation. To remedy it, follow the steps given previously, and the WSoD should be banished for good.

Step 6: Check Your File Permissions

Finally, while very rare, your WordPress install may have the wrong file permissions set somewhere along the line. You can view the permissions for a file or folder by right-clicking File permissions… within your FTP manager:

Accessing file permissions from the right-click menu.

Folders and files have different permissions represented by a number. Folders should look like this…

An example of file permissions reading 755.

…while files should look like this:

An example of file permissions reading 644.

Going deep on file permissions is outside the scope of this article – for an in-depth read, check out this post if you wish to understand them further.

Because it’s a rare cause of the WSoD – not to mention the unenviable job of checking each individual file – if you’re not comfortable with this step, you may want to skip to our final section.

What to Do if You Can’t Fix the White Screen of Death

If you’re still experiencing the WSoD after carrying out all of these steps, other than clearing your browser’s cache, you may need to bite the bullet and contact your hosting provider for support.

If you’re using a trusted hosting provider, you’ll find the resolution quick and painless – and more importantly, you’ll finally have your website back online.

Conclusion

99% of the time, your WordPress website will work flawlessly. However, it’s the 1% that’ll potentially leave you tearing your hair out – especially when dealing with the White Screen of Death, which doesn’t offer up many clues as to how to rectify it.

You may not have known how to fix it previously, but with our guide, you’ll be back on track in no time. Let’s recap the steps you need to take:

  1. Modify your memory limit.
  2. Check for incompatible plugins and themes.
  3. Enable debug mode to glean any information about the error.
  4. Check for blank spaces within your WordPress files.
  5. Check your file permissions.

Do you have any further methods for fixing the White Screen of Death? Let’s hear them in the comments section below!

Image credit: 1681551.

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