Design & Development

Understanding Common Web Error Messages

Over the years in the interactive marketing business, any consultant worth his or her salt has faced the dilemma of assisting a company whose primary issue is that its “Web site broke.”

No more information than that. “It broke.”

Many a parent can identify with this description as it pertains to children who say that they “hurt,” but can’t identify from exactly where the pain originates. Fortunately for Web consultants — and for ecommerce proprietors — there are and always have been very simple, easy-to-understand error message standards for the Internet.

Those messages are your keys to resolving Web problems, for yourself and for your customers. We’ll examine the most common Web site errors, and provide easy ways to resolve them.

Let’s say you open a browser, and start surfing your site. Oh dear, you’ve encountered an error message …

If it’s:

400 Bad File Request: There is something syntactically wrong with the request from the browser to the server. Retype the URL, paying close attention to letter case and special characters.

401 Unauthorized: The request from the browser to the server requires authentication. More than likely this indicates that a username and password was required to access the page, and you didn’t enter the correct pair.

403 Forbidden: The request from the browser to the server was understood, but the server has been instructed not to respond with a Web page. More than likely, there is a server permission issue – and that can be a conundrum for the ecommerce business owner, particularly if he or she is also a novice Web server administrator.

The resolution to this problem is to go to the server, select the file in question and give global users read and execute permissions. For those of you with UNIX knowledge, you’ll want to chmod your file to 755.

404 File Not Found: The server understands what you’re requesting, but it can’t find it. It could be that you’ve mistyped the URL. It could be that you put the file in another folder on the server.

408 Request Timeout: The server got your request, but what you’ve requested is just too darned big to deliver in a timely fashion. Sometimes, this error message displays when the server itself is too busy, and unable to respond with Web pages in a timely fashion. Check the file size of your images. Check with your hosting provider to see how many sites are being served along with yours on a particular server. If the problem continues, you might want to consider a dedicated server.

500 Internal Server Error: This is the mother of all error messages. It requires a server administrator because it signifies a configuration issue between the site and server. Unfortunately, the error could signify just about anything, but if you happen to be a DIY (do-it-yourself) sort of entrepreneur, there is a way to get more details:

If you’re using Internet Explorer, open Tools → Internet Options → Advanced Options and Uncheck the “show friendly HTTP errors” setting.

One thing is for sure: This error doesn’t display because of some HTML error. This is a server problem caused by configuration and triggered by a script, application, scheduled job, process, etc.

501 Not Implemented: This signifies that a Web server doesn’t support a feature you’re trying to access or execute. Examine the page in question, and contact your Web host. Let them know what’s on the page, in terms of functionality and code, and they’ll likely be able to tell you quickly whether or not what’s on that page is supported.

502 Service Temporarily Overloaded: This error message is the equivalent to big-city traffic. The server is being hit and hit hard. It would serve the customer best to come back at a different time. If your site is not on a dedicated server, check with your host provider to determine which site on the server is getting trafficked heavily. Consider a dedicated server.

503 Service Unavailable: Could be a number of things, including a busy server. More than likely, it indicates that the user has lost his or her Web connection. Try surfing to another site to make sure you still have Web access. Visit a site you haven’t been to in some time to make sure that it’s not merely being loaded into your browser via cached memory.

Those are the most common numbered errors. Other common Internet errors include:

Connection Refused By Host: You don’t have permission to access the site. Contact a server administrator.

File Contains No Data: This is a common error, and it probably reflects something awry in your HTML. First thing to check is your table code. Have you closed all your tags? Does every <TR> have a </TR>? If you’re sure that’s not it, then look at your header code to see if anything out of the ordinary exists there.

Network Connection Refused By The Server: The server is busy. Not much you can do in the short-term except to consider more bandwidth and/or a dedicated server if you’re not hosting your business on one at this point.

PEC Staff
PEC Staff
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