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WordPress is the most popular content management system because of its customizability and flexibility. And while it’s far from perfect, it’s generally easy to use.

WordPress errors can seem intimidating, but most are easy to fix. As long as you recognize the error and what caused it, you can perform basic troubleshooting independently.

This guide will show you how to diagnose and troubleshoot the three most common WordPress issues:

  • Internal server error
  • 403 forbidden error
  • White Screen of Death (WSoD)

Before you make any significant changes to your website, remember to create a backup of your files, so you have a copy if anything goes wrong.

After you’ve finished troubleshooting, clear your browser cache if the changes you made don’t reflect on your website.

Internal Server Error

An internal server error (also known as a 500 internal server error) is one of the most confusing errors a WordPress user can encounter. The error indicates something is wrong, but the server can’t identify what it is, so you’ll have to investigate it yourself.

What Causes the Issue

A corrupted .htaccess file is often the most common reason for an internal server error, but it can also be caused by theme or plugin issues. 

How To Fix the Issue

When you encounter an internal server error, try accessing the website root through the file transfer protocol (FTP).

Rename the .htaccess file to something else (such as .htaccess-old). Try reloading the website to check if this fixes the problem. If you’ve fixed the problem, reset your permalinks by visiting Settings > Permalinks to create a new .htaccess file.

If you’ve tried the first solution and your website still encounters an error, the problem might be incompatible or outdated themes and plugins.

To fix your plugins, deactivate them via FTP. Then, reactivate them one by one until you find the error. Once you find the errant plugin, report it to the developer. You may also try reverting to the previous theme used when the website was still working.

If none of the above fixes work, try re-uploading the /wp-admin and /wp-includes folders by re-installing WordPress. Upload these using an FTP client and select Overwrite to replace the old files.

403 Forbidden Error

A 403 forbidden error is shown to your website visitors if the server does not allow access to a specific page. There are different scenarios where you may encounter the error message:

  • When you are denied access on wp-admin or your WordPress login page
  • During the WordPress installation process
  • When you visit any page on your WordPress website

What Causes the Issue

Any of the following may cause a 403 forbidden error:

  • Poorly configured security plugins
  • Corrupt .htaccess file
  • Your WordPress hosting company has made accidental changes to its server settings
  • Incorrect file permissions on your server, which can make your web server think you don’t have permission to access those files

How To Fix the Issue

To fix a 403 forbidden error, try:

  • Checking your security plugins. These plugins can block several IP addresses if they think those addresses are malicious. 
  • Downloading a backup copy of your .htaccess file. Delete the existing file from your server and try accessing your website. If your website is accessible, the .htaccess file is corrupt. Create a .htaccess file as detailed in the section on internal server errors.
  • Consulting your hosting provider. If you suspect that there are incorrect file permissions on your server, ask your hosting provider to check file permissions.

White Screen of Death

The White Screen of Death (WSoD) appears as a blank screen with no information and is usually a sign of PHP or database errors.

What Causes the Issue

The following are often the cause of a WSoD:

  • Plugin compatibility issues
  • Problems with your WordPress theme, especially if you’ve activated a new theme or created a new website on WordPress 
  • Missing or renamed theme directory. This error usually occurs when developers create a local development environment and clone the database, which may be missing or renamed.

How To Fix the Issue

If you’re experiencing a WSoD, try these troubleshooting methods:

  • Deactivating your plugins. Similar to the internal server error, try deactivating and reactivating plugins to find the error’s root cause.
  • Activating your theme. Log in to your WordPress dashboard or access your website via FTP and look for the /wp-content/themes/ folder. (If you did the latter, rename the folder of the active theme.)
  • Accessing the wp-login.php or /wp-admin/ as an administrator. You should be able to see a WordPress error message saying something like “The theme directory “{theme-name}” does not exist.”

If you see this error message, try switching the admin side themes, renaming your directory, or editing the “theme” and “stylesheet” records in wp_options.

Less common errors + solutions

1: Error Establishing a Database Connection

Cause: Incorrect database credentials, database server unavailability, or corrupted database.
Fix: Verify database credentials in wp-config.php. Check database server status and restart if necessary. Repair corrupted database using phpMyAdmin or a plugin like WP-DBManager.

2: Login Page Refresh/Redirect Loop

Cause: Incorrect URL settings, caching issues, or plugin conflicts.

