Using FERM To Fix White Screen of Death


If you are running a WordPress site, then you are familiar with the effort it takes to maintain your website. You are not just concerned with updating the content on your WordPress site, but you also need to keep the WordPress core, Plugins, themes, and PHP version updated as well. This can often backfire, and you may end up losing access to your WordPress admin area. If you want to know how to survive such tragic situations, then read on. With the Fatal Error Recovery Mode feature in WordPress, you can save yourself from anxiety and helplessness in some of the worst-case scenarios. 

You don’t need any background in coding at all to understand this article. In fact, you don’t need to be concerned with any developer jargon. This article explains the Fatal Error Recovery Mode feature in a simple language so that any WordPress site owner can understand and use it with confidence. 

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You will learn what Fatal Error Recovery mode is, how it works, and how it benefits site administrators. You will also understand how it can be a lifesaver when you encounter the infamous White Screen of Death. Finally, you will know how you can adopt this new feature.  

What Is Fatal Error Recovery Mode

Fatal Error Recovery Mode is one of the key features introduced in WordPress 5.2. This is the feature that lets site administrators access the admin area even in the case of fatal errors that make the site inaccessible. 

The idea of introducing Fatal Error Protection in WordPress envisioned a possibility where a site administrator can access admin backend even when a fatal error occurs. What can be called a fatal error? Well, any error that makes the WordPress site inaccessible can be called a fatal error. Errors like the White Screen of Death (WSOD) are so nasty that you don’t have any clue about what’s wrong. Added to this, such fatal errors prevent you from logging into your WordPress site even if you are the site administrator. This severely limits the administrator’s ability to address the errors. This was also a cause of great anxiety and helplessness for new WordPress site owners who had no idea what they were dealing with. The Fatal Error Recovery Mode feature is an attempt to address these concerns. 

With the Fatal Error Recovery Mode, site administrators now at least have the chance to log in to their website and take some steps to mitigate the situation. We will see more about these steps when I explain how Fatal Error Recovery Mode works. Let’s first understand the context in which this feature has developed. This will enable you to appreciate the problems this feature tackles, and you will realize how it can relieve you from unnecessary anxieties. 


The early attempts at introducing the Fatal Error Protection can be traced back to WordCamp Europe 2018. Gary Pendergast introduced the idea of ‘sandboxing (isolating)’ plugins and themes in case of a PHP update or a broken plugin. 
The idea was to track such fatal errors and then provide admin access to administrators so that they can deactivate, replace, or update the plugins that cause such errors. 
Since June 2018, this idea is actively discussed on official WordPress forums with inputs from developers, contributors, and users alike. 


During the development cycle, the idea went through several changes. For example, the original idea of ‘isolating’ the plugins and themes altogether didn’t turn out to be technically feasible. Also, it was preferred to pause these extensions only for specific users instead of everyone. 

The idea of providing a recovery link to the administrator met with security concerns. The inputs from many third-party security researchers finally gave way to a middle-ground where a recovery cookie is used during the recovery mode. 

Many contributors have put forth ideas, code, features that finally became part of the Fatal Error Recovery Mode as introduced in WordPress 5.2. The feature will continue to receive community attention as it develops with each WordPress update.

Present Status

Fatal Error Recovery Mode is now a standard feature that comes with WordPress 5.2 onward. 

The workflow of Recovery Mode is fixed now. There are standard steps in which this feature operates. Users can report glitches or problems with the feature to the WordPress official discussion forums where these are actively discussed. 

How It Can Help

The Fatal Error Recovery Mode can help site administrators to quickly act when a fatal error makes their site inaccessible. They can log in to their admin area and decide to deactivate themes or plugins that are causing the error. This can save crucial time and stop losses before they become severe. This feature also allows administrators to tackle the errors even if they have no access to a WordPress developer. 

Tackling The Fear Of White Screen Of Death

Imagine you have just launched your first WordPress site. You have spent hours with your developer, invested your precious money into everything. You put efforts to get the domain, hosting, plugins, themes, and site design. You have finally reached the site you wanted. 

