How To Use WordPress Maintenance Mode [Enabling, Disabling, & Troubleshooting]

May 06, 2024  | How ToWebsite Maintenance
Maintaining and fixing a WordPress site involves a lot of work. Some tasks even require you to take your site out of action.

But what if your visitors head to your website and see a blank page while you’re working on the latest changes? They might feel confused and go elsewhere.


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With WordPress maintenance mode, you can let people know why your site’s under construction and when they can expect it to go live again.

Let’s explore how to use it.

What Is WordPress Maintenance Mode?

WordPress maintenance mode is a feature you activate through coding or plugins to show a custom splash page to visitors with a maintenance mode message to inform them you’re making changes to your site:

For example, you might need to fix coding problems, add new visuals, update your core files, or do any other sort of backend maintenance.

Maintenance mode ensures visitors know why your site is down and protects them from errors or other unexpected frustrations.

Why Should You Turn On WordPress Maintenance Mode?

Turning on WordPress website maintenance mode:

  • Provides a better user experience: Your visitors aren’t confused if your website’s temporarily down or if certain pages and features aren’t working properly
  • Prevents errors and failed orders: Blocking access to your site while in maintenance means there’s no risk of customers getting disappointed by faults or checkout errors
  • Builds transparency with your customers: Your visitors appreciate you keeping them in the loop – you can boost your reputation by advising why your site’s offline and when they can expect to access it again
  • Protects your SEO: Google can penalize your search results rankings if your site’s front end has 404 errors or broken links – Maintenance Mode sends 503 error messages to search engine crawlers so they know it’s a temporary issue
  • Protects visitors from security risks: Taking your site into maintenance mode when fixing bugs and cleaning malware ensures there’s no risk of your visitors getting infected or attacked

When Should You Turn On WordPress Maintenance Mode?

If you’re making large changes to your WordPress site that could disrupt your visitors’ browsing or shopping, it makes sense to “pause” it to avoid causing frustration.

You should ideally turn on maintenance mode in WordPress when you’re:

  • Updating WordPress themes, plugins, or core files: Updates can cause browsing errors if your website’s still live
  • Rebranding or redesigning your website: Leaving a website live during rebranding or redesigning, such as adding new background images, can result in broken layouts and navigation problems for your visitors
  • Adding or modifying website functions: Modifying functions while leaving your site live could result in visual and navigational errors
  • Fixing errors or cleaning malware: Maintenance mode stops visitors from experiencing the bugs you’re trying to fix

Alternatively, you can create a staging environment to develop your site without pausing. Skip ahead to learn more.

How To Put WordPress in Maintenance Mode: 2 Options

It’s easy to put your WordPress site into maintenance mode either:

  1. With a bit of coding
  2. With a plugin

Before you do, ensure you know what you’d like your maintenance landing page to say. As with any coming soon page, the more details, the better.

First, we recommend giving your visitors a rough timescale for when you expect the site to be down. This can be done with an estimated “go-live” time or even a countdown timer.

Surprisingly, only 11% of website visitors claim they return to a site later if it’s down. Therefore, reassuring potential new customers you’ll be back as soon as possible makes sense!

You should also include contact details people can use in an emergency or to learn more about when the site comes back online. We recommend setting up a specific email address for this – for example, “maintenance@yourdomainhere.com” – so it’s easy to filter requests made during downtime.

You could add a contact or subscription form where people can leave details to receive updates. That would save them from having to check back, and you could push a form email to subscribers announcing when you’re live and what you fixed.

You could also use this contact form to help capture leads for future marketing purposes (just make sure you set privacy policies to keep data safe and your practices legal, i.e., by following GDPR).

Finally, it’s a good idea to include social media icons so customers can connect with you on their favorite platforms.

Once you’ve decided what to include in your maintenance landing page, it’s time to lock down your website temporarily.


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But, one last thing:

Back up your website first and switch on automated backups, too. You never know when you might need to load a save point if something goes wrong.