Fix: Check and correct site URL settings in the wp-config.php file. Clear browser cache and cookies. Deactivate caching plugins or clear their cache. Disable plugins one by one to identify the conflicting plugin.

3: DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN Error

Cause: DNS misconfiguration. The DNS settings for the domain may be incorrect or improperly configured. ISP (Internet Service Provider) issues: Your ISP’s DNS servers might be experiencing problems or unable to resolve the domain. Browser cache or DNS cache: Cached DNS information in your browser or local system may be outdated or incorrect.

Fix: The error “DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN” is not specific to WordPress but there are many basic troubleshooting steps to solve the issue. The most common solution is to restart the router and modem, followed by clearing your browser’s cache and cookies, and flushing the DNS cache.

4: 404 Page Not Found

Cause: Permalink structure issues, deleted pages, or broken links.

Fix: Update permalinks by navigating to Settings -> Permalinks and saving the changes. Check for deleted pages and restore them if necessary. You may also need to review content within each blog post / page and resolve broken links by updating the destination. You can also redirect pages to preserve search engine optimization value for pages that no longer exist.

5: HTTP Image Upload Error

Cause: File size limits, incorrect file permissions, or conflicting plugins.

Fix: Increase file size limits in php.ini or using a plugin like Increase Maximum Upload File Size. Verify and correct file permissions for the upload directory. Disable conflicting plugins or switch to a default theme.

6: Memory Exhausted Error

Cause: Insufficient PHP memory limit, resource-intensive plugins or themes, or large image sizes.

Fix: Increase PHP memory limit in php.ini or wp-config.php. Deactivate memory-intensive plugins or switch to a lightweight theme. Optimize images using compression or plugins like Smush.

Final Thoughts: Troubleshooting Guide for Most Common WordPress Issues

Although WordPress is generally stable, it’s normal to encounter errors sometimes. These issues may seem intimidating, but with this guide, you can have your website up and running in no time.

Most common WordPress errors can be prevented by updating your plugins and themes, checking your .htaccess files, and keeping your website secure.

The web hosting provider you choose also plays a significant role in keeping your website safe.

Build a secure website in only 10 minutes with a WordPress hosting plan today.

  • Minal Agarwal

    Minal is the Director of Brand Marketing at Bluehost. With over 15 years of business experience in the technology industry, she strives to create solutions and content that fulfill a customer's needs. She is a dog mom and a stickler for calendaring.

    Education
    Masters in Marketing Management
    Previous Experience
    Strategic Partnerships, Customer Success, Events and Community
  • Tiffani Anderson

    Tiffani is a Content and SEO Manager for the Bluehost brand. With over 10 years experience across all facets of content and brand marketing, she strives to combine concepts from brand marketing with engaging content through the lens of SEO.

    Education
    University of North Texas
    Previous Experience
    Content Marketing, SEO, Social Media
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5 Comments

  1. Great guide! Troubleshooting WordPress errors can be daunting, but your tips make it look easy. One perspective to add is to use WordPress debugging mode. By adding define(‘WP_DEBUG’, true); to your wp-config.php file, you can display errors and warnings that may help you diagnose and fix the issue.

  2. That was a great tip about the 500 Internal Server Error. It never occurred to me that my htaccess file could be corrupt, as this was a new WordPress install. I also had never known that you could rename (disable) the htaccess file to regain access to the WordPress website, and that saving the permalinks would recreate that file. This was exactly what I needed. My website is working again. Thank you!

  3. Riley Morar Reply

    Sometimes my website loads a white screen with this message – 504 gateway timeout error. Is this related to WordPress?

    Thanks

    • Kyle Bombardier Reply

      Hi Riley, a 504 Gateway Timeout Error is not exclusive to WordPress; it can occur with any website, regardless of the platform it’s built on. When it does happen on a WordPress website, it could be due to the web server failing to get a timely response from a secondary server, due to plugin/theme conflicts, insufficient server resources, slow external APIs, or heavy database queries. Please contact our support team if it continues to happen!

  4. Yes, classic 403!! I was playing with godaddy, hostinger and cloudflare. even though it wasn’t my first time to wordpress setup, but incorrect htaccess file has never leaves me alone. :)) In most times, it quickly solves the 403 issue

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