Error Establishing a Database Connection in WordPress

I am working on a project with a friend. We are developing a new WordPress website. I am doing the background IT stuff and he is designing the web site.
I want to share my experience of handling the dreaded “Error Establishing a Database Connection” in WordPress. I have not found a similar case while researching this problem, and I want to share the “false” rabbit trails that I went down, trying to solve this problem.

A few nights ago, about 10:00, I received a text message out of the blue from my partner, saying we was busy developing the website, and all of a sudden he went to view it and he got a white screen saying “Error Establishing a Database Connection”. He wanted to know if I was doing something on the web site. I was not. He then informed me that he lost control of the “admin” side of the website as well.

I instantly got a knot in my stomach, as this website has to be up soon, and we have been having difficulties for a while and finally set up a new hosting account.

A little back story:
I used the easy 1 click WordPress install that many hosts have available. Why not? It’s easy!
I adjusted the php version to the latest, set some php parameters that are necessary for the website like the upload size, etc.
Uploaded the purchased theme we are using.
Installed and activated all the necessary plug-ins for the theme.
And set up an additional Admin user.

Perfect. Right?

My partner then went at his magic and started designing the website. As I mentioned before, after several hours of work, and about 10:00 at night, I received a text saying “I am getting an ‘Error Establishing a Database Connection”. Are you doing anything? My response “No, Arrrg!!!” He then said he just lost his admin login also.

The first thing on-line guides will tell you, is to check the database credentials: database name, database user name, password.  I knew these didn’t randomly change.  I tried running a small script to test the database connection and got a 500 internal server error. Ouch.

I logged into the hosting control panel and started fiddling around. I looked at the database, and it all looked ok… for a while. Then I lost connection and the control panel asked me for the password for the database user. Upon searching the web for solutions, the suggestion that the MySql server was down. That seemed likely to me, or at least trying to go down as things were intermittent. Little did I know, I was on a wrong rabbit trail. I fought with that for some time.

I looked into rebuilding the database within WordPress. There is a command that can be added to the end of wp-config.php, and go to a certain url withing your website (Google it), and you should come up with a little menu that enables you to check the database and fix things. I could not access that.

Using the control panel supplied file manager, I manually disabled all the plug-ins. I thought maybe there was a rogue one there somewhere. Ta da… I was able to access the database-fix url. I did that. Then I had admin access. I also had limited access to the actual web site, but some pages were blank. No error, just a white screen. I reactivated the plug-ins and boom, it went down again. I thought I would have to enable one at a time until the nasty one showed its ugly side. I had to do the database rebuild thing each time to gain access. Again, I was on a rabbit trail that I did not intend on being, without knowing it.

In the mean time, my mind was going a hundred different ways. I went to our theme’s web site to see if there was an update beyond the version we had.

There was one a couple of days ago. I looked at the version change log and there was nothing big to that update. BUT… I looked down the change log to previous versions and something caught my eye. An update a while back made the theme compatible with PHP V7.0. Hmmmm, PHP V7.0. When I set everything up, I set the php version to the latest which was….. V7.1! I went into the php configuration and set it from V7.1 down to V7.0. Bada bing bada boom! The site came up. PERFECTLY UP!

The whole time, I had the php version wrong. While my partner was coding away, it must have been hours before he hit a feature that was not compatible with V7.1 and down it went.

As I looked back, I did not come across any website that pointed to this type of problem. So, if you are having an unsolvable problem with your WordPress site losing communications with its database, and all the usual fixes don’t seem to work, maybe… just maybe, you might have the same problem we did. I hope this helps someone!

-John.

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