It's happened to everybody around the Globe, to first-timers and to experienced WordPress users: your website goes down and your users (sometimes you as well) can't access its pages and you lose visits, conversions, and money eventually. It's a known truth: downtime is completely impartial - it doesn't care who you are or what you are doing when it strikes.
And in those moments, when your pages don't show up, or you login page doesn't work anymore, you think the world is sending you a pretty clear message: "I hate you, Matteo". Before freaking out and banging your head against the wall, there's plenty of things you could do to turn this awful situation around -- to know what's causing the downtime and act accordingly.
Want to know what to do when your website is down and/or unreachable? Let's dive in!
Make sure your website is actually down
When it comes to figuring out what's wrong with your website, you should start with small steps and cut down on elements that usually have to do with your website going offline. Following this approach, for starters, you have to be 100% sure your website being down doesn't have to do with a lack of internet connection from your end. So, to gather such information, you should visit one of the following online tools and add your domain to be checked:
As they say, acknowledging you have a problem is the first step, right? Let's now move to what are the most common causes of downtime for a given website.
What can cause downtime on your website?
When it comes to looking for what's causing your website to be offline and/or unreachable, there are several subjects and scenarios that might take place. The most common are:
- An expired domain
- Unfinished/incomplete auto-updates
- Plugin/theme conflicts
- Server crashed
- Hosting issues
- Hack, DoS/DDoS attack, Malware
Let's now review each of them and see what you could do to get your website back up and running.
1. Your domain expired
I know, it's almost a no-brainer but we're cautiously evaluating all the possibilities here. And that accounts for starting from the most basic aspect to investigate: your domain. In simple words your domain name, i.e. http://example.com, is the specific address to which users are able to reach your website. If you purchased the domain some time ago then it is possible that its registration to you has expired.
To be 100% sure your domain registration is still running, you're faced with two possibilities: search for your domain registrar email related to your purchase or just shot a quick WHOIS check and get that info in seconds. So just go to a website like who.is and write down your domain in:
Together with other important information about your specific domain name, you should see when it'll expire. In our example here with codeable.io, the expiry date is set to 15-11-2016.
2. Unfinished/incomplete auto-updates
WordPress is a powerful tool to build websites, so much so that it now powers more than 1/4 of the entire internet. To maintain this power WordPress and the range of themes and plugins that go along with it need regular updates. And when updates go wrong, things can get scary and messy. I don't want to scare you off but, not only manual updates (those you deliberately activate by clicking the "update" button), also the WordPress auto-update feature might fail sometimes.
In these cases, your website isn't technically down; you just can't access it. Specifically, it will display some worrying messages such as "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Please check back in a minute." or "Fatal error: Call to undefined function is_network_admin() in /home/website/public_html/wp-admin/admin-header.php on line 16"
When you hit update or WordPress auto-updates the first step is to put your site into a maintenance mode that makes it inaccessible to users. If you are seeing the former of the error messages above then what has happened is that the process has failed before its completion and being brought back out of maintenance mode. If you are seeing the latter then something else went wrong during the update procedure or your core WordPress files may have become corrupted for another reason.
a) If you're seeing the maintenance error message, you should take care of your .maintenance file.
b) If you're getting the "Fatal error.." message, it'll be a matter to manually update your WordPress install.
3. Plugin/theme conflicts
This isn't really downtime either technically speaking, yet it still tweaks you off. Most importantly it makes your website unreachable, which is something you need to overcome. As is the case with the auto-update WordPress feature going wrong, it's pretty common to end up with a non-fully functioning website because one of our plugin/theme updates brought in something we had no idea of. This happens because the update might be featuring some code, function or script that conflicts with your current WordPress install, as some other plugins you're using, or simply your current theme.
If that's your case, you should login via FTP to your website and do one of the following based on what your most recent update was:
a) if you're experiencing issues after a plugin update, disable your plugins and see if your website starts working back normally.
b) if you're experiencing issues after a theme update, disable your current theme and activate WordPress default theme.
4. Server is crashing
If none of the previous scenarios apply to you and your website, it's now time to look at it's "home", namely the server where it's hosted. And now that you're probably looking for a solution to your website being down, chickens will come home to roost. Why? Because if you're on a $1-5/month price tier shared hosting provider, you can't expect they would provide you with a high uptime/downtime ratio for that price.
In that case, you should consider to invest a little more in your hosting provider and opt for a managed WordPress hosting (like our partners WP Engine) or, if you're a techie guy/gal, set up your own WordPress VPS.
But those aren't you're only options, specifically, it's worth looking if your website's exceeding the allocated PHP memory and increase it to see if the issue gets resolved.
5. Your hosting provider has issues
With cheap hosting solutions, your website might end up being hosted in a poorly configurated environment that leads to different negative outputs and more frequent issues happening even if you are doing everything right. My tip here is to set up an automatic uptime monitor tool and get in touch with your hosting provider, as soon as you get a notification of a downtime regarding your website.
Note: remember that words are important when opening up a ticket with any support, and if you offend them, curse, or just write all CAPS, your request might be delayed a bit. So, try to keep a professional approach and ask them to look at your issue with all information at your disposal.
6. Your website has been hacked or is under a DoS/DDoS attack
— Lizard Squad (@LizardLands) April 14, 2016
Look at this tweet that's referencing to a recent Blizzard's games downtime: World Of Warcraft, Diablo III, and other popular online games all were unreachable. I guess that day will now be on any nerd's calendar marked as the day the world ended for a while :)
My point being, yep, people who want to break into your website or mess around with it are a well-known segment of the Web. Everybody has to deal with them, not only big players such as Blizzard here. What about your website, then? Well, if you're not sure your website has been hacked, run a Sucuri sitecheck and see what results you get. If your website has no malware affecting it, just go over these FAQ on WordPress Codex and try to gather more info about what's causing it to go offline or run weirdly.
If you're under a DoS/DDoS attack things might change and (again) the quality of your hosting provider plays a key role here, based on their architecture, infrastructure, or expertise that a more professional service is (usually) able to provide. So if your website is currently down or unreachable, you should contact your hosting provider as soon as you realize your situation and share with them all information you have. How did you find it out?, Are you able to login?, What other weird things did you notice happening?, are good questions to start your conversation with your hosting provider.
Need help with security? Post your project here and have a hand-picked WordPress expert work on your website immediately.
Downtime and outages are like getting older: it will happen to you, and there's nothing you can do to stop it forever. As with aging, you're faced with plenty of possibilities in which you could slow that process down a bit, meaning you can lower the chance for your website to be offline and/or unreachable. How? By picking a good hosting company, improving your overall security on a regular basis, and backup the hell out of it as the three foundations of your approach.
And don't ever forget about your most valuable asset: having a strategy to let your customers know what your website is experiencing by keeping their expectations fulfilled. Even if your world looks like it is collapsing, theirs is not.