WordPress “White Screen of Death”

Or may be called the “Blank Screen of Death” – either way, it’s been a pain since I moved some of my sites over to Rackspace Cloudsites. Had NOT seen this problem on my VPS-based sites – or if I did, it was SO sporadic that I don’t really remember throwing an extra refresh on it to get the content up.

Symptoms: A blank white screen that comes up on a WordPress site. Nothing more glamorous than that. In my case it was very sporadic.  Sometimes it would come up repeatedly, other times, a force refresh would bring the page up. It also seemed to have no preference as to admin pages or public pages as I saw on other people’s posts about this issue. As a side note, it seemed that the sites seemed to be more likely to white screen if a site was NOT being actively viewed. The first time I would visit, I seemed to be more likely to get the white screen.

General info: Sites were running various versions of WordPress – 3.1 and most recently 3.2 – so I was a bit of an early jumper on the WordPress 3.2 bandwagon – which does seem to rock. But the problem appeared on both WP versions. Also running various plugin configurations. Some with only a couple plugins. And various themes were being used from the base WordPress 2010 theme to some elaborate Genesis based themes. The 2010 theme didn’t seem to act up, but I didn’t visit that site nearly as often as the other jazzier WordPress sites.

I usually clone my sites (at least the base setup) between installs with an awesome plugin called “BackupBuddy” – HIGHLY recommended if you are a web developer – saves HUGE time – unless your base WordPress site has something wrong with it and then you’ve cascaded it into multiple OTHER sites. That was my biggest fear – that there was some annoying item that was now going to be in every site I had.

Troubleshooting the “WordPress White Screen of Death”

  1. Disabled the WP Super Cache and the W3 Total Cache plugins – thought I might be feeding bad cache stuff. Nope. Left them off though until I sorted it out.
  2. Disabled ALL WordPress plugins. Seemed to sort of help, but then did still get back some white screens. Ugh. So, decided that wasn’t the solution.
  3. Found a post about the wp-config.php file NOT ending with a “?>” and/or a blank line or spacefollowing the last line of the wp-config.php file.  Various posts pointed to any of these options as the possible issue.
    1. Went through the 10 sites that I had up there and systematically removed all of the blanks and tacked on a “?>” as suggested.  After testing for a while, problem did eventually crop back up.
  4. Saw other posts about the functions.php file also causing issues if there were any blank spaces or lines between the function tags. Since I didn’t hack the functions.php file, I decided this probably wasn’t the case.
  5. Finally back to logical progression – memory issues. This was covered in a few posts. I did a phpinfo() run to see what was actually coming up and it did show that there was a local value of 256 MB and a master value of 32 MB on there – either way, seems like that should be enough for WordPress, but…  I’m not a genius when it comes to PHP, but I do know how to check some logs.  Checked one of the log files for errors – and sure as heck, “Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 33554432 bytes exhausted” showed up several times in that particular log.

AHA!  Memory issues. It would appear that that master value of 32MB had been exceeded. So, as suggested by several posts, added the line

define('WP_MEMORY_LIMIT', '128M');

around line 20ish or so in the wp-config.php file. Now that MAY be huge, but I think I have the RAM to handle it, so… Saved the wp-config.php and reloaded. Came up without a hitch, but that wasn’t proof as far as I was concerned. Went down the line of 10 websites and added that particular line to all of them and uploaded.

I went from one site to the next – and no white screens. Prior, I seemed to average 30-40% of those sites WOULD throw a white screen. I knew it was just a matter of time before one of the clients would call my attention to it. Would certainly rather SOLVE the problem before I got called on it 😛

Two hours later after the WP_MEMORY_LIMIT fix and multiple tests on the sites – and still no white screens. I’m going to call this a legit fix for my WordPress White Screen of Death issues. Might not fix everyone else’s issues, but it HAS fixed mine. WoooHOO!

Now back to actually doing something I can get paid for.

UPDATE 8/8/2011: The solution that seems to finally have actually solved the problem seems to be the .htaccess addition of a php_value memory_limit 64M at the top of the file. Since adding this into all my sites – NO issues anywhere.

Author: Eric Erickson

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