We’ve all been there; you wake up one morning to find your website is ‘down’. You have no idea why and you need it fixed right away. In this post we’ll look at some of the most common reasons websites go down and how to fix them.
Firstly, Is it Really Down?
Firstly, let’s check your website is really down and it’s not a local problem on your device or network. If you open a browser and submit your website URL to this website - downforeveryoneorjustme.com - it will test access to your site from various physical locations. If you get the ‘It’s not just you!’ error, then you know the issue is with the website itself and not something on your device or network.
Next, don't panic! The good news is that a website will not just stop working. There is always something that has changed that causes a new error. We just need to find out what's changed and then we can fix it!
How you fix it will depend on the message you see when you try and load the website. So, let’s look at the most common issues and find out what to do about them.
1) 404 Not Found
A 404 error occurs when your webserver cannot find a page that has been requested. Most modern websites will return a ‘styled’ 404 page that looks like the brand of the website but contains the 404 message. This normally means the actual website is working, but the individual page you requested can’t be found. If the URL you requested is for a home page and / or the 404 error page doesn't contain a branded layout, then the server cannot find the whole website. That's obviously a deeper issue.
In the case of a styled error page being presented then it probably means the page you tried to visit no longer exists. This can happen when an article expires (maybe it was about an event that has passed) or the page has been removed.
If the error page is not styled (plain white screen with black text), then you will need to contact the hosting company and ask them to diagnose the issue. A final note here, in the writer’s experience this usually happens if you haven’t paid your hosting bill so you might like to check that first to avoid embarrassment later…
2) 502 Bad Gateway
Gateway errors do not normally mean the website is down, but some part of the internet (usually local to the webserver) is either not working or too busy to deal with your request.
Usually, Gateway errors resolve themselves in an hour or less as the network comes back online or traffic reduces. However, if the issue persists then you will need to contact your hosting company and report it.
For added information (and if you’re network savvy…) you can use a Traceroute command and the domain of your website to further trace the location of the issue.
3) 503 Service Unavailable
This error tells us that the webserver is too busy to deal with your request. If you are on a shared hosting package (most websites) then it could be that one or more websites that share your server are super-busy and there is no bandwidth left for your website.
Another possible (although much rarer) cause is if the server is being attacked in a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.
Again, these errors normally resolve themselves in an hour or so but, if not, you will need to report the issue to your hosting provider for a resolution.
4) Security Warnings
One issue that has become more common in recent years is sudden ‘Security’ warnings shown by the browser when trying to access a website. This is normally caused either by the absence of an SSL certificate on the webserver or when an SSL certificate has expired. SSL certificates are required to prove the legitimacy of a website and form part of the security layer that allows https secure connections.
If they don’t have a valid SSL certificate and the website is trying to deliver content via https, then the browser will stop the website sending data and show a warning.
Unsurprisingly the fix is to add a valid SSL certificate to your website. This is done by, again, contacting your hosting company. SSL certificates sometimes come at a small charge, but some hosts offer them for free.
5) 500 Internal Server Error
Often the most difficult to diagnose, the 500 error usually means the webserver has tried to fulfil the request but has run into a programming issue. There are two common reasons for this.
Firstly, the code of the website (that generates the web page) may have lost its connection to its associated database (where your text content is stored). This is normally caused by the database server going offline temporarily.
Secondly this error can be caused by a bug in the website’s coding. Since coding doesn't change by itself and, assuming the website had been working OK previously, this normally points to a change in server configuration. These changes are often made by the hosting company during server upgrades.
In the case of a database connection issue, again, this will usually resolve itself automatically in time. In the case of a server change causing a programming error, this will need to be investigated by your web developer. Alternatively, you can also contact your hosting provider and ask them to roll back any server updates.
The most common update to cause this issue is an update to a later version of the PHP programming language. Simply asking your hosting company to roll back the PHP version can often bring a website back online until the website code can be updated for the new version of PHP.
Finally, it’s good practice to find and bookmark the ‘Server Status’ page of your hosting provider. These are simple pages that explain any known issues that your hosting company is dealing with. Reading them can save an awful lot of time on the phone or online chat reporting something that the company is already working on!
Some examples status pages are:
Ionos (1and1): https://www.ionos-status.co.uk
If you have any questions about your own website, or want help diagnosing an issue, then please do get in touch. We’re happy to help.