How to fix the WordPress "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance" error

Maybe you’ve seen this before: You’ve run a WordPress update, and when you want to continue working on your site, you can’t load the Dashboard. Instead, a white screen appears with these words:  “Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Back in a minute.” So you wait a minute. And another. But the message doesn’t go away. Then, you discover that it’s not just the Dashboard that doesn’t appear but your entire site. What happened and how do you fix it?

Why the “Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance” message appears

Technically speaking, this message isn’t an error message. It’s simply a notification that your website is running updates. When you run an update on your website, this same message will appear to anyone who visits your website during that brief time. When the updates are completed, the site will once again be available and the message no longer appears.

However, if you’re seeing this message after you’ve finished running updates, that means something went wrong. Let’s take a look at the process WordPress uses for running updates, and the reasons for this issue will become clear:

  1. On the Updates page in the Dashboard, you select some themes or plugins to update or you choose to update the WordPress core.
  2. Behind the scenes, WordPress creates a temporary file called .maintenance. This file tells the site that updates are underway, so the site displays the “Briefly Unavailable for Scheduled Maintenance” page instead of loading the website itself. This happens because loading your website might not be able to load properly while files are being updated.
  3. WordPress updates the files you’ve instructed it to update.
  4. WordPress deletes the .maintenance file and the site returns to normal.

As you might have guessed, your site gets “stuck” in maintenance mode when something happens between steps 2 and 4. This most frequently happens when you navigate away from the Updates page before the .maintenance file has been deleted, but it can also happen if your internet connection is lost during an update or if an update isn’t properly completed.

How to get your website to function normally again when it’s stuck in maintenance mode

If your site is stuck in maintenance mode, it’s not hard to restore it. Make sure you don’t navigate away from the Updates page before it displays a message that updates have been completed, as this is the most common cause of the issue. But regardless of the reason for the issue, you’ll need to use FTP to connect to your site, navigate to your root folder, and delete the .maintenance file. Once the file is deleted, your website will again be accessible.

It’s important to note that if your site was in the middle of an update and didn’t complete it, you’ll want to re-upload the component that was updating to ensure all of the files are up to date. For example, if you were updating your theme and navigated away from the Updates page, you’ll need to upload an updated version of your theme because all of your theme’s files might not be up to date. With themes and plugins, WordPress stores the version number in one file. If that file updated an others didn’t, WordPress will think the asset is updated. So with the theme example, if your theme’s version number is updated, WordPress will think your theme is up to date, even if other theme files were not updated. One of the main reasons to allow your updates to complete before navigating away from the Updates page is to ensure these partial-update issues don’t occur.

If your website is stuck in maintenance mode and you need help fixing it, or if you’ve stopped your website midway through an update and you’re experiencing issues, we can help you! Contact us and we’ll get in touch with you to help you restore your website.