How to Fix WordPress White Screen: Tutorial & Case Studies

How to Fix WordPress White Screen

Have you ever faced the WordPress White Screen of Death?

In the past two months, I have received two troubling messages from website owners. One was a text and the other, a phone call. Both had the same problem: a self hosted WordPress powered website with a white screen.

If you have ever experienced the WordPress white screen of death, you know how alarming it can be. If you are seeing that white screen now, know you are not alone. A quick Google search for WordPress white screen will brings up thousands of results.

Let’s take a close look at common causes of the WordPress white screen and steps you can take to resolve the problem. I will also share two case studies about the websites I mentioned earlier with the troubleshooting steps, causes, and the solutions for each one’s problem.

Common Causes of the WordPress White Screen

Common causes of the dreaded white screen in WordPress include:

According to WordPress.org, “Both PHP errors and database errors can manifest as a white screen, a blank screen with no information, commonly known in the WordPress community as the WordPress White Screen of Death (WSOD).”

Let’s dive in and look at each one to help troubleshoot what the problem might be.

Plugin Related Issues That Cause White Screens in WordPress

A plugin may be causing the problem. To quickly determine if a plugin compatibility issue is the cause, remain the plugins folder either by FTP or through cPanel to disable all plugins.

FTP – How to rename the plugins folder:

  1. Navigate and open your website’s wp-content folder.
  2. Rename the plugins folder.
Renaming a folder via FTP

Step 1: Renaming a folder via FTP

How to rename a folder via FTP

Step 2: Renaming a folder via FTP

In the example above, I used the FTP program, WS_FTP Professional. I right clicked on the plugins folder that brought up a menu of different options. I selected the Rename option.

cPanel – How to rename the plugins folder:

  1. Log into your website’s cPanel, locate Files and click to open the File Manager folder.
  2. Next, click the “www” folder.
  3. On the next screen, locate and open the wp-content folder.
  4. Finally, locate the plugins folder, right click it and rename it. For example, you could rename it to Xplugins.
How to rename a folder via cPanel

Step 1: Renaming a folder with cPanel

Open the wp-content folder

Step 3: Open the wp-content folder.

Step 4:  Rename the plugins folder

Step 4: Rename the plugins folder

If renaming the plugins folder solves the problem of the white screen, you know that it is plugin related. The next steps are to:

  1. Rename the plugin back to the original name, plugins.
  2. Log into your WordPress dashboard
  3. Go to your plugins page
  4. Disable each plugin one by one and check each time to isolate the plugin that is causing the problem.

Once you have determined what plugin caused the white screen, you may want to delete it and find another one that might do the same thing.

Theme Related Issues That Cause White Screens in WordPress

Open Appearance > ThemesIf a plugin incompatibility is not the problem, it may be a theme related issue. The first step is to:

  1. Log into your WordPress dashboard
  2. Go to Appearance > Themes
  3. Activate a different theme to see if this solves the white screen problem.

If you are unable to log into your WordPress dashboard administration area, you can log into cPanel or via FTP and rename your theme folder. To use cPanel:

  1. Log into cPanel and locate Files and open the File Manager folder.
  2. Locate and open the “www” folder.
  3. Next, click the wp-content folder.
  4. Locate and open the themes folder
  5. Finally, right click your theme folder and rename it. The default theme will be activated if present.

If the default theme loads fine, your theme is the problem. You may decide to use a different theme or to troubleshoot further. Please see case #1 below.

Failed Updates

A failed WordPress auto update can also cause the blank white screen of death. If this is the case, re-upload the WordPress core files manually to see if this solves the problem.

Another example of a failed update happened when I was updating Yoast SEO through the WordPress dashboard. The update appeared to time out and my screen went blank. I renamed the plugin folder via FTP and the website came back up immediately. To fix the problem, I downloaded the plugin from the WordPress Plugin repository and manually uploaded it. The problem was resolved.

Diving Deeper

Opening up your website to a blank page is alarming. By using the troubleshooting steps above, you should be able to quickly fix the problem. Sometimes you may need to take additional steps to discover and correct the situation.

The following are two actual case studies that I mentioned earlier and how the problems were solved.

Case Study 1: Theme Based Problem

I received a text at 4:40 pm one day that a client’s website was gone. I immediately called the web hosting company to start troubleshooting and ruled out server problems and a potential hacking issue. The next steps were to:

  1. Disable the plugins. This did not correct the problem.
  2. Activate a different theme. The new theme corrected the white screen.

Next, I re-enable the theme and checked the website. I then discovered that the home page was the only page of the website that was blank. The problem was theme related.

This site was using the free version of the Responsive Theme by Cyberchimps and had been working fine for almost two years. Contributing factors that may have influenced the situation were:

  • An auto WordPress security and maintenance update a few days earlier.
  • A theme update 2 days earlier.

