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Critical Error on Your WordPress Website: Solutions and Best Practices

Dealing with technical glitches on your WordPress website can be a daunting task, especially when confronted with a message reading: “There has been a critical error on your website.” Not only does this issue disrupt your site operations, but it can also lead to traffic loss and undermine the user experience.

To help you deal with this problem efficiently, this comprehensive guide will unlock the mystery behind the WordPress ‘critical error’ message, its potential causes, and easy-to-follow troubleshooting techniques to get your site up and running again.

What is a Critical Error in WordPress?

A “critical error” is a WordPress error message that appears when your website encounters an issue that disrupts its normal functioning. This type of error is usually the result of a problem within the site’s PHP code- the core coding language of WordPress. Whether the error originates from a theme, plugin, or the WordPress core itself, it typically prevents part or all of your website from working properly.

In 2019, WordPress 5.2 introduced a feature named ‘WP_Error_Handler’, aiming to make such situations less stressful for site owners. Instead of resulting in the ‘White Screen of Death,’ a critical PHP error now displays the more user-friendly error message “There has been a critical error on your website.” This addition, alongside the option to enable a recovery mode, offers a more comprehensive way to identify and fix problems.

Understanding the Causes behind Critical Errors

Troubleshooting a critical error on your WordPress website begins by understanding its potential causes. While there are various reasons your site may fall into this state, some are more common than the others.

Corrupted Themes or Plugins

One of the most frequent causes of WordPress critical errors is the malfunctioning of themes or plugins. This usually happens when you update a theme or plugin, and suddenly, your successful update screen is replaced with a critical error message. This signifies that the new code has a conflict or poor compatibility with your site’s existing code.

PHP Memory Exhaustion

Every WordPress website is allocated a specific memory limit by the server. A memory exhaustion error occurs when your WordPress site uses up all the allocated memory due to heavy plugins, scripts, or multiple processes running concurrently.

Problems with WordPress Core

While rare, issues with the WordPress core can cause critical errors. These can be due to failed updates, compatibility issues, or even hacking attacks.

How to Troubleshoot and Fix Critical Errors

Although confronting a critical error on your WordPress website may seem intimidating, several reliable troubleshooting techniques can help you navigate this issue.

Reverting to a Previous Backup

One of the simplest solutions is to restore your WordPress website to an earlier state when it was working well. This method can potentially resolve the error when the latest changes like theme or plugin updates are causing the issue.

Identifying and Debugging Problematic Plugins or Themes

If reverting to a backup is not an option or if it fails to resolve the issue, you should proceed to debug the problematic plugins or themes. You can do this by accessing your site via FTP and deactivating your plugins one by one until your site starts working again. Then, identify the theme causing troubles and replace it with a default WordPress theme.

Increasing PHP Memory Limit

Resolving memory exhaustion issues requires increasing the PHP memory limit. You can do this either by editing the wp-config.php file or contacting your hosting provider.

Reinstalling WordPress Core

If the issue persists, you may need to reinstall the WordPress core. While this step can sound intimidating, it’s actually straightforward and won’t affect your existing content.

WordPress Recovery Mode

When your WordPress website triggers the critical error screen, it’s also likely to send an automated email to the administrator’s email address. This email offers access to a unique Recovery Mode, which is an incredibly beneficial feature when troubleshooting critical errors.

The Role of Recovery Mode in Troubleshooting

Recovery Mode in WordPress offers a safe mode of sorts, which gives you back the access to your website’s admin area. The advantage of this mode is that it doesn’t affect regular website visitors while you fix the problem. It only shows the error to admin users logged in via Recovery Mode, ensuring that your user experience isn’t affected.

Recovery Mode is instrumental in the debug process as it allows you to log in to your WordPress dashboard and determine which plugin or theme is causing the critical error. By disabling the problem plugins or themes one by one, you can identify the precise cause of the error without extending the issue to the user-end.

Leveraging Recovery Mode to Resolve Critical Errors

The Recovery Mode email includes a unique link that takes you directly to your admin area and suspends the theme or plugin that caused the critical error. This aspect simplifies the debugging process as it provides a clear idea of the culprit, allowing you to promptly disable the problematic plugin or theme and restore your website’s functionality.

However, remember that the recovery mode doesn’t necessarily fix the problem. Instead, it mainly helps isolate the problem so you can apply a targeted solution like installation of a new plugin, updating them, or simply uninstalling a troublesome one.

Useful Tools for Debugging WordPress Errors

Even if you didn’t get a Recovery Mode email or if it didn’t diagnose a problematic plugin or theme, a slew of reliable tools for debugging WordPress errors can come to your aid.

Using the WordPress Debug Feature

The WordPress debug feature can be a useful ally in your troubleshooting process. By adding the line define(‘WP_DEBUG’, true); to your wp-config.php file, you can enable debug mode and force WordPress to display PHP errors, warnings, and notices, providing valuable clues about the issues plaguing your website.

Another useful tool at your disposal is the debug log. By adding the line define(‘WP_DEBUG_LOG’, true); to your wp-config.php file, you instruct WordPress to save all errors to a debug.log file located in your site’s wp-content directory. This log offers valuable insights into recurring errors and their source.

Harnessing the Power of Query Monitor

Aside from the embedded WordPress tools, you can also leverage the power of third-party plugins such as Query Monitor. Considered one of the best debugging plugins, Query Monitor can provide a full range of debugging information, from database queries and HTTP API calls to hooks and actions, and more.

While the plugin can be slightly overwhelming for beginners given the detail of the information it returns, it’s indeed a blessing for developers. With a tool like Query Monitor, you can dissect your website in various ways, helping you narrow down where exactly the issue could originate from.

Dealing with the dreaded “critical error on your website” in WordPress may seem like high-level tech stuff but it doesn’t have to be panic-inducing. With the availability of robust tools, features and learning resources, resolving this error is an achievable goal.

Remain patient, systematic, informed and you will be able to navigate safely through. By understanding the wide range of cause of these errors, and being skilled in using a variety of dependable troubleshooting techniques, you will be able to keep your WordPress site performing optimally.

Whether it’s maximizing the use of the Recovery Mode or diving deep into the realm of dedicated debugging tools, there is strength in knowing you hold the power to return your website to its smooth-running state. And remember, prevention is always the best cure. So enforce best practices, stay updated, and keep learning to provide an error-free experience to your users.


Through my blog, I strive to inspire people to live a life full of adventure and style, as well as provide practical insight into travel destinations and sustainable lifestyles

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