503 Error WordPress: How To Fix the Service Unavailable Error (9 Methods)

The WordPress 503 error is a common menace that stops visitors dead in their tracks.

Imagine a new customer is visiting your site for the first time, and this message appears:

“503 Service Temporarily Unavailable.”

Sometimes, there’s not even an explanation attached. Regardless, your visitors won’t stick around. With these HTTP 503 errors, your WordPress website loses interest, revenue, and reputation.

A 503 error in WordPress usually means your web server is overloaded. Not only are visitors blocked from viewing your site, but you’re locked out of WordPress, too!


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Take a deep breath. We’re here to help you get your site back online.

If you’d prefer an expert to help, jump ahead to find out who to call.

If you just want to know how to fix 503 WordPress errors, skip ahead to our nine solutions.

What Is the WordPress 503 Error?

The WordPress 503 error appears when your site’s web server is overloaded or low on resources.

The server error is a temporary warning to website visitors, “locking the door” until the server’s back up to speed.

Although it’s temporary, there’s no telling how long a 503 lasts. Sometimes, it might need a quick refresh, but you likely need to intervene.

The longer you wait for luck to fix the problem, the more visitors will be rejected from seeing what your site has to offer. Best not to take your chances.

Thankfully, like the WordPress critical error, it’s a common problem you can fix on your own.

Variations of error 503 WordPress might display

You might not see the same 503 error message every time the problem occurs. Here’s what to look for:

  • HTTP Error 503
  • 503 Error
  • 503 (Service Unavailable)
  • 503 service unavailable error
  • Service Temporarily Unavailable
  • The server is too busy – please try again later
  • 503 – HTTP Error
  • Error 503 Service Unavailable
  • HTTP server error

Regardless of how it appears, 503 errors that WordPress users experience typically point to the same issues.

What Causes the 503 Forbidden Error on WordPress Sites?

WordPress 503 errors typically occur thanks to server overload, but there are a few root causes that trigger this.

For instance, your site might simply be experiencing higher traffic than usual, giving your server extra work and using up its CPU power and bandwidth.

Or, you might be running your site on a shared server, meaning other sites are sapping these resources.

Then, there are on-site problems you might need to fix. Your plugins or WordPress theme might be faulty or too resource-hungry, for instance.

You might even be the victim of a WordPress hack, such as a DDoS attack (Distributed Denial of Service), which overloads your server and takes you offline.

At simplest, it might just be that outdated content in your browser’s cache, such as cookies, is interfering with the server.

At the most technical, your CDN (Content Delivery Network) – often referred to as Cloudflare – might be experiencing a glitch, or there might be an error in your custom code.

9 Ways To Fix the 503 Error WordPress Is Showing

Let’s run through some proven ways to reverse the 503 error in WordPress.

In this tutorial, we’ll organize our top remedies into three sections:

  1. Common fixes for beginners to try (simple ways to address common causes of the 503 error that often solve the issue in minutes)
  2. Technical fixes that are easier with professional help (you can try these techniques yourself, but they require a little more effort and knowledge)
  3. Contact an expert (who you can call if you’ve tried all our tips or would prefer help)

Before you check out the 503 error tips below, back up your website through your web host. Saving a backup now means your hosting provider has a checkpoint you can reload if something goes wrong. Next, when you regain access to your WordPress dashboard, switch on automated backups. That way, you’re well-prepared if problems reoccur.

Given that you can’t access WordPress, we advise you to see if you can access your File Manager on cPanel.

If you can’t, you should install an FTP client (File Transfer Protocol) for some of the fixes below. FTPs let you log into the backend of your WordPress admin panel and access behind the scenes. We recommend using free FTPs, such as Filezilla – just make sure to ask your web hosting company for FTP login details for your site before you start.

Note: It’s always worth delegating to a WordPress dev if you don’t feel comfortable trying these fixes or simply don’t have time for troubleshooting. Skip to step nine if this is you!

