What to Do When a WordPress Plugin Causes Your Website to Crash

It doesn't matter how careful you are. At some point of another, a plugin is going to cause your WordPress website to crash. The only way to avoid a crash is to have a test area that is an exact clone of your live website; with the same plugins, posts, pages and theme. Whilst I am a strong advocate of actively using a test area to try out new plugins and changes, I do not believe it is practical to keep an exact duplicate of your live website, particularly if that website has a lot of content. So realistically, you're going to have to deal with a problematic plugin in the future.

It doesn’t matter how careful you are. At some point of another, a plugin is going to cause your WordPress website to crash. The only way to avoid a crash is to have a test area that is an exact clone of your live website; with the same plugins, posts, pages and theme.

Whilst I am a strong advocate of actively using a test area to try out new plugins and changes, I do not believe it is practical to keep an exact duplicate of your live website, particularly if that website has a lot of content. So realistically, you’re going to have to deal with a problematic plugin in the future.

Today, I would like to show you what you need to do when you a plugin causes your website to crash. These simple steps will help reduce any downtime that a plugin crash will cause.

Backup Before Making Any Changes

It’s in your best interests to get into the habit of backing up your database and files on a regular basis. Backup services such as BlogVault and VaultPress are perfect for backing up websites on a daily basis. If you do not use a backup service, I advice making backups manually.

Cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive are perfect for storing backup files as they can be accessed anywhere. They also sync files to ensure that the files on your computer, and the files on their service, are identical. A few GB worth of storage is provided free, which is sufficient for backing up important files.

I use VaultPress for three WordPress websites I own, however, I don’t use any backup service for my small content websites. For those websites, I ensure that I have a copy of all plugin’s files on my computer. I also do database backups semi-regularly, particularly after I perform an update.

So before you update any plugin on your website, make a backup of your database, and ensure you have an up-to-date backup of every plugin which is installed on your website.

How, What, & Why

There are a number of reasons why problems arise when a plugin is installed on your website.

  • The plugin is badly coded.
  • The plugin is well-coded, however it conflicts with another plugin on your website.
  • The plugin is well-coded, however it conflicts with your WordPress theme.
  • The plugin clashes with WordPress itself.

When you update WordPress to a new version, there is always a risk that a plugin will conflict with WordPress itself. This is more likely to happen with plugins that have not been updated in a long time (e.g. a year); which is why you should always backup your plugins and database before you upgrade WordPress to a newer version.

If a plugin causes a confliction, one of two things usually occurs:

  1. Your website will remain live, however you will see many error messages at the top of each page.
  2. You will see the “white screen of death”. Your live website, and your admin area, will display a completely blank page, making it impossible for you to resolve the situation in the admin area.

The white screen of death is usually caused by the memory limit being exceeded. This scares a lot of WordPress users as it stops them from doing anything. You can’t even deactivate the plugin that caused the error. Do not worry, the issue can be resolved.

What to Do When a WordPress Plugin Causes Errors

Plugins that cause error messages can normally be fixed directly through the admin area. If you start to see errors after installing a plugin, the solution is simple. Simpy go to http://www.yourwebsite.com/wp-admin/plugins.php and deactivate the plugin. You can then contact the plugin developer and determine whether was caused by your theme, another plugin, or by WordPress itself.

If you just installed a new version of WordPress and are seeing lots of error messages, it isn’t always clear which plugin is causing the problems. Therefore you need to determine which one is causing problems on your own.

The first thing you need to do is deactivate all of your plugins.

deactivate-plugins

If you are still seeing error messages when all plugins are deactivated, the error is probably being caused through a confliction between your theme and the new version of WordPress. To be sure, quickly change the theme to an unmodified default theme such as Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven or Twenty Twelve.

If your current theme is not causing the problem, the problem lies with a plugin. Older plugins are more prone to causing conflictions, however there is no guarantee it’s their fault. Therefore, you need to reactivate each plugin one by one. This is the only assured way of determining which plugin is causing errors.

Once you know what plugin is causing the problem, deactivate it, and then contact the developer to report them of the issue.

What to Do When a WordPress Plugin Causes the White Screen of Death

The White Screen of Death sends WordPress users around the world into a panic every day. It displays an empty page on your live website and in your admin area, thus stopping you from resolving the issue directly through the admin area.

