Sometimes updating plugins on a WordPress site can result in what’s called the “White Screen of Death” (WSOD).
This post can help you fix the white screen of death that may appear on your WordPress site when trying to update a plugin or plugins.
What is the White Screen of Death on WordPress?
If you were updating a WordPress plugin, you may experience either the “White Screen of Death” or a “Maintenance mode” white screen with a message that reads “Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute.”
This can be both scary and annoying.
The WSOD is scary because your site seems to be completely offline… The “Maintenance mode” screen can be temporary or your site can get stuck in maintenance mode.
In both cases it’s super annoying because you can’t even get access to your WordPress backend. This means you aren’t able to easily figure out what’s going in your dashboard. And you can’t login to your WordPress site through the usual www.yoursite.com/wp-login.php.
Either of these “white screen” situations could be caused by:
- A plugin causes a conflict with the site or another plugin.
- A plugin is not maintained or so out of date that it is no longer supported.
- A WordPress site running out of resources on a shared server.
Fixing the White Screen of Death
We’re going to use a process called “file transfer protocol”, or FTP to disable all your plugins.
This will allow you to access your site again.
FTP lets you access the WordPress files for your website by going directly to the server where they are hosted.
If you have FTP set up for your site already, great.
If not, you can easily download and use a free FTP software program called “FileZilla” using these instructions:
- Download FileZilla and install it on your Mac or PC.
- From the main FileZilla window (see above), enter the FTP credentials for your site: Host, Username and Password. (Optional: You may also need to enter a Port #).
- Click the blue “Quickconnect” button
- It may take a few seconds or even a minute for FileZilla to connect to your server. When it successfully connects you will see a bunch of file folders appear on the right side of the FileZilla screen. These are the file folders for your WordPress site.
- On the right hand side of the screen you will see “Remote site:” Underneath “Remote site:” you will see two boxes on top of each other with file folders for your WordPress site.
- Double click on the “root” folder which is usually in the “public_html” folder.
- In the “public_html” folder, find the “wp-content” folder.
- In the “wp-content” folder, find the “plugins” folder.
- Rename the “plugins” folder by right clicking > rename and change it from “plugins” to “pluginsOLD”.
- This deactivates all your WordPress plugins.
- Try to login again on your WordPress site by going to www.yoursite.com/wp-login.php/
- If you can log in again, you have confirmed that the problem was, in fact, a plugin and not something worse. Yay!
- Go back to your FileZilla window and change back the name of your “pluginsOLD” file folder to “plugins”, the way it was originally.
- Now you should be able to go back into your dashboard WordPress site dashboard.
- Go to the “plugins” section in your WordPress dashboard and start to manually activate each plugin one at a time. This will help you identify the plugin that caused the problem, if you do not know which plugin it was that caused the WSOD to occur.
- Remember the name of each plugin as you activate them one by one. Keep a written log of any errors or notifications you may see.
- If you experience another “White Screen of Death”, you know it was the most recently activated plugin that caused it.
- To fix this, go back to your “plugins” folder in FileZilla. Double click the “plugins” folder and find the name of the plugin that caused the WSOD.
- Change the name of this specific plugin file folder (the same way you did for the “plugins” folder earlier when you changed it to “pluginsOLD”). For example, the folder for the plugin “Jetpack” would be changed from “Jetpack” to “JetpackOLD”.
- This will deactivate the offending plugin. Now you should be able to go back to your dashboard and delete the bad plugin.
Avoiding the White Screen of Death When Updating Plugins in the Future
Here are some ways to avoid the WSOD in the future and make it as painless as possible to recover if you do:
- In the future, when updating plugins do NOT update all plugins at the same time. WordPress offers you the choice to select all plugins that need updating and update all. If you do this, and you get the white screen of death, you won’t know which plugin caused the problem.
- Do not allow “Automatic Updates” to happen unless you are monitoring the site. Manual updates are safer.
- Keep a backup of your site in at least two places. There are free plugins that you can use to back up your site. Also, various WordPress hosts offer backup services on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, etc.