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What is HTTP error 503 and how do you fix it?

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When you see this error on the internet there is an easy fix

Have you ever clicked on a website and its comeback with the message HTTP error 503? Don't worry, it is very common, and most people over the course of their internet life will have encountered the message, whether it's on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. But what does this error mean and what should you do about it when you were expecting to see a normal looking website?

What does HTTP error mean?

HTTP error 503 simply means that there is an error server-side that prevent the clients request being fulfilled. "Service unavailable" is what you will usually see and it means that the server is temporarily unavailable to the client.

You may sometimes see a value in the "Retry-After" field in the HTTP header response that can be used to tell the user when the request can be handled.

When does HTTP error 503 happen?

HTTP error 503 pops up when the server cannot send the resources requested when the client demanded it and there are a number of reasons why this can happen.

The most likely issue is that the server is under maintenance, such as updating, baking up and so forth, and is not connected to the internet while this is occurring.

However, it could be that the server is overloaded and struggling with the number of requests it is receiving, due to a spike in traffic or something more malicious such as a DoS attack. A misconfiguration of a web application can also cause a web server to be overloaded.

Alternatively, there may be the intermittent fault when a wrong DNS server configuration on the client-side results in such an error message. That DNS server may itself have issues resulting in a "service unavailable" message.

How to fix HTTP 503 errors

The easiest solution is to refresh the page and see if that can bring it back.

You can also attempt to restart your computer or router. If the error message shows "Service Unavailable -- DNS Failure", there may be a fault with the DNS configuration of the computer or the router. A router problem can be fixed by restarting it. In the case of a problem with a selected DNS server, it may be fixed by choosing another DNS server to use.

If the HTTP error 503 happens a lot to users of a website, then the administrator needs to troubleshoot the issue and find the appropriate fix.

If there are updates needed for a website, schedule these at a quieter time so that users don't see this message regularly.

If spikes in traffic are causing the error, then it may well be time to increase web server resources to cope with the increase in visitors.

If the error is caused by a denial of service (DoS) attack, it is a good time to contact a hosting provider to see what mitigations can be put in place to avoid this happening again. You may want to look at increasing security or applying patches that hackers may use to attack your website and take it offline.

Lastly, if the error is due to a programming error, further investigation will be required to pinpoint the issue and take steps to correct it.

Written by Rene Millman

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Guest Wednesday, 24 April 2019


We help over 14,000 customers a month through our IT support centre in Guildford, Surrey

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