Firstly, deactivate all of your plugins. A quick way to do this is to rename the “plugins” folder located at www.yourwebsite.com/wp-content/plugins. Renaming the folder will deactivate all plugins and allow you to login to your admin area. You can do this using a File Transfer Protocol client such as FileZilla. Alternatively, you can do this using the file manager within your hosting control panel (e.g. cPanel).

Renaming your plugins folder is the simplest and most practical solution, however there are other ways to deactivate all of your plugins. One way is to delete all of your plugins (making sure to backup all of your plugin files beforehand). You can also deactivate all plugins via your website database. Simply go to the wp_options table and edit the value of active_plugins to a:0:{}.

If you have successfully deactivated all WordPress plugins and the white screen of death is still being shown, you need to revert to an unmodified version of one of the default WordPress themes (mentioned previously). To do this, simply backup your theme from www.yourwebsite.com/wp-content/themes/yourthemename to your computer. Then, delete the theme from your server. WordPress should then revert to one of the default WordPress themes, allowing you to access your admin area again.

Once you are logged into your access area, you need to determine exactly what caused your website to crash. If the white screen of death was shown when no plugins were activated, it was probably caused by your theme conflicting with WordPress or with a newly installed plugin.

When attempting to find the cause of the problem, you should keep using a default WordPress theme. This will allow you to be sure whether a plugin is also causing a problem.

If you previously changed the name of the plugins folder in order to deactivate all plugins, rename the folder back to “plugins”. You should then reactivate all plugins one by one, until you find the plugin that was causing the problem.

  • If you are able to reactivate all plugins without causing any errors, then the problem was caused by your theme conflicting with WordPress. The problem usually lies in the functions.php template as that is where developers place most functions.
  • If you activate a particular plugin and the White Screen of Death returns, you now know which plugin is causing the problem. Deactivate all plugins again and reactivate all plugins except the one that caused the error.

A plugin that is causing the White Screen of Death could be due to a conflict with WordPress, another plugin or with your theme. You should keep the plugin deactivated until you have spoken with the plugin developer and found the reason why the error occurred.

You may also want to review this helpful article from Kinsta about recovering from a white screen of death.

Overview

It’s never pleasant to see errors or the White Screen of Death on your website. Do not get stressed out if it does happen to you. The process of finding a problem plugin is quite simple once you are aware of the steps to resolve the issue.

I encourage you to get into the habit of backing up your files and your database regularly. You should always ensure you that you have an up-to-date backup of your files and your database before installing a new plugin or a new version of WordPress.

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Alyona Galea
Alyona Galea
Alyona is a WordPress enthusiast, focused on sharing interesting things she comes across during her work with this great CMS. She loves exploring new destinations and maintains a travel blog at www.alyonatravels.com

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23 Responses

  1. Plugin conflicts are a tricky beast. My own plugin, Better WP Security, can by design conflict with some other plugins and troubleshooting such issues can be a nightmare for folks. One piece I might suggest adding to your post for such a situation is to turn debugging on in the wp-config.php. Often times this will turn the white screen of death into a usable error message that can save a lot of time in tracking down issues.

  2. Some plugins will create drop-ins or mu-plugins on activation. If, after the above steps, your site is still stuck, try checking for drop-ins and mu-plugins.

    mu-plugins are stored in wp-content/mu-plugins. If that folder doesn’t exist, then you don’t have any mu-plugins.

    drop-ins are stored in wp-content and there’s a certain set of files that will be loaded. If any of these files are present, rename them to “.bak” to disable them

    http://hakre.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/must-use-and-drop-ins-plugins/

  3. The advices in this post can be useful. In my case i avoided the impacts of plugin crashing by making a backup with WP simple backup plugin. By the way, nice idea with Dropbox.

  4. Thank you very much! You saved my day. I followed your steps to regain access to wp-admin and it worked just fine – after hours of nothing and blank screen.

  5. What if I can’t access mywebsite.com/wp-admin/plugins.php? It is giving me the same ‘can’t connect to server’ page which is preventing me from accessing the site/admin site… please help! Would be much appreciated!!

  6. Thanks so much for this post! My heart stopped when I got the ‘white screen of death.’ Quick and easy fix with your help.

  7. Great text, very useful! You saved me from “white screen of death” with this “rename plugin folder” trick…BIG Thank you 🙂

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