1. With a bit of coding

Whether you prefer the manual route or don’t want to use plugins, setting up maintenance mode via coding is relatively easy.

Adding code to your site to activate maintenance mode is a good short-term measure. If you know you might be down for longer or want to create custom landing pages, a plugin might be more efficient.

Here’s our step-by-step guide:

Head to your WordPress dashboard, then select “Appearance” and “Theme Editor” from the left-hand side.

In the new screen, select “Theme Functions” from the right. This opens a core file called functions.php.

Select all the code in the middle window and copy it, then paste it into a text file to save. This is effectively a backup of that code in case you need to reload it from scratch.

Now, head back to the code in the dashboard and paste the following at the bottom of functions.php. Please edit the bold sections to display your own custom message:

function wp_maintenance_mode() {

if (!current_user_can(‘edit_themes’) || !is_user_logged_in()) {
wp_die(‘<h1>Heading Message</h1><br />Body Text’);
}
}
add_action(‘get_header’, ‘wp_maintenance_mode’);

 

Click “Update File” and check how your website appears in another browser tab or window.

If you don’t have access to the WordPress dashboard because of an error or login problems or don’t have the theme editor, you can use an FTP (file transfer protocol) program such as FileZilla to edit functions.php behind the scenes.

Download FileZilla and ask your web host for your site’s FTP login credentials. Log in, and your website’s folders and files appear like this:

In your root directory, which is usually “public_html,” open the “wp-content” folder and then the “themes” folder.

Look for a folder containing the name of your active theme, such as “twenty-twenty-one.” Open it and look for functions.php. Right-click, copy, and paste the file onto your computer so you have a backup.

Then, right-click the file in FileZilla again and click “Edit.” Add the code from above to the bottom of the file, save it, and refresh your website. Maintenance mode should now be active.

Activating maintenance mode this way can be complex and time-consuming. However, it’s the best workaround if you can’t access WordPress at all or if you’d prefer to avoid using any extra plugins.

Alternatively, you can contact StateWP as a partner to switch maintenance mode on and off by making a quick service request through our Proto dashboard.

2. With a plugin

If you can access the WordPress dashboard, plugins offer more customization and ease of setup.

Several WordPress maintenance mode plugins are available, and below, we’ll review three of the best. To demonstrate how to get set up with a plugin, let’s use SeedProd in our mini tutorial.

Head to your dashboard and “Plugins” and use the search engine to find SeedProd in WordPress’s software library.

Follow the on-screen instructions to install and activate the plugin. Then, head back to your dashboard and refresh your browser window until you see “SeedProd” in the left-hand panel.

Select “Landing Pages” from the SeedProd plugin’s settings, and on the next screen, select “Set up a Maintenance Mode Page.”

Choose a page template that appeals to you from the following page:

Then, customize your page as you wish, and click “Save” when finished.

At the top of the builder page, click “Page Settings,” then in “General,” give your maintenance page a title and select “Publish.”

Then, click the green “Save” button at the top of the screen and select “Publish.”

Next, select “SeedProd” and “Landing Pages” in the WordPress dashboard. In SeedProd’s main menu, click the “Inactive” switch underneath “Maintenance Mode” so it reads “Active” and turns green.

Reload your website in another browser window or tab, and your maintenance message should now be live.

The 3 best WordPress maintenance mode plugins

If using a WordPress plugin for maintenance mode is more appealing to you than editing code, here are three of the best:

LightStart

LightStart makes it easy to toggle maintenance mode and customize landing pages.

We also like this plugin because it offers a customizable chatbot, meaning you can continue providing limited service to visitors while working behind the scenes.

This free plugin works with all of WordPress’s authorized free and premium themes. Its configuration system is based on the familiar, user-friendly drag-and-drop block editor.

SeedProd

SeedProd’s popular plugin is an all-in-one web page builder with “coming soon” and maintenance mode landing screens built in.

