Help articles Frequently Asked

Help! My site is displaying a white screen / 500 error.

The “white screen of death” has long been one of the most common pain points for WordPress designers and developers. You add a new plugin or make a change to a theme file, and all of a sudden – disaster. Your site is now only displaying a white screen. Refreshing the page does nothing, and you can’t even access your login page.


This issue can indicate a number of problems, which we’ll address in a moment. First though, it’s important to note that this error can manifest itself differently in different browsers. Currently, when this issue occurs, Safari and Firefox will display the infamous white screen. Chrome however, as of late 2015, will display a 500 error. This is important to note, as both scenarios will require the same troubleshooting methods.


A white screen or 500 error occurs when PHP returns a fatal error. A PHP fatal error can have many sources, but they’re typically related to the following issues:

  • plugin or theme conflicts
  • PHP syntax errors
  • exhausted memory on the server

When PHP returns an error, they’re hidden by default from the website user. WordPress uses a PHP constant in the wp-config.php file to change that and make PHP errors visible on the site. This setting is called WP_DEBUG. You can toggle WP_DEBUG on and off on any site on Flywheel from the ‘Advanced’ tab.


Once you’ve enabled WP_DEBUG, all PHP errors, notices, and warnings will be displayed directly on the page for you to investigate. It’s worth noting that only fatal PHP errors will cause a whitescreen or 500 error. You may see many other PHP notices and warnings displayed, but those are likely just messages for plugin and theme developers and don’t typically point to an immediate issue. The error below is a PHP fatal error that would be thrown if there is a PHP syntax error in the functions.php file of the Twenty Sixteen theme.


You can use this information to help track down the issue that’s causing your site to display a white screen. Depending on what you discover, you have several options:

  • If it’s a parse error like above, you can use SFTP to access the file noted in the error, and investigate further.
  • If the error mentions a function and displays a path to a plugin or theme, you can rename or move that plugin/theme folder via SFTP to disable it.
  • If it’s a fatal error noting memory exhaustion, contact Flywheel Support and let us know which site you’re working on. We can likely adjust your memory limit to address this error.
  • You can also download all of your site’s error logs to further investigate potential issues.


If you’re unsure about any errors you’re seeing after enabling WP_DEBUG, contact us and include the error message and site you’re working on. We’re happy to help!

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Flywheel Product Specialist Matt

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