You are now so happy everything is running well, you type in your website address to visit it once more. But instead of your website, all you see in your browser is a white screen. Is there a problem with the internet connection? No, it’s working fine. Let’s refresh the page. Still nothing. Maybe the browser is the problem. Let’s change the browser. White screen again. Is there a problem with my laptop? Possible. You now try every device you have. All you can see is a white screen where your site should have been. There is no error. There is no clue. Your site is simply gone. That’s the White Screen of Death. Terrifying, isn’t it?

Well, this is not as amusing as it sounds. For WordPress beginners who have never heard of such issues, these situations can be catastrophic. People start with WordPress thinking that it can be relied on. But when a fatal error like White Screen of Death wreaks havoc, the reliability forever loses its standing. 

The White Screen of Death leaves you with no option to log in to your website. You also have no idea what went wrong with your site. The options you have are as follows: 

  • Accessing your site using an FTP client
  • Accessing the plugins folder and renaming it
  • Find out if a plugin is causing a problem using trial and error
  • Deactivate theme and see if it was the problem
  • Troubleshoot database issues
  • Check Permalinks
  • Check if the site is hacked
  • Check with your Server
  • Check if DNS error or misconfiguration

…….and the list goes on. 

So basically, you are shooting in the dark, trying all possible solutions for every possible error in the hopes that it finally just works somehow. The Fatal Error Recovery Mode saves you from all this frustration. 

How Fatal Error Recovery Mode Works

Let’s now see how exactly the Fatal Error Recovery Mode works.

  1. The first thing the FERM feature introduces is the following screen that is displayed in your browser whenever your site encounters a fatal error. 
The Screen that replaces the earlier White Screen of Death with the message ' The Site is experiencing technical difficulties'

Caption: New Error Screen with the message ‘The site is experiencing technical difficulties.’

Now you don’t see a White Screen of Death. The webpage clearly states that ‘the site is experiencing technical difficulties.’ It also tells you to log in to the admin area if you are the site owner. How can you do that? Well, check your admin mail to get started.

2. Once a Fatal Error occurs, you will receive an email to your admin email address with details about the Fatal Error and a link to enter “Recovery Mode.” 

When a Fatal Error occurs, admin gets an email like this with a link to activate Recovery Mode

Caption: A typical email an admin receives when Fatal Error occurs

3. Once you click on the link, you will be taken to the admin login page. 

Admin login screen during Recovery Mode

Caption: Admin Login Screen During Recovery Mode

4. After logging in, you will enter the Recovery Mode for your WordPress. A typical Recovery Mode dashboard looks like the following: 

This is how the WordPress dashboard looks like in Recovery Mode

Caption: WordPress Dashboard during Recovery Mode 

The dashboard will inform you about the plugins and themes that have been paused. You will also get details about the errors with these plugins. Even if you are not able to understand these errors, you have the following options to deal with the situation: 

  • Completely deactivate the plugin or theme that is causing the error. This will immediately resolve the situation, but you will lose the functionality of that plugin or theme for the time. So this is a kind of quick-fix, temporary solution. 
  • Fix the errors with the extension and then resume them so that site can function as before
  • You can contact a developer with the details of the error

5. Once you are done, you can exit the Recovery Mode by simply logging off or clicking on the ‘Exit Recovery Mode’ button. 

Exit Recovery Mode button in the WordPress Recovery Mode dashboard

Caption: Exit Recovery Mode button in dashboard during Recovery Mode

Remember that the Fatal Error will remain if it is not fixed during Recovery Mode.

