What Should You Do If Your Website Goes Down?

by Carson
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website down

A website that is down can be considered a nightmare for most businesses, and you have to fix it as soon as possible to avoid the loss of customers. But how should you do so precisely? Let’s find out in this article.

Table of Contents

  1. See if your website is actually down
  2. Notify users if necessary
  3. Fix your hosting issues
  4. See if your website is being attacked
  5. Check the resource usage of the server
  6. Revert to a backup
  7. Back up now if you can’t revert
  8. See if your file permissions are correct
  9. Search for compatibility issues
  10. Inspect the error messages in the server logs
  11. Ask for help if you cannot locate or fix the issue

1. See If Your Website is Actually Down

When you visit your website, and it’s not working, make sure that it’s actually down. This prevents you from fixing a problem that does not exist, wasting critical time and resources, and potentially creating other problems.

The potential confusion can be avoided by simply visiting other websites. If all or most of these sites work, you should start your troubleshooting because the root cause is from your server, not your network. Otherwise, you can run a traceroute to see which part of the connection is cut, and try troubleshooting it or asking for help.

By being “down” or “not working”, the webpage satisfies one of the following conditions:

  • The page fails to load, gets stuck indefinitely, or returns a timeout.
  • The server returns a server-side HTTP error code or a client-side one if you’re sure that the request should be working.
  • An error message is displayed on the page, and the normal content on the page does not load.
  • The webpage freezes the entire browser or computer when it’s not supposed to.

2. Notify Users When Necessary

Whenever necessary, notify your users. The message should mention that the site is currently down, and that the culprit is being searched for, after which it will be fixed. This retains customer trust and makes them more likely to revisit your site as they expect the issue to be corrected.

3. Fix Hosting Issues

Sometimes, your website is down because its domain name has expired. For instance, if you visit a website in Google Chrome and encounter the error “DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN”, consider this possibility.

An error indicating that the DNS could not resolve the domain name!

The only way to fix this problem is to re-register the domain name and point it back to your website’s IP address. If your domain name has already been grabbed by someone else, chances are that you need to host your website on a similar domain name and potentially even rebrand your company. Notify your user in the process as they will visit the wrong website after the change. Otherwise, you may have to go through complicated legal procedures with the company that has taken your domain name. If you forgot your IP address, you need to put a backup you downloaded into your website.

4. See If Your Website is Being Attacked

Next, you should look for signs of a cyberattack. If you can access the backend of this website, that’s a good sign. However, you still need to check for modified files or configurations or whether the CMS (Content Management System) is damaged. If so, your website is likely infected with malware. Moreover, if the website suddenly occupies so many system resources or behaves unusually, like downloading files without your permission, your site is likely infected as well.

Nevertheless, if you cannot access the backend, you might need to look at the site’s file structure. This might be unreliable for most humans, so feel free to cautiously scan it with anti-malware software to look for any threats.

If you found anything suspicious inside your website, stop reading this article immediately and follow this guide for a hacked website.

5. Check the Resource Usage of the Server

Once you’re confident that your website is down for reasons other than malware, it’s time to check how many free resources there are. If you don’t know how to figure out the exact value, you can start by looking at Google Analytics or your server logs. If the number of visitors skyrocketed to a historical high a few minutes ago, the most likely reason the server is down is that it’s handling more visitors than it can.

Not having enough free CPU resources and RAM will result in your server slowing down to a crawl or even freezing altogether. If it is not a surge of visitors, try restarting some resource-hogging processes on your server. Otherwise, your only solution is to wait for the count of visitors to decrease to a manageable level and upgrade the hardware (especially the RAM) on the server if you can.

If there aren’t enough free resources, your server might slow down or stop responding!

6. Revert to a Backup

If you can access the backend, you can probably restore from a backup. If you still can’t enter the CMS and you’re sure that there are not many visitors, it probably means that your site has been hacked. Restoring from a backup is an excellent way to undo any misconfiguration or software bug causing your website to stop working. However, don’t take this step right away if you think the website might be infected. The infection might hack the backup software so that the malware will remain even after you revert to a backup.

