Tech Tip: How to Fix The White Screen of Death

A WordPress site owner’s worst nightmare: you go to visit your site and all that  loads is a blank white page. Oh no.
When your WordPress site loads only a white page, this usually means there has been a PHP fatal error. This means the PHP failed to render your site. Sounds intimidating, right? It’s actually pretty easy to fix. Nine times out of ten, a WordPress site will get a “white screen of death” simply because a theme or plugin is outdated. Thankfully you have the tools to fix this!
Since the white screen of death is caused by PHP errors, you can easily narrow down what is breaking the site. If you go to your domain in a browser followed by “/error_log”, you’ll be able to view the PHP error on your site. For example, if your domain is “www.example.com”, you can go to “www.example.com/error_log”. Once you’ve opened your domain’s PHP error_log, look at the bottom entry on this page to view the most recent PHP error.
Here is a breakdown of the information you’ll see from left to right in the PHP error_log.

    1. The date and time of the error.
    2. The type of PHP error.
      • The type of PHP errors to be on the lookout for are “PHP Fatal error” or “PHP Parse error”.
    3. The reason for the PHP error.
    4. The file path and line number the PHP error occurred on.

Here is an example PHP Fatal error that we can analyze:

[15-May-2016 17:02:35 UTC] PHP Fatal error:  Call to undefined function get_header() in /home/username/public_html/wp-content/themes/action-lite/archive.php on line 1

Now that you know what a PHP Fatal error looks like, you can analyze the file path and discern which theme or plugin is causing the error. As you can see in the example above , the file path the error is occurring on is under the WordPress themes folder for the “action-lite” theme. You can tell if the error is on a theme or a plugin by reading the file path. The file path will include “wp-content/themes” or “wp-content/plugins” followed by the respective theme or plugin name.
Once you’ve figured out which theme or plugin is breaking your site, you should then check the site for updates.

  1. Login to your cPanel at https://login.bluehost.com.
  2. Click  “WordPress Tools” from the top menu.
  3. On the next page, be sure the correct site is selected under the “Select WordPress” section.
    1. If not on the correct site, use the dropdown menu to the right of the domain to change the site you are managing.
  4. The homepage for “WordPress tools” is on the “Updates” link. Under the section that says “Updates Available”, select “Update” for WordPress.
  5. On the left side, click the respective “Themes” or “Plugins” link.
  6. To the right of each out-of-date theme or plugin, select the “Update” button.

After updating the theme or plugin the PHP error was on, check your site to see if it loads. Usually updating the theme or plugin is enough to fix your site!
If your site still loads the white page after running updates, it may be best to try the following.

  • For themes that are still throwing errors when you check the PHP error_log, you should set the theme to a default WordPress one. Default WordPress themes are named after the year they were released and are easy to tell apart. For example, “twentysixteen” or “twentyfifteen” are both default WordPress themes.
  • For plugins that are still throwing PHP errors after running an update, deactivate the plugin through the “WordPress tools” >> “Plugins” section by selecting the “On” button to the right of the plugin name. This will switch the plugin from being “On” to “Off”.

At this point, switching the theme or deactivating the plugin causing the PHP error will make your site active. View your site in the browser to confirm!
If the deactivated plugin or theme is necessary to your site, it’s best to email the developer with the PHP error from the PHP error_log. For premium purchased themes or plugins, the website the theme or plugin was purchased through should have contact information listed for the developer. For any free plugins or themes available on wordpress.org, you can email plugins@wordpress.org or themes@wordpress.org respectively and they will assist you with getting an updated version.

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Rachael Muirhead
Rachael Muirhead | Contributor

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