My Website is Down

8 mins min read
by: Dan Sep 27th, 2016

The panic sets in as you obsessively hit the reload button on your browser. Hoping each time that, magically, your website will load, and you can return to your regularly scheduled day. But, after checking and rechecking several times you come to the conclusion your website is down. Now, what?

If you're reading this blog post, chances are you're hoping for some immediate and actionable advice on what to do next. So let's get to it. 

Verify your site is actually down
It is possible that your website isn't down at all or that the problem is an isolated incident, so before sounding the alarm bells, here are a few ways you can verify it is actually down.

Cast a Wide Net
First, check your internet connection, your web browser, and your computer. You can check all three of these things at once by using your mobile phone. Disable WiFi on your phone and visit your website. If your website works, then it's not your website. Turn on WiFi and try again. If it still works, then the issue is probably your computer or the browser you're using, not your website. 

Here's a great site that also comes in handy in these situations.

Close the Net
If your site still appears to be down, it's time to turn your attention to more of the specifics surrounding the issue. Let's focus on three of the most common reasons why your site could go down.

  • Access to your web server is prohibited or prevented.
  • Your web server is malfunctioning.
  • Your website code is broken.

1. Access to your web server is prohibited or prevented.

Symptom: Modern browsers are pretty good about knowing when the web server access is the issue so they will display an error message similar to the one below. 

Screen Shot 2016 09 27 At 2 11 49 Pm The site can't be reached error is a pretty good indicator that the issue is related to your website domain name or the DNS server.

If it's a matter of accessing your web server, you'll notice the error comes from your browser, not from your website, and will usually say something about access, or DNS. This type of failure is unlike the other error messages we will talk about later

Some possible causes for such outages:

  • DNS (Domain Name Server) is down or misconfigured
  • Incorrect domain name settings
  • Expired domain name
  • Expired security certificate

You should contact the person, company or department that registered your website domain name.

2. Your web server is malfunctioning 

If your browser is serving up anything (even a blank page) then the chances are that access to the web server isn't your issue. You should focus on the web server and the website code as possible culprits. 

The best way to tell if it's the server or your website is to pay close attention to the error message (or the lack of error message).

Our goal here is to spot one of two types of error messages. One is going to be attributed to your web server, the other is your website code. Knowing which one is which will tell you where the fix needs to be made.

Here's how you can tell if the error message you're getting is related to your web server.

  • The error message contains the words say "server error."
  • An error code is provided (see the five most common error codes below)
  • The error code contains the name of the web server software (popular names include; Apache, IIS, Nginx).
  • The error message appears to be generic in style (default font, color, and style)

The five most common of these codes are:

  • 500 - Internal Server Error
  • 404 - Page Not Found *
  • 403 - Forbidden
  • 400 - Bad Request
  • 401 - Unauthorized
Server Errors

You should contact the person, company or department that maintains your web server. In some cases, that may be a third-party host provide

3. Your website code is broken.

Once you've ruled out the network and the server, it's safe to assume that the issue is with your website code. This is far and away the most common reason for a website to go down. 

Some telltale clues to look for:

  • Your website code was recently updated
  • You see an error message appear within your web page layout (see example below)
  • The error indicates which line of code it appears
  • The error may not appear on all pages of your site

Software errors can be pretty messy. Sometimes they will produce what is referred to as a call stack or a backtrace. These are log files that are served up to show what the activity the software was performing when the error occurred. 

The best person to fix this issue will be your website developer. Contact the person, company or department that maintains your website. It would be helpful to provide a screenshot of the error, the browser you're using and any activity you were doing if the error appeared after it (i.e. submitting a contact form).

Still need help diagnosing the problem? Contact me directly through our support email and I will personally lend you a hand.

About Dan

Dan is the founder of TheoryThree Interactive, a mobile app and interactive studio based in Madison Wisconsin. With a mix of both creative talent and programming ability he focuses on leveraging emerging technologies to solve complex needs for his clients.