If the backup eliminates the error, congratulations! However, if you are still having problems or think that restoring from a backup is not feasible, keep reading to find a potential solution.

7. Back Up Now If You Can’t Revert

If your backup is too old that lots of work will be lost if you restore it, or if you have never backed up your website, you should back up your site right now. Although it might seem counterintuitive to preserve the state of a broken website, it’s still your best bet because the following steps will likely mean manipulating plugins, permissions, or even the code of your site itself. If anything goes wrong with it, you will be able to restore from this backup to start over with the recovery rather than being thrown back to square one.

Note that this step should not be necessary if you often download archives of your site. However, if you don’t do this regularly, it’s high time you start doing it now because not doing so will only mean more data loss.

8. Set Up File Permissions Correctly

A website that isn’t working might come down to not allowing users to access some files. Make sure you give read permission to the pages of a website to ordinary users. You can refer to this guide about file permissions here. However, there’s a caveat. The “777” permission usually used for permission troubleshooting should never be used on your website. Instead, the last integer of the file permissions of any publicly available webpage must be “4”. If you have confirmed that and the pages are still not working, you can basically rule out permission issues.

9. Search for Compatibility Issues

This step is much more time-consuming than any of the steps above, but it’s still worth it. Do this by deactivating plugins one by one and then reloading your website. Once you find that your website works, you’ve probably found the culprit, which is the plugin you last deactivated.

Activate all necessary plugins other than the problematic one, and then try to find an update for it. Chances are that some issues that are causing incompatibility has already been corrected, waiting for everyone to install the new version. If you’re using an up-to-date version, try reinstalling the plugin. It might be causing errors due to data corruption.

If it still doesn’t fix the issue, it’s better to find an alternative for that plugin. It’s also best if you reconsider why you’re using that plugin. If you can replace the plugin’s functionalities with simple HTML or code changes, you don’t need the plugin because could be some unnecessary functionalities that exist in it.

10. Inspect the Error Messages in the Server Logs

At this point, there might be an error that isn’t apparent. It’s time to look at the server logs to see if it sends any verbose error messages. Note that the error message that the users see should be much simpler and lack details to prevent sensitive information about the database or backend from being disclosed. After that, you can start to try debugging the program.

11. Ask For Help If You Can’t Locate or Fix the Issue

Last but not least, you should ask for help if you’ve progressed to this step but your issue is still there. There might be an issue hidden inside your website’s backend that is causing the error. Make sure you describe the problem comprehensively, as any missing detail might mean that the fix does not work.

You should ask your colleagues first. They are more familiar with your website and its configurations so that a fix will be more likely. Nevertheless, if none of the developers around you can answer your problem, it’s time to ask online on forums like Stack Overflow. While it will likely go unnoticed, you may get a fix if someone runs across the same problem, sorts it out, and decides to share the solution in your forum thread.

Conclusion

We have gone through what you should do when your website goes down. If neither of your solutions works or you want more information to compile your website downtime recovery guide, please visit the websites in the references below. Also, feel free to comment below if this article contains serious mistakes or is missing essential points.

References and Credits

  1. (2013, May 22). Why Your Website Is Down – Basic Steps to Fix It from Home. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.websitepulse.com/blog/why-your-website-is-down-basics-how-to-fix-it-from-home
  2. (2019, January 3). What to Do When Your Website Goes Down. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://cornershopcreative.com/blog/what-to-do-website-goes-down/
  3. (n.d.). What To Do If Your Website Is Down. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.postmm.com/website-management/what-to-do-if-your-website-is-down/
  4. (n.d.). The Website Downtime Survival Guide. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://neilpatel.com/blog/the-downtime-survival-guide/
  5. (2019, December 10). What to do if your website is down. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://semonto.com/blog/what-to-do-if-your-website-is-down

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