Did you try to access your WordPress site only to be met by a message telling you, "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute?"
Also known as the WordPress maintenance mode error, this message appears when WordPress initiates an update for the core software, themes, or plugins, but is unable to finish the update for some reason and gets stuck in maintenance mode.
Thankfully, there are some easy fixes to remove your site from maintenance mode and prevent this issue from happening in the future.
In this article, we're going to cover everything that you need to know about this error including:
- What maintenance mode is and why WordPress might get stuck in it.
- How to manually remove your site from maintenance mode if you're seeing this error message. You might want to start here if you're experiencing this error right now.
- How to prevent this error from happening in the future.
- How to create a custom maintenance mode page so that you can minimize the impact if the error happens again.
By the end of this post, you'll probably be tired of the phrase "maintenance mode," but you will have all the knowledge you need to fix the "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute" WordPress error message.
What is WordPress maintenance mode?
WordPress maintenance mode is an intentional feature in WordPress. That is, the mere existence of this message is not a bug — it's only an issue if your site gets stuck in maintenance mode and the message doesn't go away.
So, why does WordPress maintenance mode exist? And what goes wrong when your site gets stuck in maintenance mode?
WordPress has long given users the option to easily update the core software, themes, and plugins directly from the WordPress dashboard. You can access all available updates by going to Dashboard → Updates or you can also update themes and plugins from their respective dashboard areas.
However, during the brief period where your site is applying updates, the frontend of your site could look a little wonky. WordPress is simultaneously deleting some files and installing some other ones, which can lead to unintended results on the visible parts of your site. Or, it could also break some key functionality, such as certain forms not working while you're applying the update.
To avoid confusing your site's visitors or causing issues that might lead to lost data, WordPress automatically puts itself into maintenance mode when it starts applying updates. When things go right (which is most of the time), WordPress will then automatically take itself out of maintenance mode as soon as the update finishes.
The process is supposed to work like this:
- You click the update button in your WordPress dashboard.
- WordPress activates maintenance mode — your site will display the "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute" message.
- WordPress applies the updates.
- WordPress deactivates maintenance mode and your site goes back to normal.
Why is WordPress stuck in maintenance mode?
Normally, this whole process only takes a few seconds, which is why you probably have never seen the "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute" message before.
However, in rare situations, WordPress can get "stuck" in maintenance mode, which means your site will continue showing the error message instead of your content.
Some common reasons why this can happen are:
- Your server timed out while applying the updates because it was overloaded.
- You accidentally closed your browser tab before the updates finished.
- There's some type of compatibility issue that caused the update to fail improperly. Even with failed updates, WordPress is still normally able to exit maintenance mode by itself.
How to Fix the WordPress Stuck in Maintenance Mode Error
In the next section, we'll cover some proactive steps that you can take to prevent this error message from happening in the future.
But if you're staring at the "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute." error message right now, you're probably looking for the fastest solution to get your site working again.
Good news — to manually remove your site from maintenance mode, all you need to do is delete a single file called .maintenance from your server. It only takes a couple of minutes and your site should start working right away.
Here's how to do it.
1. Connect to your server to edit files.
To begin, you'll need to connect to your WordPress site's server with a tool that lets you edit files. Some common options are:
- FTP: You can use an FTP client like FileZilla and the FTP account credentials that you get from your web host.
- cPanel File Manager: If your host uses cPanel, you can use cPanel's built-in File Manager tool.
- Other File Manager Tools: If your host offers a custom file manager tool, you can use that, too.
You just need any tool that will let you delete a file from your server. For this example, we'll use FTP and FileZilla.
2. Find and delete the .maintenance file.
Once you connect to your server, you need to find and delete the file called .maintenance.
This file should be in your root folder, which is the same folder that contains files like wp-activate.php and folders like wp-admin and wp-content.
Once you locate the file, right-click on it and choose Delete:
That's all. As soon as you delete the .maintenance file, your site should instantly start working again.
If you don't see the file, you might need to enable showing hidden files in your FTP client.
In FileZilla, you can do that by expanding the Server menu options and selecting Force showing hidden files:
How to Prevent Issues With WordPress Getting Stuck in Maintenance Mode
Now that your site should be working again, let's talk about some steps that you can take to safely update WordPress and prevent issues with WordPress maintenance mode in the future.
