Does manually deactivating a plugin bring the site back?

WordPress is powered by PHP. Typically a blank white screen means there is a PHP fatal error. These errors include issues like:

  • Syntax errors – Basically code that has very basic mistakes in it. Kind of like a sentence that is missing punctuation.
  • Undefined functions – Somewhere a PHP function is being referenced but that function doesn’t actually exist. In most circumstances, good developers can easily prevent these errors by checking to see if a function exists before calling it.
  • Array to string conversion – Some code is trying to do something to a string which can only be done to an array.
  • Trying to get property of non-object – Objects in PHP have properties and sometimes those properties will be referenced somewhere. But if something is referenced like an object but it isn’t actually an object, this error will be thrown.

These are really just a few random examples of the kinds of code related problems that can bring down an entire site. These are serious problems because they:

  1. Make your site inaccessible to visitors
  2. Make your dashboard inaccessible to you so you can’t undo whatever you did
  3. Require access to the site’s files

Normally if you report a fatal error to the developer of a plugin or theme you will get their attention very quickly. It is a major issue, obviously.

How to manually deactivate a plugin

Since you can’t access your site’s dashboard and therefore simply hit the ol’ deactivate link, you’ll have to do this the old fashioned way. To manually deactivate a plugin you must have access to the WordPress site’s files.

If this is a live site, you will be able to access the files either using FTP, SFTP, SSH or through your web host’s control panel. Ask your website for instructions if you’ve never done anything like this before.

Once you do gain access to your WordPress site’s files, navigate to wp-content/plugins. There you will see folders for every plugin installed on your site. The trick here is to make WordPress deactivate the plugin by changing something. Some easy tricks include renaming the plugin’s folder or moving the entire folder into a different directory (like up into wp-content).

Your process should be simply:

  1. Manually deactivate a plugin by renaming or moving it.
  2. Test your site again.

Start with the most likely culprits and work your way through them all.