NerdPress: The mysterious vanishing homepage

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WordPress: Where fixes aren’t as bad as they might seem

It was a scene from a web developer’s worst nightmare.

After several months of work, which included creating both a fully functional locally developed site as well as a subdomain-based beta test site where the client could review and test their new WordPress-based website, we were ready to take the new site live. The client loved the look and feel of the beta site and was eager for the world to see it. Here at DIS, we wrapped up the necessary uploading, database imports, and other prep work on the backend, and were ready to take the site live. All systems were “go” and it was time to “flip the switch” and bring this puppy to life.

I eagerly typed in the address of the site in my browser, anticipating the joy I would feel at seeing a job well done.

What came up was not the beautifully designed site Jean created and I implemented.

What I saw was this:

Image of the WordPress White Screen of Death

The WordPress White Screen of Death – not what you want to see when you launch a site.

Nothing.

Seriously, nothing. Zero, zilch, nada. No 404-not found error, no cryptic PHP message to decipher. Just a blank white screen.

“Hmm,” I said to myself, and reloaded the page.

Still nothing but mocking white blankness. The dreaded WordPress White Screen of Death.

I said something else after that which wasn’t “hmm” and isn’t fit to publish on this kind of blog. Just let me say that my joyful anticipation from a few moments earlier turned almost immediately into a sense of panic. What to do?

I tried going to the login screen for the site, and was able to get there without any problem. I was also able to log in and access the dashboard. Even better, once I was logged in, I was able to see, edit, and manage the home page without a problem.

So this is weird: I can see the entire site if I’m logged in, but cannot see anything if I’m not.

I reinstalled the client’s old site (we can’t have site visitors seeing blankness) and then started searching for answers. Fortunately, it did not take long.

One of the best things about working with WordPress is the active community of users that supports the platform. Thanks to these users, chances are that if you have a WordPress problem, someone else out there has seen it before. Even better, there is likely an answer to the problem as well. I did a search for “wordpress blank screen” and immediately got an excellent list of answers from the WordPress support forums.There were a variety of answers to the problem, but the one I saw most was a plugin conflict.

Screenshot of WordPress plugins screen

OK, which one of you guys is the troublemaker?

Plugins, for those of you who do not know, are extra bits of code that add functionality to WordPress sites. Many of them are developed by coders who simply love WordPress, while others are created by companies looking to make a profit. There are plugins that handle almost everything, from event calendars to e-commerce, image sliders, spam filtering, and just about anything you can think of that you might need a website to do. With this wide range of people creating plugins of varying quality, sometimes problems come up. That is what happened in this instance.

I went back to the site and with a plan to deactivate the plugins one-by-one to see if I could determine which one was causing the problem. I got lucky; the first one I tried turned out to be the culprit. Fortunately, it was a plugin which I no longer needed for the site (I’d found another which better met the client’s needs), so I deleted it.

Once the plugin was gone, I checked the site again — and all was right with the world. The launch continued. The client was happy. I avoided having a stress-induced stroke.

The moral of the story is this: If you have a problem with your WordPress-based site, check the plugins first. You are likely to find that is the cause of your problem.

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2 Responses to NerdPress: The mysterious vanishing homepage

  1. Agreed, Daniel. And as long as I’m wishing, I want a home in the South Pacific. And a pony. :-)

  2. Daniel says:

    They really should implement some global try/catch to prevent this. Debugging WSODs is a giant pain.