1. Limit how many updates you apply at once.
Running updates can cause higher-than-average usage when it comes to your web hosting's resources, especially on budget shared hosting. If your server becomes overwhelmed, it might time out and cause your site to get stuck in maintenance mode.
To avoid this, you'll want to limit how many updates you apply at a time.
For example, instead of applying 20 updates at one time, try to only update a few plugins at a time. If you're manually updating plugins from the Plugins list, only click the update button for one plugin. Once the update finishes, move on to the next one.
With that being said, this is unlikely to be an issue if you have high-powered managed WordPress hosting.
2. Always keep your browser tab open when running updates.
When you initiate an update via the WordPress dashboard, you'll see the status of the update automatically progress in the browser tab. This is true whether you're bulk updating extensions via the dedicated update area (Dashboard → Updates) or via the separate Plugins or Themes dashboards.
If you close your browser tab while this is happening, you can potentially interrupt the process and leave your site stuck in maintenance mode. To avoid this, always leave your tab open until you see the final success message.
If you're bulk updating extensions in the updates dashboard, you'll see this message, "All updates have been completed."
If you're updating directly in the Plugins or Themes lists, you'll see a green checkmark with the text "Updated!"
3. Be mindful of automatic updates.
In WordPress 5.5, WordPress added the ability to enable automatic updates for themes and plugins.
Automatic updates are really convenient because they let you keep all of your extensions updated without lifting a finger. However, they also pose a risk if your site gets stuck in maintenance mode.
To be clear, automatic updates are not more likely to get stuck in maintenance mode. However, if something does go wrong, you might not be there to fix things.
If you apply updates manually, you always have the option of the manual fix if your site gets stuck in maintenance mode. But if your site updates automatically, it might take a while for you to notice and fix the issue.
4. Upgrade to a more powerful hosting plan
If you follow the tactics above, your site is unlikely to get stuck in maintenance mode. However, if you do continue experiencing the error, one more drastic fix is to upgrade to more powerful WordPress hosting.
If your site is regularly hitting resource bottlenecks while applying updates, more powerful hosting will fix that problem and make it easier for you to successfully apply updates.
How to Create a Custom WordPress Maintenance Page
One of the scariest things about seeing the "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute" is how jarring the message is.
Typically, it's just a plain text page like this:
All of your site's branding and styling is completely gone, which can cause a bit of panic because you might be wondering where your site went.
What's more, your site's visitors will also be confused and left wondering what's going on with your site. In the worst-case scenario, they might even think that you got hacked, which can reduce trust.
Even if everything is working normally, there will still be a small period of time where WordPress is in maintenance mode. It could be as little as 5-30 seconds, but that can make a real difference if you have a busy site.
One option to generally create a better WordPress maintenance mode setup is to create your own custom maintenance page design. Once you create your custom maintenance mode page, WordPress will show that design whenever it's in maintenance mode instead of the scary, "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute" message.
Here are some options for creating your own custom maintenance mode design.
1. Use a dedicated maintenance mode plugin.
The simplest option for non-technical users to create a custom maintenance mode page is via a dedicated plugin.
You can find a number of maintenance mode plugins that let you create a custom design using simple text editors or visual, drag-and-drop builders.
However, the downside of most of these plugins is that you'll need to manually enable maintenance mode before applying updates and then manually deactivate it when you're finished. If you don't like that, you might prefer the next option.
2. Manually create a custom maintenance page.
For more advanced users, you can also create your own custom maintenance page using code. The advantage of this approach is that WordPress will automatically use this design whenever it puts itself into maintenance mode.
Here's how to do this:
- Create a file called maintenance.php that contains the content that you want to display in maintenance mode. You'll need to add the content using HTML and CSS. If you're not sure how to do that, you can find tools via Google that will help you create some simple HTML designs.
- Upload the maintenance.php file to the wp-content folder on your server.
That's it. WordPress will now automatically use this design whenever it puts itself into maintenance mode and you will no longer see the "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute" message.
Working With WordPress Maintenance Mode
If your site is persistently displaying the WordPress maintenance mode message, it means that WordPress is stuck and you need to do something to fix it.
Fortunately, all you need to do is connect to your server via FTP or cPanel File Manager and delete the .maintenance file in your root folder.
To prevent the problem from occurring in the future, make sure to follow the best practices above. And, to create a more user-friendly experience when your site does need to enter maintenance mode, you can create a custom maintenance mode page using a plugin or your own code.
Originally published Dec 30, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated December 30 2021