Your WordPress website is running smoothly but you notice on the admin area that there are several updates available. Or, your security software lets you know that your website needs updating. There are several reasons why you should keep your WordPress website up-to-date. Updated core software fixes known bugs and security issues. Theme and plugin updates also provide additional security and bug fixes. So, you take the plunge and start updating your website. With the updates completed, you visit your website and poof, it doesn’t work. You either see a white screen or a message stating that your website is ‘Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute’. Read on to discover how to recover your website when a WordPress update fails.

Feeling a little panicked, you try to log into the admin area but you discover that you can’t. What is causing the scheduled maintenance message and why isn’t it going away?

Delete .maintenance file

Each time you run updates on your WordPress website, the software creates a hidden file (named .maintenance) in the root directory of your website. When the update finishes, WordPress deletes the .maintenance file. When a WordPress update fails, this file does not get removed. You need to manually remove the file to gain access to the admin area.

To remove the offending file, log into the file area of your website. You can either use the cpanel or FTP to access the file area. You may need to turn on the ‘show hidden files’ feature to see the file. Delete the .maintenance file. Check your website to see if it came back online. If yes, then you can breathe again.

Learn which update failed

You still need to check the back end to see which WordPress update did not install. Sometimes, it is WordPress core and other times, it is a theme or plugin that did not update. Other times, the order of running updates causes conflicts. I find that updating plugins first, followed by themes and then WordPress core is a safe approach. Don’t try installing all the updates at the same time.  Also, check your website after each update. If your website stops working after one update, you will know the culprit because it was the last update you installed.

If your website still doesn’t work, you need to dig a little deeper. Log in to the cpanel file manager or FTP to your file directory. In the wp-content folder, you will see a folder named plugins. Rename the plugins folder (to something like plugins-bak). This will disable all plugins. Try your website again. If your website works, then you know one of your plugins is the problem. Rename the plugins folder (remove whatever change you made to the folder name). Move into the plugins directory and rename each directory (rename all to -bak). Test the website by removing the -bak from each plugin folder one at a time and retest your website. When your website stops working, you know the offending plugin.

Check Themes

You can also follow the same process for the installed themes. Navigate to the wp-content/themes folder and rename all theme folders except for the latest WordPress default theme (currently twentynineteen). If the website works, then you know the problem is with your theme.

Normally, updating WordPress is an eventless affair. But, on occasion, something goes wrong and your website stops working. Knowing how to find the culprit and get your website back up is crucial. Following the steps outlined above, you can take action when a WordPress update fails.   

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