Troubleshooting WordPress: How to Fix a Database Connection Error With Your Website

Have you encountered a database connection error when attempting to access your WordPress website? It’s one of the most common technical problems associated with the content management system (CMS). Whether you’re trying to log in to the admin panel or simply load the homepage, your website may display a database connection error if it’s powered by WordPress. Only after fixing this common error will you and other visitors be able to access your website.

Understanding Databases and How WordPress Uses Them

A database is an essential part of all WordPress-powered websites. Databases are defined as an organized storage system for data. They consist of data that’s stored and organized electrically on a web server.

Installing WordPress requires the creation of a database. You’ll have to create a database on your web server, and you’ll have to reference this database in your WordPress installation settings. Databases are used by most CMSs, and WordPress is no exception. WordPress will communicate with a database to retrieve content.

Contrary to common belief, most content created in WordPress isn’t stored in static files. Rather, it’s stored in the referenced database. All of your website’s pages, posts, users, visitor comments and custom fields will be stored in the referenced database. Therefore, a database connection is necessary for your website to load.

What Is a Database Connection Error?

A database connection error refers to one or more database-related technical problems with a WordPress website that triggers the following message: “Error establishing a database connection.” It typically occurs when WordPress isn’t able to connect to the database referenced in the installation settings.

Because most of the content created in WordPress is stored in a database, the CMS must be able to connect to it. WordPress will attempt to connect to your website’s database each time you or another visitor tries to access it. If it’s unable to make this connection, WordPress will display “Error establishing a database connection,” which denotes a database connection error.

Keep in mind that a database connection error isn’t the same as a White Screen of Death (WSOD). A WSOD is a separate type of error that’s characterized by a plain-white screen. It doesn’t trigger any messages. With a WSOD, you’ll web browser will show a plain-white screen. A database connection error, on the other hand, is specifically caused by a failed database connection, resulting in a message.

Steps to Fixing a Database Connection Error

To fix a database connection error, you need to ensure that WordPress can connect to your website’s database. WordPress relies on installation settings in a static file, the wp-config.php file, to form this connection. If your website’s wp-config.php file has the wrong installation settings, WordPress won’t be able to connect to your site’s database.

You can find your website’s wp-config.php file in the same directory in which you installed WordPress. Assuming you installed WordPress in the home directory, the wp-config.php file will be located in this top-level directory. Once you’ve found the wp-config.php file, download it to your computer so that you can open it.

There are three parts of the wp-config.php file that you’ll need to check: 

1. DB_Name: the name of your website’s database. 

2. DB_USER: the name of the user to whom you assigned database privileges 

3. DB_PASSWORD: the password for the aforementioned user. 

All three of these parts must be correct. If the database name, user name or user password in your website’s wp-config.php file is incorrect, WordPress won’t be able to connect to your site’s database. You can verify these parts by checking your web server’s control panel. The control panel should have a database section with a list of all your databases and users. While it may not reveal user passwords, the database section should also have an option to change or reset user passwords.

Updating your website’s wp-config.php file with the correct database name, user name and user password will usually fix a database connection error. Just make the necessary corrections to this file, after which you can upload it to your web server to replace the old and incorrect wp-config.php file. The next time you attempt to access your website, it should load without showing a database connection error.

Other Solutions for a Database Connection Error

If you’re still experiencing a database connection error, you can try to repair your website’s database. Corrupted or broken databases can cause a database connection error. Fortunately, most web servers are equipped with a database repair tool. Available in your web server’s control panel, it will automatically find and fix syntax discrepancies that could otherwise cause a database connection error.

You can contact your hosting provider for assistance as well. Web servers can only handle so much traffic. If you share a web server with several other customers, it may become overloaded with an excessive amount of traffic. By contacting your hosting provider, you can ask them to investigate the database connection error. They may say your web server is overloaded and that you need to change to a higher-level hosting plan, or your hosting provider may say your website’s database is still corrupted.

Cyber breaches are another potential cause of a database connection error. If a hacker has breached your website, he or she may change its database connection settings. Alternatively, your website could become infected with malware that prevents WordPress from connecting to your site’s database.

The official development team at WordPress recommends using Sucuri to scan for breaches, malware and other cyber threats. You can perform a free security scan at sitecheck.sucuri.net. Even with a database connection error, you can your website using this tool.

A database connection error can put the brakes on your website development project. Fixing a database connection error, however, is easier than you may realize. While it can have different underlying causes, it usually stems from an incorrect wp-config.php file. Updating this file with the correct database name, user name and user password should fix a database connection error. Of course, your hosting provider can help to restore the failed connection as well.

PerOla Hammar 陈家悦
Father of 2. Marketing, sales & web geek who is open-minded & eager to learn. Experienced a lot in the past years, both good and bad. Lesson learned? LIVE LIFE!