I am pretty new to WordPress.  By “pretty new” I mean last Tuesday.  I’ve become fairly familiar with it over the last week.  However, in the past few hours my knowledge of it grew by leaps and bounds.  You see, I just experienced the dreaded White Screen of Death.

If that doesn’t sounds pleasant, let me tell you — it isn’t.

The entirety of WordPress is php.  From what you, as readers and commenters, see when you interact with the site; to all of my normal management of the site from posting entries, uploading images, creating pages, and managing the layout and widgets.

What this apparently means is that if something happens that fundamentally breaks the php, the entire site goes down and is replaced with a blank white screen.  Not just the front end … but the entire back end too.  Everything I use to manage the site — i.e., all of the things that I would use to fix the site.

So what does this mean?

  1. Noob breaks site when experimenting with a widget (Pro Tip: don’t try to put broken src tags inside of a text widget).
  2. Sees site go down and figures that there is a problem with the host.
  3. Comes back later to see that site is still down.
  4. Checks other sites using the same host and sees that they are fine.
  5. Checks files on server and sees that they are fine.
  6. Attempts to directly access various administration tools, fails.
  7. Panics.
  8. Spends a long while researching blank screen issues… finds that it is a common problem.
  9. Looks through main php files looking for the various described problem.
  10. Discovers that own problem is not caused by the frequently listed ones.
  11. Panics again.
  12. Realizes what it was he did that probably broke the site.  Happens to remember the actual text string.
  13. Begins manually looking through SQL db looking for where that thing is stored.  Doesn’t find it — it’s not a db item.
  14. Decides it is probably among the hundreds of php files running the site.
  15.  find . | xargs grep <string> *
  16. Offending string located.
  17. Line deleted with extreme prejudice.
  18. Site works again after two hours of headbanging.
  19. Noob now has much better understanding about the inner working of WordPress.

I will now consider myself to have leveled up in my understanding of this tool and shall remove the newbie monicker.  It would be nice if it failed with slightly more grace.  But like I’ve known since I was 10, nothing teaches you more about a computer system than having to fix it when something goes horribly horribly wrong.

cheers