How This Solves The Workflow Problems

The introduction of Fatal Error Recovery Mode solves many workflow problems. WordPress site owners can now work confidently, knowing that there is a standard procedure to follow when faced with these kinds of errors. In particular, the following remarkable achievements are observed in terms of workflow:

  1. Beginning with A Clear Statement:  The clear statement ‘this site is experiencing technical difficulties’ is a promising start that removes the vagueness surrounding the problem. The White Screen of Death had no resolution for this, and users had to depend on guesswork. The Error statement also prepares the users for the next definite step.
  2. The Solution in the Email: Users will receive the next step for error resolution in their email inbox itself. This saves time and countless other activities invested in searching for help.
  3. The Definite Access to Admin Area: The Users will get definite access to their WordPress admin area through the Recovery Mode link. Users can access the admin area from the browser itself. This removes the need for installing or using an FTP client. 
  4. Specifying Errors: Once you enter Recovery Mode, you are presented with the details of the errors encountered. You can fix these errors yourself or forward them to a developer. Identifying errors saves crucial time that would have been needed in debugging every plugin and extension. 
  5. Definite Course of Action: There is no ambiguity in the course of action to follow. This removes the uncertainty that can paralyze users who are experiencing such errors for the first time on their site. This ensures a confident confrontation with the problem. 

You can understand the new workflow with the following diagram: 

The flowchart explains the workflow introduced by Fatal Error  Recovery Mode while dealing with Fatal Errors.

Caption: Better Workflow with Fatal Error Recovery Mode

Benefits Of FERM

Fatal Error Recovery Mode is a remarkable development in error solving approach by the WordPress community. Following are the key benefits of FERM that stand out:

  1. No White Screen of Death: Users will no longer face a white screen when having a fatal error. The screen instead will show a message that ‘the site is experiencing technical difficulties.’ This removes uncertainty regarding the situation surrounding the Fatal Error.
  2. Email Notification: The administrator of the site will now get a notification email to his/her admin email address. The email will contain the details of the Fatal Error along with the link to enter Recovery Mode. 
  3. Recovery Mode Based on Cookie: Recovery Mode is accessed using the cookie that is set on the administrator’s browser when the link in the email is clicked. This resolves many security concerns while not tying the Recovery Mode to a specific user.
  4. The Ability to Log In Fatal Error Recovery Mode makes it possible for administrators to log in to their WordPress site even in the presence of a Fatal Error. This is the most important benefit of FERM. 
  5. Pause Extensions: Pausing extensions is a key development since you no longer need to deactivate or remove a plugin to enter the Recovery Mode. Once in Recovery Mode, you can make those decisions. Pausing allows you to access the admin area even during the Fatal Error. 
  6. Identifying the Plugins that are causing Errors: FERM leaves no room for guesswork as it identifies the error-causing plugins. You also receive the details about the error. This can help you, the developer, and the author of the plugin to deal with the problem.
  7. Resolution in Recovery Mode: It is possible to completely resolve the problem during the Recovery Mode itself. 
  8. Possible Customizations: There is a possibility of customizing the template for the error screen. This is a developer feature, and it can enable site owners to have custom error screens in the future. 

Many WordPress users have already benefited from FERM. 

A user opinion about the benefit of Fatal Error Recovery Mode
Caption: A user opinion about the benefit of Fatal Error Recovery Mode

How To Adapt To This New Feature

It takes time to understand any technological development. People hesitate to use a feature they are not familiar with. This doesn’t mean that the feature is not useful. It just means that people are not yet comfortable using the feature. 

I hope this article has helped you understand the Fatal Error Recovery Mode. It is an important milestone in the WordPress development journey. You can take advantage of this advancement. Here are a few simple steps to get you started:

  1. Update WordPress and PHP version: FERM works with WordPress 5.2 or higher. You should also keep the PHP version up to date. The minimum recommended version is 5.6.20 or higher. 
  2. Update Admin Email Address: With FERM, the Recovery Mode link is sent to your admin email. Make sure you have updated your Admin email address in the WordPress settings. 
  3. Familiarize with FERM: Know how FERM works so that when you need to use it, you can proceed confidently. This article will help you gain the required understanding. 

These three simple steps will ensure that you are ready to take advantage of the Fatal Error Recovery Mode in WordPress. 


We now have a working understanding of the Fatal Error Recovery Mode. We have explored the benefits it introduces. The course of action this feature proposes is clear, and that can remove unnecessary anxieties and confusing decisions. I have pointed out how this feature can offer a better workflow when dealing with Fatal Errors. We have also seen the three essential steps you need to take to use this feature effectively. I hope this article proves useful to you in understanding and applying the Fatal Error Recovery Mode. 

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