We recommend it if you want to create other pages for your site at speed or don’t necessarily have the creative capacity to design them from scratch.

Free and premium plugin versions are available, with SeedProd Pro offering more customization and marketing features for complete website building.

CMP – Coming Soon and Maintenance

NiteoThemes’ CMP plugin is surprisingly feature-rich despite being free to download. It includes several bundled themes, subscriber form features, and a simple redirection mode.

It’s also one of the best maintenance plugins for managing Google Analytics, meaning you can add your tracker and monitor performance while your site’s on pause.

The customization features here are intuitive, with integration available for Google Fonts and a series of helpful stock photos.

How To Disable WordPress Maintenance Mode: 2 Options

When you’ve finished editing, maintaining, or fixing your site, it’s time to switch maintenance mode off so visitors can regain access.

Again, you can reactivate your site by editing code or using a specific plugin. If you used a plugin such as SeedProd to switch maintenance on, it’s easy enough to deactivate it.

Here’s what you need to do.

1. With a bit of coding

Remember the code you added to functions.php? You need to head back to the file in your WordPress dashboard or Filezilla and remove it.

So, follow the same path through the dashboard as you did earlier. Click “Appearance” and “Theme Editor,” and then select “Theme Functions.”

Now, delete the code you added earlier and save the settings. Refresh your website, and it should be back live again.

Through FileZilla, return to functions.php in your chosen theme’s folder (in wp-content) and delete the code you added previously.

Save the file, and refresh your site in a browser window or tab.

2. With a plugin

Usually, this step is as easy as heading back to your plugin in the dashboard and clicking “deactivate.”

With SeedProd, head back to the “Pages” screen, and click the “Active” switch under “Maintenance Mode Page” so it grays out and says “Inactive.”

Now, reaccess your site – it should be back live.

How To Troubleshoot WordPress Website Maintenance Mode

In rare cases, you might find your WordPress stuck in maintenance mode.

Here are a few quick shortcuts you can take to resolve this issue:

1. Clear your browser cache

It’s entirely possible that getting WordPress stuck in maintenance mode means your site is loading outdated code from temporary files.

In this case, step one is to delete your browser’s cache. Let’s assume you’re using Chrome.

Click the three-dot symbol at the top-right, scroll down, hover over “More Tools,” and select “Clear Browsing Data…”

On the next page, select “All Time” from the “Time range” dropdown box and tick “Browsing history” and “Cached images and files.”

You can also delete cookies here, but remember that you might lose some functionality on websites you visit and might need to log back into several of them.

Click “Clear data” and try your website again in a separate tab.

2. Clear your WordPress cache

Step two involves flushing out your WordPress cache for reasons similar to the above. Temporary files stored on WordPress itself might offer outdated information to visitors, such as the fact that you are still in maintenance mode.

The fastest way to clear your website’s cache is to use a caching plugin such as WP Rocket. Install and activate the software through WordPress’s search engine.

However, you ideally need to install this before the problem arises, meaning while this is useful if the problem occurs in the future, it’s not helpful right now.

Instead, head to your web host’s user portal or dashboard. For this example, we’re using WPengine.

Log into the host’s user portal, select “Sites,” then the name of your site or environment, and then “Caching.”

Select “Clear all caches” to ensure all temporary files are deleted. This makes your website run slower for a little while until your host re-caches your website.

Reload your website in another browser window or tab to see if maintenance mode disappears.

3. Delete the .maintenance file

A temporary “.maintenance” file sometimes remains in your website’s folders after you deactivate maintenance mode. It might also have been corrupted. In any case, it’s worth checking if it’s still lingering by logging back into FileZilla.

In FileZilla, head to your root folder or public_html, and you should see .maintenance listed.

Right-click the file and delete it.

If you can’t see it, click “Server” at the top of FileZilla and select “Force showing hidden files.”

Recheck the root folder to see if .maintenance appears.

