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Also known as 'What is going on?!'

WSOD - white screen (of death) While some claim that the appendage 'of death' lends to the overdramatic, it remains a popular description of a cause of immense frustration to users and developers alike. How many of us have ever clicked a link and found a blank empty vacuum greeting us on the other side? (Twitter's fail whale, Youtube's busy signal*) perhaps the worst feeling of helplessness you experience is that there are no apparent clues. What happened? What didn't happen (did I not click that link? I'll go back and try harder this time) that should have? Was it a fluke or permanent flaw? Who should I contact to calmly express my bubbling emotions? (hello? India call center tech person? I got the WSOD and let me preface this by saying my name is Vesuvius and you are Pompeii. Kiss my a$h.)[[wysiwyg_imageupload:18:]]

Now, you may have a sense as to why the OD is part of the acronym. As a user or developer, what can you do? User: try again later. It could be the computer running the site has to reboot and is on a timer. It's processes got bogged down chasing a stale script around the MYSQL bush and will revive after a quick nap. Could be a broken code line somewhere that someone is in a rite of rewriting right now. Whatever it is, give 'em a break and try again later. Sure beats driving to the library to look up that bit about kookaburra mating habits you so desperately need to impress your date tomorrow (not what she meant on the phone anyway - get better reception - AT&T). Developer: get your site fixed now!! You have no time to lose and no excuse. Make it work! I don't care if you have to start from scratch writing all your code in Notepad by candlelight. Get it back online! People need access to that crucial piece of content about kookaburras, not that it will actually help that one misguided individual, but your job is to be online with that site.

Check your error logs in cpanel or whm or root access or whatever it is you've got going on. Is it a memory issue? What process/file/function is causing it? Does rebooting apache fix it? Is a mail account over quota? Too much bandwidth consumed? Confound it man, what is the problem? The cause of the WSOD is usually directly related to the thing you just did, the file you just saved, the database table you just modified. Then the question is, can you revert? Do you have a backup of the file or database before you made that crucial change?

Sorry that I can't fix your current problem but here's my advice. Make a backup before you make any changes. Simple. Direct. Obvious and often overlooked. It's called a backup so if your changes wreck your site you can still put it back up. Need some ideas on how to make regular backups? Here are a few:

  • Use your hosts backup guarantee (if they have one, and you should know how to contact them if you run into trouble). 
  • Make backups yourself and store them in zip files in an orderly fashion on your computer and in your online storage (not on your site, somewhere else). 
  • Use modules in your CMS and cron to schedule backups.


Don't be caught flatfooted with a WSOD. Have a plan and pray you never have to use it.

* this site may have experienced said hex once upon an August 20th ...