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Conquering The Dreaded White Screen of Death (WordPress)

The scenario: You upgrade WordPress to 3.5.1.  All looks fine.  You think nothing of it, log out and carry on your day.  You try to log into your WordPress site the next day and you see a blank white page.  No admin area, no nothing.

You go to the front end of your website, and see the same.  The dreaded white screen of death. ARGH!

Don’t. Panic.

This happens from time to time, and the best thing to do is stay calm, and just keep Google-ing your errors and reading a lot of forums until you get your fix.  You’ll get there, it’s just perseverance.

When it happened to a client of ours, the dastardly cause was a failed upgrade to WordPress 3.5.1.  The upgrade was done through the WordPress admin area.  Sometimes failed upgrades can happen if a file corrupts during the upgrade, or fails to properly copy over, or if the connection drops out.

Now it’s time for troubleshooting mode.

  1. Switch on debug mode (there’s nothing worse than working with a blank webpage that is giving you no errors and no feedback).  In your wp_config.php file  change define(‘WP_DEBUG, false); to the below, or add the below line if it’s not already there.
    define('WP_DEBUG', true);
  2. Refresh your admin area and front end website and see what errors are now popping up.
  3. Google these errors and see what solutions are working for other users (the causes of the blank screen of death are so varied, that it’s best to learn from others experiences).
  4. Lather, rinse, repeat.


Now, here’s what worked for our client’s particular situation.  We had to piece together bits and pieces from other forums, but in after a LOT of investigation, reading and testing, hopefully the below will spare some of you the associated grey hair.


  1. Complete the first 3 steps above
  2. Via FTP, open the readme.html file that should be living in the root (along with wp-config.php, etc).  Check that the WordPress version in the readme.html file is the same as the one you were trying to upgrade to. NOTE: for security reasons the readme.html file should always be manually deleted following a successful upgrade.
  3. Download to your local machine the version of WordPress that is showing in the readme.html file above.
  4. Unzip
  5. Via FTP (Filezilla or similar), rename your wp-admin and wp-includes folders
  6. Copy your newly unzipped wp-admin and wp-includes folders over to your site
  7. Rename your wp-settings.php file
  8. Copy your newly unzipped wp-settings.php file over to your site
  9. Check if you can now access your site
  10. If yes, then hooray!  Switch off debug mode (see switching on debug mode instructions above), and enjoy the rest of your day, knowing that you took on the white screen of death and won, my friend.
  11. If no, then Google any errors that are still appearing and read through the forums for solutions.

Generally the causes are:

  1. Botched/failed upgrades
  2. Plugins causing havoc
  3. Templates causing havoc 

Persevere and ye shall be victorious!

Sara Thornton

Sara is WebHolism's SEO Guide and Trainer. She's the one you'll see in all our YouTube videos, and helping folks out with their SEO queries on social media. She runs the fabulous SEO Clarity Club which teaches women how to do their own SEO. In her spare time she loves board games, and splashing around in the sea.

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