When a web page takes too long to load, you get the spinning wheel icon. The WordPress media library not loading is not a new issue. It is a recurring one.
Know all those updates you keep seeing prompts for… Plugins, themes, core WP updates, etc. Sometimes they break things.
It just takes some troubleshooting in the right environment to find the root cause and fix the issue to restore your media gallery thumbnails.
It can be time-consuming to find the culprit. Once it’s found, it’s usually a straightforward fix.
If your WordPress media library is not loading properly, deactivate all of your plugins and then check if the problem is resolved. If you can’t fix it in WP, changing the file permissions of your wp-content folder should get your images loading.
Fixing File Permissions
Start here because it’s the fastest troubleshooting method there is.
If this is the issue, you’ll be up and running in minutes, regardless how big your media library is.
File permissions are set in your WordPress hosting account.
These permissions control who can access the directory and what they can do once they’ve accessed it.
Using the file manager in cPanel is simple enough.
Go to your public_html folder, click into the “wp-content” folder and in there, the “Uploads” folder is where your media library is stored and controlled.
The farthest column that’s titled “permissions” is where you can change the values.
This should be set to 0755, which is the default in WordPress.
This tells the server to make the files in that folder readable and executable to the world, but only the user (logged in) has permission to write to the directory.
If this is set to anything other than 0755, you’ll run into problems with the WordPress media library not loading, or, you’ll get it to load images, but you won’t be able to upload new media.
Without write permissions, you’ll get an error message like:
Unable to create directory wp-content/uploads/
Without read and execute permissions, images won’t load.
Glitches can happen for a number of reasons, such as a server misconfiguration either by changes you make yourself, or bad code in plugins or themes.
Or, just an innocent accident by your web host performing a server update.
A file permission of 0644 makes your “files” readable and writable to you. Not to the rest of the world.
It doesn’t work for directory level permissions (WP-Content > Uploads directory), because the executable permission is missing.
Change ### (whatever the permissions are for your uploads directory) to have the file permission be 0755.
Go back to your site, clear the cache, and reload the image library.
If the file permissions were set to anything other than 0755, the media library should load fine once the file permissions are corrected.
Theme Compatibility Issues
If you’ve made a theme change, or just updated WordPress, it’s possible there are codes conflicting between your active WordPress theme and one or more of your active plugins.
If you suspect a theme update is the issue, take these steps.
On the left sidebar menu, click appearance, then themes. See what themes you have installed.
The default WordPress Theme is the one to use for troubleshooting, even if you hate it.
It is the official WP theme, released by the WordPress Team.
If you have it installed, activate it, then go back to your media library and reload the page.
If you’ve already deleted it, install and activate it because if there’s going to be a theme that doesn’t have bad code, it’s the one that WordPress developed.
If your media library loads on the WP default theme (Twenty Twenty-One), then your theme’s causing a conflict.
Check to see if your theme has any updates available, or if there’s an update to the WordPress core framework available.
Common wisdom would have you believe that updates should be installed as soon as they’re available.
There are two sides to that coin.
If you update instantly, you’ll be in the first group to find bugs.
If you wait a few weeks, then others running the same theme will be affected first.
The developers can patch the issue, then roll out a new update to fix the error.
When you’re best to make updates depends on your theme’s popularity.
If you’re on a custom theme or one that’s been in use for a decade, chances are there’s not a big user base testing out new updates.
The good news…
Most theme issues that stop your media library loading will be plugin-related.
Troubleshooting Your Plugins
Go back to your appearance menu and activate the theme that you can’t get the media library to work on.
Then go to your plugins menu on the left sidebar and click on “installed plugins”.
You don’t need to check every plugin individually to see if you strike it lucky.
There is a bulk edit option you can select to deactivate every active plugin in a few clicks.
Check the box beside “plugins” in the primary menu bar to “select all” of your plugins.
Then click on the box labeled “bulk actions” to open the dropdown menu.
From here, select the “deactivate” option, then click apply.
Go back to your media library, reload the page, and see if loads. If it does load, it’s an incompatible plugin that’s causing the media library to malfunction.
Now comes the tedious part of trial-and-error troubleshooting.
Activating each plugin individually, reloading your media library page each time.
Don’t do that yet though…
Clear and Purge Your Cache First
Troubleshooting and testing only works when you start with a clean test environment.
To make sure there are no temp cookies on your browser, or cache versions on your server, you need to clean things up before testing plugins.
Both in your WP dashboard and your browser.
In Chrome, it’s the three dots on the top right, then from the “more tools” option > “clear browser data”.
The part you need to clear is the “cookies and site data”.
You’ll know it’s cleared when you’re prompted to log back into WordPress.
If you don’t have a cache plugin installed, you need one.
Go to plugins, add new, search for “W3 Total Cache” by “BoldGrid” and install and activate that one.
Go through the setup wizard, which is essentially clicking the next button while it does its thing.
Once it’s done, there’ll be a new section added to your side menu labeled “performance” showing all the options for the W3 Total Cache plugin.
Click on dashboard, then click the “empty all caches” button.
Now go through your plugins activating them one by one, starting with your most recently active. (there’s a button to put your plugins in that order on your plugins page)
You’ll find it goes faster having two tabs open. One for your plugins page, the other for your media library.
Activate a plugin, reload your media library. Repeat until you can’t.
The last plugin you activate that stops your media library loading, that’s your offending plugin.
Deactivate it, see if there are updates available, or try deleting the plugin and reinstalling it in case the new version has updates.
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