Next, I checked the theme’s custom settings. It has the ability to override how WordPress displays the front page of a website by enabling a custom front page. There is a checkbox that was checked to override how WordPress displays the front page. The text for the front page was in the “Content area” of this theme’s custom settings.

  1. I disabled the theme’s override check mark and the default theme’s home page appeared.
  2. Then, I enabled a separate “home” page with the home page’s text.
  3. Next, I set the WordPress Settings > Reading to the current page “home” page.
  4. Finally, I set that “home” page template to Content/Sidebar.

The website now works as it should.

As for why this theme’s home page at the previous settings suddenly went blank after working fine for nearly two years, I can only make an educated conclusion. It was definitely theme related.

Case Study 2: Plugin Related Problem

The phone rang early one morning. This website owner was alerted that his entire website was blank by a potential client.

The website was launched in late 2013 and was running the Twenty Ten theme. No updates had been made to WordPress, the plugins, or the theme since 2014. The first steps included examining the website to see if it had been hacked. It did not appear that the site had been compromised.

The next steps were to disable the plugins and activate a different theme. Neither corrected the problem.

I noticed that the .htaccess file had been updated recently. I examined the file and discovered a large number of directives. A security plugin had been auto writing to this file to lock out IP addresses that were trying to log into the dashboard.

When I disabled (re-named) the .htaccess file, the website came back up.

I cleaned up the .htaccess file and uploaded it to the server. The website worked as it should.

Wrapping Up

The WordPress white screen of death can send shivers of panic down one’s spin. By using the troubleshooting steps of disabling plugins, changing themes, and re-installing WordPress, you should be well on your way to solving the mystery.

Final Thoughts

  • Fresh backups of your WordPress installation, theme, and plugins are critical in case something goes wrong.
  • Consider a website monitoring program to alert you if a problem arises with your website. One free option is ChangeDetection.com. You can set it to monitor your home page. Whenever there is a change, if it is a text change or white screen, you will receive an email notification.

Over to You

Have you ever experienced a blank white screen in WordPress? Please share your story in the comments below. You may be able to help others with the steps you took to fix the problem.

How to Fix WordPress White Screen: Tutorial & Case Studies was last modified: April 13th, 2016 by Robin Strohmaier

Fascinated with the growing potential and power of the Internet, Robin founded R & R Web Design LLC in the Chicago area in 2000. As creative director, she is passionate about helping others reach their Internet objectives through a strategic online presence with results driven custom web design, ethical SEO, and social media marketing.

This article was published on: April 13, 2016 and was last modified April 13, 2016
Posted in Tutorials, WordPress
10 comments on “How to Fix WordPress White Screen: Tutorial & Case Studies
  1. Robin, in my opinion, that “white screen of death” is one of the scariest errors that can happen to a website owner. Your advice is fantastic! I agree that a website monitoring program is essential because it’s impossible to continually monitor your own site. Plus, a cached version of your site may give you a false sense of security.

    This weekend I experienced the “white screen of death” when attempting to log into the WordPress dashboard. That’s another scary situation! Within 5 minutes I received a Pingdom alert that the site was down. What a relief as I had no idea! So thanks for a really helpful post. I’m sure many WordPress website owners will bookmark it and refer to it often!

    • Hi Michelle,
      I agree. That white screen is one of the scariest errors that can happen to a website owner. I’m honored that you think this advice is fantastic!

      Pingdom is another great tool to monitor websites. I have been using it on a number of websites and it does bring the piece of mind that I will be alerted if something goes wrong.

      I’m sorry to hear that you experienced the “white screen of death” this past weekend. Did you discover what the problem was?

      Thank you for taking the time to read this – and for your comment!

      ~ Robin

  2. Robin, When I got the Pingdom notification that the site was down, I realized of course I couldn’t log into the dashboard! So your advice to check the server first is right on! I’ve never had a site go down while I was attempting to log into it.

  3. ikechi says:

    Hi Robin

    Just last week, I experienced the White screen of death, It was plugin related and I had to remove the plugin before my site was back up.

    Love the tips that you shared and I wish I had these steps. Thanks for sharing. Take care and have a swell week.

    • Hi Ikechi,
      I’m glad to hear that you were able to troubleshoot and fix the plugin problem. That white screen can be alarming, can’t it?

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story. I hope you have a great weekend!
      ~ Robin

  4. Neat fix, Robin!

    I wouldn’t have thought about renaming my plugins or themes folder.

    I’ve definitely installed a plugin before and had it mess up everything… I’ve usually sorted to deleting that newly installed plugin via FTP, or installing an older backup of my website.

    But yeah, if you’re not sure which plugin or theme is the problem, that’s a great idea. Thanks!

    Brent

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