How to fix error 503: 9 vital steps to take

Common fixes for beginners to tryIn Brief
Wait and refresh the pageWait to see if the problem disappears on its own or use a different browser; sometimes cache and cookie data conflicts with servers
Check your web host’s server statusCheck your web host’s social media, dashboard, and emails to see if servers are down
Deactivate and reactivate all your pluginsLog into your FTP program and rename individual plugins one by one to check if there’s a configuration problem
Deactivate your theme and change itRename your theme via FTP, then log into WordPress and switch to a different one
Technical fixes(easier with a dev’s help) 
Temporarily deactivate your CDNLog into your CDN client or your host’s dashboard and disable CDN features while you investigate or ask your host for help
Limit your WordPress Heartbeat APIAdd code to the functions.php file to temporarily pause conflicting background functions or raise with an expert
Enable WP_DEBUG and dig deeperAdd debug code to the wp-config.php file in your FTP and check debug.log for signs of the error
Upgrade your hosting plan or switch web hostMove from a shared plan to a private server, upgrade your memory limit, or change host for a more reliable site experience
Contact an expert 
Ask your host or a WordPress developer for helpContact your web host for advice or speak directly with a StateWP expert for a quick fix

Common fixes for beginners to try

In our experience, these WordPress 503 error fixes frequently solve the issue, and they’re also the easiest to try for yourself – so follow along step-by-step.

1. Wait and refresh the page

Waiting for the problem to disappear can fix a 503. Take a deep breath, wait five minutes, and refresh your website.

If it doesn’t reappear, try using a different browser. If you use Chrome, try Safari or Firefox, or vice versa.

Try using your browser’s “private” browsing mode, such as Chrome’s Incognito feature. This effectively rules out whether or not it’s your web cache or cookies stopping you from accessing the site.

In Chrome, to illustrate, select the three dots in the top-right corner, then “New Incognito Window,” like so:

As mentioned earlier, browser caches can sometimes interfere with server responses. Erase your browsing cache and cookies before moving to step two.

2. Check your web host’s server status

Sometimes, web hosts restrict server performance while performing maintenance and checks.

It’s common for hosts to do this during off-peak hours, but they sometimes need to restrict server resources at inconvenient times.

Search your email for any messages from your host as a priority, and then log into your host dashboard to see if there are any warnings or emergency notices.

If you find a warning message, it should inform you when the downtime is likely to finish. Take note of this and check your site again.

It’s also worth checking your web host’s social media for any real-time updates so you can keep customers informed if you need to.

3. Deactivate and reactivate all your plugins

A faulty or misconfigured WordPress plugin can sometimes cause server problems and 503 errors. Therefore, be prepared to deactivate your active plugins and potentially remove some.

Security plugins are some of the most common culprits for these issues. They might simply be over-sensitive.

Deactivation is usually straightforward through the WordPress dashboard, but because the 503 is blocking your access, you need to log into FTP and make changes.

Start by logging into your FTP with details provided by your web host.

Once logged in, look for the folder marked “wp-content” and open the “plugins” folder within it.

Switch off all your plugins just by renaming the plugins folder. Choose something memorable, like “503_plugins_old.”

Once you’ve renamed it, reload your website in two different browsers. Has the error disappeared? Can you log back into WordPress?

If so, a faulty plugin is to blame for the error. You must now return to FTP and manually reactivate each plugin to find the culprit.

Rename the “plugins” folder back to its previous name and open it. You now need to rename each plugin, which manually deactivates them.

After renaming a plugin, check your website and dashboard. If either or both go down again after reactivating a plugin, you can be sure that’s the one to blame.

Deactivate it again by changing its name and look for an alternative plugin when you log back into WordPress.

4. Deactivate your theme and change it

Just like plugins, faulty themes can trigger server and 503 errors. In this case, you need to follow a similar process through your FTP.

As above, log into your FTP and find the wp-content folder. Search the wp-content directory for the subfolder marked “themes.”

Rename the themes folder to something memorable so you can remember to change it back later. This will temporarily set your website to the default WordPress theme.

Try reloading your site and reaccessing your WordPress dashboard in two different browsers. If you regain access, that means your active theme was causing too much stress on the server, and it’s time to change it.

Once logged into your WordPress dashboard, head to “Appearance” and “Themes,” and follow WordPress’s Themes Library to find and install a new look.

Technical fixes that are easier with professional help

These tips frequently resolve 503 errors but require more time, effort, and technical knowledge. If you’d prefer to ask someone for help, skip to step nine.

5. Temporarily deactivate your CDN

Your CDN connects global servers to host and deliver different content for your website. The purpose of a CDN is to help visitors around the world load website elements faster than they might on a single, static server.

Regardless, problems with your CDN can also cause 503 errors. We therefore recommend you disable it temporarily to see if it’s causing the issue.

You can usually disable your CDN through your web host’s dashboard. The way to do this varies depending on your host, but here, let’s use SiteGround.

Log into your SiteGround dashboard and look for the menu tab marked “Speed.” Under this, select “CDN,” which brings up the CDN settings window like so:

Select your domain (i.e., your website) from the dropdown box, and click “Deactivate”:

Now, try accessing your site and logging into WordPress via two browsers, as before. If the error disappears, there’s a clear problem with your global servers.

