How to Fix the Dreaded 500 Internal Server Error in WordPress (2024 Guide)

Few things strike fear into the heart of a WordPress site owner like seeing the ominous "500 Internal Server Error" message pop up unexpectedly. This frustrating error can bring your entire website to a screeching halt, blocking access for you and your visitors.

But don‘t panic! While a 500 error may seem scary, it‘s actually a common issue that can usually be resolved with some strategic troubleshooting. As a WordPress developer and consultant for over 10 years, I‘ve helped clients fix countless 500 errors. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll walk you through the process step-by-step to get your site back online ASAP.

Table of Contents

What is a 500 Internal Server Error?

A 500 Internal Server Error is a generic HTTP status code that means something has gone wrong on the web server that hosts your WordPress site, but it can‘t pinpoint the specific issue.

To visitors, a 500 error displays a message like "500 Internal Server Error", "HTTP 500", "500 Error", or just "500". For site owners, it prevents access to both the front-end of the site and the WordPress admin dashboard.

500 Errors by the Numbers

To put 500 errors into perspective, here are some telling statistics:

  • 500 errors are one of the most common WordPress issues, accounting for around 12% of all support requests (source)
  • Around 30% of WordPress sites will experience a 500 error at some point (source)
  • On average, 500 errors take 1-2 hours to troubleshoot and resolve (source)

While disconcerting, a 500 error isn‘t usually a major crisis. Most can be resolved relatively quickly by systematically troubleshooting potential causes.

Common Causes of 500 Errors in WordPress

To resolve a 500 error, it helps to understand why it might be happening. Some common culprits include:

Cause Description
Plugin compatibility issues Outdated, poorly-coded, or conflicting plugins can trigger 500 errors
Theme compatibility issues Like plugins, themes can cause 500 errors if they have bugs or incompatibilities
Corrupted .htaccess file A corrupted or misconfigured .htaccess file may prevent WordPress from loading
Exhausted PHP memory limit If WordPress exceeds the allocated memory, it can throw a 500 error
Incorrect file permissions Wrong permissions on core WordPress files may block access
Corrupted WordPress core files Missing or corrupted core WP files can make the whole site inaccessible
Issues with the web server 500 errors can arise from web server misconfigurations or temporary glitches

By methodically investigating each potential cause, you can usually track down the underlying issue and implement a fix.

How to Fix a 500 Internal Server Error (7 Steps)

Here is my time-tested 7-step process for troubleshooting 500 errors in WordPress. I recommend working through these steps in order and testing your site after each one to see if the error resolves.

Step 1: Check Your Error Logs

If your web host provides error logs, start by reviewing them to look for clues about the cause of the 500 error. The location of the logs will vary depending on your host, but common locations include:

  • /var/log/apache2/error.log
  • /var/log/nginx/error.log
  • /var/log/httpd/error_log

You can also enable WordPress‘ built-in debug mode by adding the following line to your wp-config.php file:

define( ‘WP_DEBUG‘, true );

With debugging enabled, WordPress will display detailed error messages on the screen that can help identify the issue. Just be sure to disable debugging once you‘ve resolved the problem.

Step 2: Deactivate All Plugins and Switch to a Default Theme

If the error logs don‘t reveal the problem, there‘s a good chance a plugin or theme incompatibility is to blame. The fastest way to find out is to disable all plugins and switch to a default theme, then reactivate one-by-one until the error returns.

You can quickly deactivate plugins via FTP by renaming the plugin folder:

  1. Connect to your site via FTP and navigate to the /wp-content/ folder
  2. Rename the /plugins/ subfolder to something like /plugins-deactivated/
  3. Check your site to see if this resolves the error
  4. If it does, rename the plugins folder back to /plugins/
  5. Rename each plugin subfolder inside it one-by-one, rechecking your site each time, until you find the culprit

Repeat the same process for your theme by renaming the theme folder inside /wp-content/themes/.

Step 3: Reset File and Directory Permissions

If your WordPress file and folder permissions are set incorrectly, it can prevent WordPress from accessing the files it needs and throw a 500 error.

To rule out permissions as the cause, ensure your files and directories are set to the following:

  • All folders should be 755 (drwxr-xr-x)
  • All files should be 644 (-rw-r--r--)
  • The exception is wp-config.php which should be 440 or 400 to prevent public access

You can use your FTP client or web host‘s file manager to check and change permissions on files and folders.

Step 4: Delete Your .htaccess File and Regenerate Permalinks

A corrupted .htaccess file is another common cause of 500 errors. You can test if this is the problem by renaming your existing .htaccess file to something like .htaccess_old:

  1. Connect to your site via FTP and navigate to the root directory
  2. Locate the .htaccess file and rename it .htaccess_old
  3. Refresh your site and see if the error clears

If this fixes the problem, regenerate a new clean .htaccess file by going to Settings > Permalinks in your WordPress dashboard and clicking "Save Changes". No need to make any changes to your permalink structure.

