There are few things scarier than an HTTP error code you don’t know how to fix. Error codes are unavoidable, and they don’t often tell you what to do to fix them. Some of them don’t even tell you what they mean. In this guide, we’re tackling one of the most obscure error codes of them all: The http error 500. We tell you what it is, how to fix it when you encounter it in the wild on the internet or when someone else tells you they saw it on your website.
First, a quick crash course on error codes.
What is an HTTP error code?
When you visit a website, your browser connects to the website’s server through an internet protocol called HTTP. This protocol facilitates communication between your browser and the server.
When everything goes well, your browser will load the web page you’re trying to reach. But sometimes, things don’t go well. Instead, you see an http error code, which essentially means something went wrong in the communication between your browser and the web server, and the browser can’t load the web page. There are many types of http error codes, but in this guide, we’re looking at http error 500.
What does HTTP error 500 mean?
There’s a reason we keep saying this http error is mysterious. Most of the other error codes mean something concrete, like “page not found”. But http error 500 means “something went wrong with the server”. As to what went wrong, we don’t usually get any further information. We just know that when your browser tried to communicate with the server, something didn’t go as planned.
Now that that’s out of the way, how do you fix it if you see it on someone else’s website?
How to fix the HTTP error 500 on someone else’s website
The http error 500 is a server-level error code. Because it’s a server-level problem, there’s not very much you can do other than just wait for the website’s owner to catch the error and fix it.
But the following tips have been known to work, so it couldn’t hurt to try them (in order):
1. Reload the page and try again
This is one of the more primitive methods, but it works often enough that we couldn’t bear to exclude it from this list. To reload the web page, select the refresh/reload button in your browser. You can also reload the web page by using your keyboard to press F5 or Ctrl+R, or you can retype the URL into the address bar on your browser. (Be careful if you see the error message after you’ve just entered your payment information, because you might accidentally end up paying twice!)
2. Contact the people who run the website and let them know about the http 500 error
Webmasters don’t know about every single error that pops up on their website. If you find that the error is happening more often than usual or for longer than usual, contact the people who run the website and let them know what’s going on. Webmasters usually like to provide a smooth experience for their visitors, so, chances are they’ll be grateful to you for letting them know something’s up.
3. Clear your browser’s cache
If the error message is being caused by the cached version of the web page that’s stored in your browser, clearing your cache will fix the problem.
4. Delete your browser’s cookies
You can either delete all your cookies or just the cookies from the website that’s showing you the http error 500. Once you’ve done this, refresh your web page and try again.
5. Come back later
We know. This tip’s a little frustrating. But because the http error 500 is a server-level error message, it’s actually really lucky if any of these tips work. So, if you’ve tried them all and nothing’s worked, leave the web page and try again later. The webmasters will usually have sorted things out by then.
Those are your tips for if you see the error message on someone else’s website. But what if your website is the one displaying the error message to your visitors?
Fixing the http error 500 on your own website
The first thing you need to know about fixing error messages on your website is that they’re bound to happen. Try to minimize how often they happen by choosing a great web host, and be sure to design your error-message pages in a way that keeps visitors on your website.
That said, here’s how you fix this error message on your own website:
1. Fix your timeout rules
Sometimes the http error 500 happens because your script is linked to external resources, which have timed out. When this happens on your website, adjust your timeout rules or come up with a better system in your script for handling timeouts when they inevitably happen.
2. Adjust your permissions
Sometimes, the error message is caused by incorrect permissions on one or more files or folders. You can fix this by adjusting a PHP or CGI script. Make sure they’re set at 0755 (-rwxr-xr-x).
3. Check your software requirements
Make sure you’ve installed all the software packages your website needs to run. If that’s what’s causing the error message, the problem will be solved once you install the software.
4. Make sure you’ve properly structured your .htaccess file
Sometimes, you get an http error 500 because there’s a coding error in .htaccess. Check your .htaccess file to see if that’s what’s causing it.
5. Contact your web host
If you’re running your own servers, you are kind of on your own here. But if your website is being hosted through a web hosting company, let them know about the error message. They’ll usually be able to fix it for you or walk you through it, so you can fix it yourself.
Error messages are frustrating, but it helps to know how to deal with them. The next time you see an http error 500, there’s no need to throw your laptop at the nearest wall. Instead, take a deep breath, then follow this guide, step by step, until the error clears itself up.