November 20, 2023

Solving a Challenging cURL Error in WordPress by Upgrading to PHP 8.1

In the realm of web development, encountering technical issues is a daily norm. However, some challenges are more daunting than others, particularly when solutions are not immediately apparent. Recently, we faced a complex issue with a WordPress site: a persistent cURL error, coupled with a site that displayed a blank screen. In this article, I will share how we diagnosed and resolved this issue, an experience we hope can assist other developers and webmasters.

The Problem:
It all started when our client’s WordPress site stopped functioning properly. The site displayed a complete blank page, a classic sign of a fatal PHP error. Moreover, attempting to update WordPress resulted in a cURL error 77, typically indicative of issues with SSL certificate verification.

Diagnosing and Initial Steps:
Our first step was to activate WordPress’s debug mode to identify any specific errors. This led us to uncover several issues related to the active theme, but it shed no light on the cURL error.

Next, we attempted to address the cURL error 77. We researched and found it might be related to the server’s php.ini file configuration. However, we lacked direct access to this file to make the necessary adjustments.

Alternative Approach - Using .user.ini:
Since editing the global php.ini was out of our reach, we opted to use a user.ini file in the site’s httpdocs directory, adding the curl.cainfo directive. Despite this effort, the problem persisted, leading us to conclude that a server web restart might be necessary - something we couldn’t directly do.

The Solution - Upgrading PHP:
At this juncture, we decided to try upgrading the site’s PHP version. The site was running on PHP 8.0, and we upgraded it to PHP 8.1. To our surprise, this upgrade resolved both the cURL error and the blank site issue. The website returned to normal, allowing us to update WordPress, as well as themes and plugins.

This case underscores how sometimes solutions to complex issues can come from seemingly unrelated actions. Upgrading to PHP 8.1 likely introduced compatibility improvements, bug fixes, and a more suitable configuration for our specific environment, which in turn resolved the issues we were experiencing.

Keeping systems up-to-date is crucial in the web development world. Not just for security reasons but also because each new version can bring fixes to issues that otherwise might be difficult to diagnose and resolve. We hope that sharing our experience can help others facing similar issues and highlight the importance of keeping systems and software current.

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