I’ve been working on WordPress sites since 2006. Since then, I’ve moved domains, switched web hosts, burned through several iterations of core WordPress, themes, and plugins. My sites have broken, been DDoS’d, and sometimes even misconfigured out of existence! But even with all this experience, I still feel a stab of panic if one of my WordPress sites suddenly stops working.
These “Fatal Errors” are the bane of WordPress’s existence. Some other platforms like say the .NET framework provides error pages with a stack trace, so you at least have a starting point for the problem. You can explore the function that threw the error and go from there. WordPress on the other hand, has a maddening tendency to display no information whatsoever. And often when it does, it’s completely wrong.
The infamous “White Screen of Death” is a WordPress administrator’s worst nightmare. To make matters worse, it often locks you out of the administration area itself! So you’re stuck in limbo – not sure if it’s a plugin or theme conflict. And if you think it’s a plugin, which one?
You’ll see many tutorials on the Internet about how to resolve the white screen of death, and they all involve disabling the plugins one by one till you find the culprit. But without access to the admin screen, you have to go through the cPanel backend and rename the plugins folder. Then rename it back and start enabling the plugins one by one.
But if you work on a WordPress site for a client and they haven’t given you access to the backed via FTP…you’re completely out of luck.
Which is why the new WordPress version 5.2 is such a big deal.
Solving Fatal Errors with WordPress 5.2
The new feature in WordPress 5.2 sends administrators an e-mail login link whenever someone encounters a fatal error on their site. The best part is that WordPress identifies which plugins or themes are generating the error and disables those specific extensions when you log in using the link! This is important, because as we saw above the admin area itself is usually inaccessible during this time.
This places WordPress into recovery mode as shown here:
Using Cookies for Recovery Mode
Even nicer is that those problematic extensions are disabled only for the user who clicks through to the admin area using that special link. It places a cookie on the client used to access the site, which means that everyone else will still see the fatal error.
This seems counterintuitive, but you don’t want WordPress to automatically disable anything without human intervention. So it leaves it up to the administrator to make that decision. This feature was previously scheduled to make it to the WordPress 5.1 release, but was delayed because they weren’t sure how to implement it and finally decided on the cookie.
Exiting Recovery Mode
When you’re done making changes to the site and (hopefully) fixed the problem, you can exit recovery mode for yourself by clicking the button on the WordPress dashboard like this:
This will clear the cookie and you’ll now see the site like everyone else. Note that if you haven’t yet fixed the problem, you’ll continue to get the fatal error and you’ll need to repeat the process all over again with another e-mail, because the cookie will be missing from your site.
This feature in WordPress 5.2 is a big deal for small site owners who might not have too much experience with WordPress, and who are not comfortable fiddling around with files and folders directly in the WordPress installation. Or worse, the database! Finally, we have an “in-house” method of fixing misbehaving plugins and themes that prevent us from accessing our WordPress dashboard!
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!