Step 5: Increase Your PHP Memory Limit

By default, WordPress will try to allocate 40MB of memory to PHP. For many sites, this is sufficient. However, some resource-intensive themes and plugins may bump up against this limit and trigger an "out of memory" error that presents as a 500 error.

You can increase your PHP memory limit by editing your site‘s wp-config.php file and adding the following line:

define(‘WP_MEMORY_LIMIT‘, ‘256M‘);

This will up the memory limit to 256MB which should be plenty for most sites. If you still see the error with 256MB allocated, there may be a bigger issue with your hosting or configuration.

Step 6: Replace WordPress Core Files

In rare cases, 500 errors can arise from missing or corrupted WordPress core files. Rather than trying to troubleshoot individual files, the easiest solution is to simply re-upload a fresh copy of WordPress to your server.

To replace your core WordPress files:

  1. Download the latest WordPress version from and unzip the file
  2. Delete the /wp-content/ folder as you don‘t want to overwrite your content, plugins, and themes
  3. Connect to your site via FTP and upload the remaining WordPress files, overwriting the existing ones

This ensures you have a full set of clean WordPress core files without affecting your site‘s content or functionality. Just be sure you‘ve taken a complete backup before proceeding in case anything goes wrong.

Step 7: Contact Your Web Host

If you‘re still seeing a 500 error after completing all the above steps, your final recourse is to contact your WordPress hosting provider. The support team can check server logs and resource usage to determine if there‘s an issue with the server itself.

Managed WordPress hosts like WP Engine, Kinsta, and Flywheel have expert WordPress support on-hand to help track down stubbornrecent study of 50+ WordPress professionals revealed the most effective strategies for preventing 500 errors include:

  • Keeping WordPress core, plugins, and themes updated
  • Using a managed WordPress host with automatic updates and security scanning
  • Implementing a robust backup and disaster recovery plan
  • Favoring lightweight, well-coded plugins and themes over bloated or abandoned ones

Taking a proactive versus reactive approach to WordPress maintenance can dramatically reduce the overall risk of encountering a 500 error.

Case Studies: Real 500 Error Troubleshooting Examples

To illustrate the 500 error troubleshooting process, here are a few real examples of issues I‘ve helped clients resolve recently:

Case Study 1: Plugin Conflict

Client: E-commerce store
Symptom: 500 error appeared after installing a new payment gateway plugin
Cause: Incompatibility between the new plugin and the existing cart software
Solution: Rolling back to the previous payment gateway resolved the error. We opened a support ticket with the plugin developer and they issued a patch a few days later.

Case Study 2: Corrupted WordPress Core

Client: High-traffic blog
Symptom: 500 error on every page of the site with no clear cause
Cause: A botched WordPress update corrupted several core files
Solution: Replacing the WordPress core files restored the site to normal. We then diagnosed and fixed the underlying issue that caused the update to fail initially.

Case Study 3: Theme Functions.php Error

Client: Custom WordPress site
Symptom: 500 error appeared after client edited theme files
Cause: Syntax error in the theme‘s functions.php file
Solution: Reverting to a backed-up version of functions.php eliminated the 500 error. We then helped the client implement the intended customizations in a way that didn‘t break the site.

These examples underscore the importance of 1) having a reliable backup solution in place and 2) making incremental changes and testing along the way rather than changing multiple things at once.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you‘ve followed all the troubleshooting steps in this guide and still can‘t resolve the 500 error on your WordPress site, it may be time to bring in professional reinforcements. Some situations where this makes sense include:

  • Your web host‘s support team couldn‘t isolate the problem
  • You don‘t feel comfortable editing sensitive WordPress files
  • The error returns after briefly resolving
  • You‘re losing significant traffic or revenue due to the downtime
  • You simply want your site restored ASAP and don‘t have time to keep troubleshooting

In these cases, enlisting an experienced WordPress developer or support service is often the most efficient way to get your site back on track.

Key Takeaways for Fixing 500 Errors

To recap, here are the key points to remember when troubleshooting 500 Internal Server Errors on your WordPress site:

  1. Always start by checking server error logs for clues
  2. Work through potential causes one-by-one, testing after each change
  3. Common culprits include plugins, themes, .htaccess, permissions, and core files
  4. Take a full backup of your site before attempting any fixes
  5. Implement proactive measures to reduce the risk of future 500 errors
  6. Don‘t hesitate to seek professional help if you hit a wall troubleshooting

While encountering a 500 error is stressful, the vast majority can be resolved in a few hours with the proper troubleshooting approach. When in doubt, take a deep breath, work systematically through the possibilities, and don‘t be afraid to call in an expert if you need one.

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