4. Reach out to StateWP

If all else fails, or if you’d prefer a developer to help you get back online, you can simply contact StateWP to figure out how to turn off maintenance mode for you.

Through Proto, you can raise a service request to ask one of our experts to investigate the problem.

Screenshot of Proto showing the State Creative portal

After receiving your message, we work on finding a solution and aim to reactivate your site within a day. Before you know it, your website’s alive and kicking again!

The Better Alternative to WordPress Maintenance Mode: Staging Sites in a Dev Environment

Instead of taking your site offline completely and risking business loss, you can change it in a staging or development environment.

Think of it as a practice site or a rough draft. Make changes to this site, and you can experiment and troubleshoot if you need to before confidently changing the real version.

Web hosts like WPengine offer staging sites as standard, but when you partner with a WordPress maintenance agency, you can delegate all the necessary work behind the scenes.

This means you can continue running your site at pace and minimize the loss of customers. It also means you can keep providing a service without spending time fixing your site yourself.

StateWP, for example, monitors site performance and health behind the scenes, making changes in dev environments and only publishing splash pages when the live site needs to be temporarily down (e.g., overnight) to transfer the changes from the dev environment to the live one.

If you’d prefer to handle maintenance mode yourself, plugins and code editing make it pretty easy – but why risk the downtime when staging sites and WordPress developers can take care of it all for you?


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Keep Your Customers Happy with WordPress Maintenance Mode

No one likes being in the dark, and a downed website can be pretty frustrating for your customers.

So, don’t give them the option of choosing a competitor. Use maintenance mode in WordPress to assure them you’re working on essential fixes behind the scenes and that you aim to return soon.

You can do this with free plugins or by editing your website’s code. Or, for maximum speed and convenience, you can delegate locking down your site to StateWP’s professionals, who use staging environments to minimize risk and customer disruptions.

Now that you know how to use WordPress maintenance mode, check out our layman’s guide on maintaining your site.

WordPress Maintenance Mode FAQs

Let’s close out with some quick, commonly asked questions about WordPress maintenance mode.

Does WordPress have a maintenance mode?
Yes, WordPress has a maintenance mode you can activate via code editing or a plugin that lets you lock down your website temporarily.

This mode is useful when performing updates behind the scenes, fixing bugs, and redesigning elements of your site. Maintenance mode tells visitors you’re down temporarily, and you can tell them when they can expect to have access again.

What does it mean when a website is in maintenance mode?
A website that is in maintenance mode is set to “private,” meaning people cannot access it while the owner makes changes behind the scenes.

Maintenance mode for WordPress creates a landing or splash page that tells visitors a website is down. Website owners can change the messages on these pages to explain why the site is locked down and when it should come back up.

How do I temporarily disable my WordPress site?
  1. Log into WordPress.
  2. Search for the “SeedProd” WP maintenance mode plugin through the search engine in “Plugins,” then install and activate it.
  3. Hover over “SeedProd” and select “Pages.”
  4. Click “Activate” underneath “Maintenance Mode Page.”
  5. Save changes.
  6. Check your website in another browser tab. It should display a temporary default splash page advising your site is down. You can customize its appearance and message within the plugin’s editor.
How do I enable maintenance mode in WordPress without a plugin?
The quickest way to enable maintenance without a WP maintenance mode plugin is to edit your functions.php file. You can find this by heading to “Appearance” and “Theme Editor” in your WordPress dashboard and choosing “Theme Functions.”

To switch maintenance mode on, you need to add a new line of code to the file (see our full guide above for details).

How do I turn off maintenance mode in WordPress?
  1. If using a plugin, log into WordPress.
  2. Select your plugin (e.g., SeedProd) through your dashboard.
  3. Look for the option to “Deactivate” maintenance mode in the next window and save settings.
  4. If you edited code, head to “Appearance” and “Theme Editor” in WordPress, and then “Theme Functions.”
  5. Delete any code you added to the site to activate maintenance mode and save settings.
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