The WordPress white screen of death

My first experience

Are you a WordPress.org user? Have you experienced the WordPress white screen of death yet? Apparently, it’s something that many WordPress.org users experience at least once. Fortunately, it’s not as frequent as Microsoft Windows’ blue screen of death used to be. Do you remember the blue screen of death? Do you remember the depressing feeling in the pit of your belly? That’s how I felt when I saw the blank white screen.

The WordPress white screen of death Gary Lum
The WordPress white screen of death

Until Wednesday (2017-04-05) I had never seen nor heard of the WordPress white screen of death. I’ve been blogging since 2010 and moved to a self-hosted site with WordPress.org a few years ago. How did I not know about this? I guess I’ve been really fortunate.

What is the WordPress white screen of death?

More often than not, the first experience is when you are trying to access your dashboard. All you see is a white blank screen. The URL bar has the correct address (domain.com/wp-admin) but all you see is white when what you should see is either a dialogue box asking for your username and password or your dashboard itself.

The usual dialogue box when entering the WordPress dashboard Gary Lum
The usual dialogue box when entering the WordPress dashboard

For some people, it also happens when they try to view their site. At first, I thought it was just my dashboard because I could view my homepage and I could view blog posts. But then I thought, I wonder if those pages are just in my cache. So I cleared my cache and yep, there it was, the WordPress white screen of death.

What to do?

I frantically scrambled. I was in Google faster than I eat a bowl of laksa. I tried “WordPress dashboard blank”. That took me to a variety of sites which explained the problem and how to fix it.

What’s the problem?

The most common problem is a problematic plugin and then a problematic theme. By problematic I mean a conflict or a corruption.

I had not installed any new plugins or themes and so the thought of going through the fifty or so plugins I’ve accumulated filled me with despair.

Then I remembered that I had set through Jetpack and the WordPress.com reader to auto-update some plugins. M guess was the most recent plugin was the culprit.

But how do I figure out which plugin if I can’t get to my WordPress dashboard?

The answer according to all the sites I read was to use an ftp utility app and get into the file system. That sounded easy enough, and it was. If you don’t have an ftp app, you can find plenty of free ones. Once you’ve opened your app it’s a matter of entering your site name, your username and password. This is the host server information, not your WordPress.org username and password.

How to fix?

I found the plugins folder and renamed it to plugins.old This disables all the plugins.

I tested the site and I could access my dashboard. Hurray! I opened the plugins.old folder and clicked on the “modified date” tab to see which was the last plugin modified. It turned out to be a plugin that links Adobe Lightroom with WordPress. I deactivated that plugin and then renamed plugins.old to plugins and sure enough, everything worked again.

I then deleted the trouble making plugin which I had not used for a while anyway.

Lesson identified and learnt

So I learnt about the WordPress white screen of death. I learnt about using file transfer protocol (ftp) to access my site easily and make changes.

This experience has also taught me to review my plugins and deactivate and delete those I do not need. It also taught me a pitfall of selecting automatic update of plugins. While it is less convenient, manually updating plugins may cause less angst in the long run.

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7 thoughts on “The WordPress white screen of death

    • garydlum Post author

      If you’re not using too many plugins on your site it probably won’t be a problem. I just install them and play with them without too much thought. I will be more careful now.

  1. Little Monster Girl Reply

    This happens to me on LMGcomic.com sometimes when I bork up editing widgets! But what I do is reinstall a backup and go from there. I try to make a backup first before I do any work, but sometimes I’ve had to use an old one.

    • garydlum Post author

      I never realised it was a thing until this week. I have back ups and now I can use FTP it should make things easier.

    • garydlum Post author

      Very true. A backup has bailed me out on other projects many times 😃

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