4.15.11

Website Troubleshooting

BY JEFF ROBERTSON

So what do you do when your website disappears? Fortunately with reliable cloud hosting, CDNs and other such technologies, this doesn't happen as often as it used to. But occasionally, whether due to a server issue, a DNS problem, loss of connectivity or whatever the case may be, you load a web page and something weird happens. Maybe you get a server error, a blank screen, another website entirely... the sheer number of possible problems sometimes makes it hard to know where to start.

One of the first things I always do is check out Rex Swain's HTTP Viewer (opens in a new window). This tool has been around seemingly forever, and much like the software in my earlier blog posts, it does one thing and does it very well. The entire purpose of the HTTP Viewer is to show you what response the server gives when you request a web page. Are you getting a 404 (page not found) error? Is your server redirecting to a different server?

http-viewer2

There are other ways to find this information directly, of course, like by using Live HTTP Headers for Firefox (opens in a new window) or another similar tool. However, Rex Swain's tool has one huge advantage: it doesn't rely on your computer and network. Most of troubleshooting methodology revolves around eliminating possible problems until you find the actual problem. If you test the web server's response from your computer, there are a ton of things that might be wrong with you, not with the server. For example, your computer might have a virus redirecting network traffic; maybe your network administrator accidentally blocked certain sites; maybe your DNS server is having trouble; maybe (if you're a developer) you made changes to your HOSTS file and forgot about them... the list is pretty long. Before sounding the alarm with your web host, validate that someone else is having the same problem you are. Sure, you could call someone in another location and ask them to test the site, but it's much easier to just ask Rex. If his system shows the same sort of problem you see, then the problem is most likely a real one. If this tool doesn't show any problems, then the problem is probably with you.

The HTTP Viewer can help with far more than simply helping determine where the problem lies, but all the response status codes and redirects are beyond the scope of this post. Nerdy tool? Yes, but it makes troubleshooting a website problem so much faster. Many thanks Rex!

Jeff Robertson
written by JEFF ROBERTSON

Jeff Robertson is a digital marketer and an online development expert with experience stretching back to dial-up. He is partner and Chief Technology Officer at Carbon8, where he helps bridge the gap between the technical and marketing worlds, as well as oversees technical infrastructure.

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