In this case, raise the fault with your web host and leave your CDN deactivated until they can address and fix the problem. This, unfortunately, means your site might run a little slower than previously, but at least it’s live!

That said, an efficient CDN can help you avoid 503 errors. It helps to distribute the strain a single server might otherwise struggle with.

6. Limit your WordPress Heartbeat API

An API or Application Programming Interface helps two different programs communicate. WordPress’s Heartbeat API is a background tool that runs checks, shows notifications, and autosaves content while you’re working.

Again, like your CDN, Heartbeat can develop faults, specifically because it depends on your server’s resources to run.

So, like the CDN step, you need to temporarily disable or limit your Heartbeat API while investigating your 503. That means heading back to FTP and heading to “wp-content,” “themes,” and the folder for your current theme – e.g., “twentytwentyone.”

FTP screen

In this folder, you should see a file called “functions.php.” Right-click and save a backup of it to your local or cloud drive. Then, open it to edit it.

Now, you need to add a short code snippet to the PHP script to pause Heartbeat. Find the tag marked <?php and insert the following just after it:

add_action( ‘init’, ‘stop_heartbeat’, 1 );
function stop_heartbeat() {
wp_deregister_script(‘heartbeat’)
}

 

Once added, save the file again and check your website and dashboard.

It’s not wise to leave Heartbeat deactivated. So, we recommend you raise this issue with your host or a WordPress developer.

Alternatively, you can use a plugin such as Heartbeat Control, which lets you manage some of its functions so 503s don’t trigger in the future.

7. Enable WP_DEBUG and dig deeper

WordPress’s debug mode and error log can help resolve various common issues, such as 503s.

At this step, you need to activate manually via FTP. So, head back to your client and look for “wp-config.php” in your root directory (typically “public_html”).

Right-click and download a backup of the file to your drive. Open the copy you’ve saved to edit it, and look for the phrase:

/* Add any custom values between this line and the “stop editing” line. */

 

Then, paste the following code beneath that line:

define( ‘WP_DEBUG’, true );
define( ‘WP_DEBUG_LOG’, true );
define( ‘WP_DEBUG_DISPLAY’, false );

 

Save the file to your drive and then upload it into “public_html” via FTP.

Doing so creates a new file called “debug_log.” This is your error log, which lets you check what might be triggering the 503 error.

It might not be apparent where the error stems from – but this is a valuable record that might give clues as to where recent problems come from.

Keep your error log handy and contact your host or a WordPress developer to analyze the results.

8. Upgrade your hosting plan or switch web host

If you’re using a particularly cheap host or are on a shared server plan, 503 errors are pretty common. We always recommend WordPress users invest wisely in reputable hosts.

Increasing your server’s memory limit or upgrading your hosting plan can help ensure you have more resources to run your site. It’s wise to check these details with your host.

Moving hosts altogether might be more viable, even if it’s more expensive. After all, you’re losing money already the longer people can’t access your website!

Upgrading packages and moving hosts are big steps. Understandably, you might want a second opinion, and it’s wise to get that from a WordPress developer who isn’t representing a host.

For example, you can contact a StateWP expert for advice on whether or not upgrading or moving is worthwhile.

Contact an expert

If you’re here, you’ve either exhausted the tips above or would simply prefer expert advice. There’s no harm in asking for help!

9. Ask your host or a WordPress developer for help

In the first instance, your web host can help resolve your CDN and WordPress Heartbeat issues. Start by either logging into their dashboard and looking for their contact information or emailing them directly.

However, remember that hosts might only help so much with WordPress 503 errors. In fact, if you decide to move hosts entirely, it’s perhaps better to get a more balanced opinion – for example, from StateWP engineers.

We aim to address and resolve most WordPress issues within a day of you getting in touch.

You can log into Proto, our WordPress management dashboard, to raise support requests. However, if you can’t access WordPress because of a 503 error, you can call or email us instead – and we’ll fix your error straight away.

Banish the 503 Error WordPress Users Dread Seeing

The 503 error that WordPress users and visitors frequently experience is frustrating, but thankfully, it is pretty easy to fix. It’s a server overload issue typically resolved by checking plugins, themes, and a few internal features.

However, in some cases, you might need to dive a little deeper into some technical fixes. Sometimes, you might even need to use staging sites – frequently available from your web host – where you can make changes to a “rough draft” of your website instead of editing it live.

Remember, if you don’t feel confident fixing a 503 error yourself or don’t have time to check everything over, a quick email to StateWP’s devs is a step in the right direction.

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