How To Fix Critical Errors With WordPress Recovery Mode

Your WordPress site has vanished and in its place is an obscure message informing you “there has been a critical error on this website.” What’s going on? And more importantly, how do you get your website back online?

Below the error message, a link leads you to some information related to debugging WordPress. You’re not interested in debugging WordPress; you just want to get your website back online. What you need is WordPress recovery mode. This video explains what Recovery Mode is and shows you how to use it to get your website back online.

WordPress Recovery Mode critical error message.
When you see this message, your WordPress site is in Recovery Mode

Why Do WordPress Websites Break?

Any number of things can cause a WordPress website to fail. Usually, the problem is related to an incompatible plugin.

Fatal errors typically occur just after an update. Either you’ve updated or installed a plugin that’s incompatible with your site. Or you’ve updated WordPress only to discover that one of your existing plugins isn’t compatible with the latest version of WP.

What is WordPress Recovery Mode?

When an error prevents your website from loading properly, WordPress shifts into Recovery Mode. You can think of Recovery Mode as a special state that allows the site owner to access the WordPress Admin dashboard and disable the problem plugin. When you see the critical error message on your site, you’ll know your site is in Recovery Mode.

When a critical error is detected, WordPress sends an email to the site administrator. That message informs the administrator that there’s a problem with the website. The message also includes details about which plugin caused the error. Most importantly, the Recovery Mode email includes a recovery link that you can use to bypass the error message and log into your WordPress dashboard.

While the Recovery Mode error message may be annoying, the fix is usually straightforward, assuming you can access the website’s administrator email account.

I walk you through the website recovery process in the video tutorial above.

How Do I Recovery My Site If I Don’t Have Access To The Admin Email Address?

WordPress added recovery Mode in version 5.2. Before the introduction of recovery mode, critical errors were much more anxiety-inducing.

In the bad old days, site owners would learn there was a problem when their website disappeared, only to be replaced by a blank white screen (also known as the White Screen of Death).

If you don’t have access to the administrator’s email account for some reason, you won’t be able to use Recovery Mode. But you will be able to restore your site manually, using the method from the old days. The White Screen of Death recovery method still works. Refer to this classic WordPress lesson on fixing your broken website. You’ll need either an FTP program or access to the site’s cPanel dashboard to get the job done.

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3 thoughts on “How To Fix Critical Errors With WordPress Recovery Mode”

  1. Hallo Kirk. Great to hear your voice again after a long absence. I’m a “for life member” and am happy to be in touch again. Enjoyed your recovery tutorial very much.

    I absolutely hate any intervention messages from WordPress. So when I received one of those messages a month ago on an old WP site of mine, I was irritated beyond words. If WP can have an “opt out” of these notifications, where I can make my own decisions without needing to figure out what admin e-mail I had given for the Website that had been built years ago, that will be much appreciated. ๐Ÿ™‚ As it were (and Iโ€™m sure Iโ€™m no exception), I had created the WP site years ago when we put any e-mail address with no intention of using it. These days of course WP reminds us to use a โ€œrealโ€ e-mail address.

    Any way through trial and error I discovered the old WP site broke due to it being incompatible with php 8.0. In this case it was a very old theme that hadn’t been updated in a long time.
    https://www.wpexplorer.com/tetris-wordpress-theme/

    Following which that irritating message of WP came up. It wasn’t exactly helpful as I’d have been more admiring of WP if it had been able to pinpoint the php 8.0 issue straight away. I had to go through a few hoops to figure this out following your suggestions in your recovery tutorial. I went straight for disabling plugins. Regrettably of course disabling the theme wouldn’t work. Maybe you’d have been able to come with a better solution?

    The WP site was on a VPS with VestaCP (which I’ve since changed) but at the moment of things going wrong, there were five other WP sites on the VPS Panel. VestaCP had most recently upgraded to php 8.0 and to downgrade it to a lower php version would have been a long and rocky road, likely leading to breaking the panel as well.

    I’ve been using the WP All in One Migration plugin for some time now, so that’s one thing I learned from you in our lessons, to always make regular backups. I then searched for a free shared host, who offered a php selector in cPanel. Found one, dialed back to 5.4, imported the backup, and then had a fun session of looking for a new theme. Something I hadn’t done in ages. Silver lining here was that I found a much improved theme by Eda and was totally impressed with WP offering a tool whereby one can try the new demo theme out first through the customizer screen. In the end I was revamping, editing, and basically updating and upgrading the Website. Adding some material. Refreshing it. So that rude message of WP had a positive ending after all! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Welcome back, Dean! I’m sorry to hear about your long recovery saga. For what it’s worth, the old way (pre-recovery mode) sent no message of any kind to the site admin. Instead, you saw a white page — leading many to believe their website had vanished. That’s a much worse user experience, in my opinion (despite the somewhat obtuse wording of the WordPress notification).

      I don’t suggest moving to PHP 8 without plenty of testing — especially for older WordPress sites. 7.4 is the way to go, and even then, you’ll want to test older sites before upgrading. LocalWP is the best way to do this as it’s easy to replicate your site with a plugin like All in One Migration, then switch between PHP versions on your local installation.

      Anyway, I’m glad you were able to patch things up and find a newer theme!

  2. Thanks Kirk. You’re right of course. At least with the recovery notice from WP it is a step up from a blank page. Usually when I see the blank page I think it is an issue with the Database.

    For me the recovery message immediately brought the possibility of plugin issue. Which rarely happens as I’m a minimalist with plugins. But plugins do age of course and one’s trusted plugins may have been neglected by their authors. Only after I’d disabled all of the plugins in FileZilla with no effect did I realized the theme was very old, and in the back of my head I remembered a notice from WP in the Dashboard about php 8.0 creating issues. Then BIG surprise when I discovered VestaCP panel had been auto updated to php 8.0. No notification. VestaCP hadn’t been updated in a while by its author. Any way, I corrected that and am not on VestaCP any longer. I’ve also hardened security on my VPS and after all of the edits backed up my Website again. I should be good to go now for a while I hope.

    With regard to the Eda theme I mentioned, I made a mistake in the theme name. It should be Edda with two dโ€™s. I found it at wordpress.org. It is a free child theme by Mel Choyce based on Saga theme by Justin Tadlock. Brought back memories of your tutorial on how to create a child theme. Next WPApprentice tutorial I’ve bookmarked is the one on Elementor. Now that sounds bang on for me as I like to re-use the same basic themes with some modifications. This may save a few steps and time: https://wpapprentice.com/wordpress-site-design/elementor/elementor-theme-builder-the-easiest-way-to-make-a-custom-wordpress-theme/. Thanks for sending these jewels to “life long members” as well. They are always much appreciated.

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