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Website is Not Working - What to Do

The Website Isn't Up!

Note: This article isn't written specifically for Webstix clients - it's written for a general audience. If you are one of our clients and experience an error, please contact us. If you are not a Webstix client, then please read what's here and follow the instructions at the very bottom to get our help.

If your website isn't up or working correctly, you might panic a little but if you know some things to check, you can get it running shortly. With a few, quick checks, you might be able to solve the problem yourself. If you can't, then you can at least tell someone else what you've checked - what works and what doesn't. That kind of information can help them quite a bit. Finding the solution can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, so the smaller the haystack, the better!

What Can Go Wrong

There are many things that can go wrong - for example:

  • There are several kinds of web browsers available on different computer operating systems.
  • In addition to that, people can have different plugins or extensions installed in their browser, which could also affect things.
  • Browser caching settings can also be an issue.
  • There are network issues. Sometimes, your local network might show one thing but go to a computer on another network (at the coffee shop, at home, etc.) and the problem is gone.
  • Something could be wrong with the web server.
  • Something could be wrong with the payment gateway or merchant credit card account.
  • Something could be wrong with the SSL certificate.
  • Something could be wrong with the website programming.

Again, since the issue could be one of many things, we'll explain to you what we need and then some common fixes or things to try.

Troubleshooting and Common Fixes

Here are some things to try:

If there still are problems, we suggest disabling all browser plugins/extensions. This could be a problem that's just isolated to your specific computer due to plugins you are using, your operating system or your particular configuration. The more we know and the more that can be eliminated, the better.

Here are some questions and tips to help you diagnose and troubleshoot why your website is not working.

"It's Not You, it's Me"

No, I'm not breaking up with you... one thing you want to do is check that the problem isn't on your end. It could be your computer or network. One way to eliminate the question of it being your network is to try to go to your website from another network. You can either try it from your cell phone, the coffee shop or or there's another way.

  1. Is the network down? Make sure you can go to other websites. Try going to Google or Bing of Yahoo. They have a lot of servers and most likely will not be down.
  2. Reboot or Try another computer. Reboot your computer or try someone else's. You might even consider rebooting a router or modem.
  3. Try another network. Try either using an anonymous surfing website (like anonymouse.org) or try websitenotworking.com. What these websites do is check your website from a separate network and they show you the page after they first fetch it. If these websites pull up your website fine, then you might have an internal network configuration issue at your office. Contact your IT Department for support.

If you did a search for help and found this page, then we can reliably say that your network is running. If you printed this page for future use, then do make sure you go through the items listed above.

Is it Your Host?

There Could be a Problem With Your Server or Host

Next, see if your web server (website host) is up or down. If you know of another website on the same server, check it. Try going to the website hosting control panel and see if it's running. Go to your web hosts main website and see if it's working.

A Spike in Traffic

Often, there's a spike in traffic and the website is not responding because it's handling other requests. Spikes often clear up in 5 minutes or so. It might be worth it just to wait a few minutes and see if things clear up. Stop checking your website (and contributing to the problem) and wait. Check it again in a few minutes. If there's still a problem, then maybe the problem is snowballing - time to contact your host.

Website Hosting Support

They might also have Twitter feeds or their Facebook page or another page where they might be updating their customers of their status. Check those places. Sometimes a flood of phone calls only slows them down from fixing the problem. If there's nothing there and your website is still down, then give them a call and ask them to check into it. A phone call is better here because if you try an email, their email might not be working.

Is it a Hack?

Websites get hacked all the time. Sometimes it's obvious and sometimes it's software or pages buried deep in the website where they can be difficult to find. Often what happens is, there's an issue with a website where the issue is actually something with the server but this causes someone to inspect all the website files and then hacks or compromises are discovered. If someone isn't doing this from time to time, then you might only find out about your site being hacked when there's a spike in traffic or something with the server.

With that said, sometimes hacks are difficult to find. You'll need someone who is familiar with the website setup to inspect files.

Some things to look for that might be a sign of a hack are:

  • Files or folders that are new (a very new date/time stamp)
  • Hidden files or folders
  • Executable files in image upload folders
  • Modified .htaccess files
  • Modified header or footer files
  • Database injections

Fixing Hacks

The first thing to do when fixing hacks is make sure you've found the hack and that you've found everything. Sometimes multiple files are hacked and the first one you find might be meant to be a decoy or only a part of it. Hackers are tricky. Once you found something, keep looking as there might be more.

Next, the hack must be removed. Get all remnants of it deleted.

After that, figure out how they got it and plug that hole. This can take quite a bit of investigation but if it's not done, then you could get hacked the same way again very soon.

Regarding Hacks

Don't take hacks personally. You could just be a random target and, in most cases, that is what is happening. Hackers just set up scripts that go from website to website and try to find holes in software. If known holes are found, then they are exploited. Again, it's done automatically and there's no other reason why your website was the target.

Using Backups to Fix Your Website

Often, a good way to fix a website is to restore a backup. For this to work, you must have a good, recent backup of your website available. Someone should be in charge of checking to make sure backups are running and that they can be restored correctly. This should be checked every month for sure.

It's best to have a backup schedule in place. Most hosts follow a policy of doing a complete backup once a week and then incremental backups every night. The incremental backups just back up things that have changed since the last backup (incremental or full). Both the website files and databases should be backed up.

Once you have the website fixed, take another backup so that you have a good, clean and recent copy of your website.

Are You Seeing Error Messages?

If you're getting a blank page or an error message, then that's kind of good. The website is at least reachable. There aren't network issues. Go into your website's error logs (error_log file) and see what errors are being reported. It might be as simple as changing permissions on a certain folder.

If an error message is showing up, then that's a big clue. What it says might not make much sense to you - programmers are known for using error messages that are pretty cryptic. The best thing to do here is either look at your website software's documentation or do a Google search for that exact error message (putting it in quotes sometimes helps). See what other people have done to fix the issue. You will often find help forums. They can take some time to comb through but there's usually an answer or at least a clue in there somewhere.

If you happen to fix an issue, consider helping your fellow Webmasters out and post your solution to the forum threads you were looking through. It might just save someone else a lot of hassle.

Make Sure Your Website Software is Up to Date

A good way to prevent hacks or compromises in the first place is to keep up on website software updates. Your website most likely runs on top of some kind of software. There are a few layers here, of course.

The first layer is your web server's software. Your website host should be keeping up on the latest patches and upgrades that need to be applied to things like the operating system, web service software, database software and so on.

Side Note: The kind of backwards thing about software patches and updates is that they are published on websites like Secunia. They look for holes in software and then publish that there's a hole after they've contacted the vendor / publisher of that software. They give the publisher a chance to fix the hole and publish and update. Once that's done, Secunia will publish the hole and solution to fix the hole. The bad thing here, of course, is that the exploits are published... where hackers can find them. It's out in the open and public knowledge. If you don't take action and fix the software on your website, then it's just a matter of time because the bad guys now know how to hack it.

The second layer is the group of files sitting in your website's file space. Your domain name points to a certain folder of files on a server. Anything in there could have holes in it if the files can be executed (ran). Things like PHP files can run commands and do things, so if these files aren't kept up to date, there could be a hole which could be exploited.


Other Website Downtime Causes

Your website could be down for a number of other reasons. These pertain more toward your website not being reachable (no response at all). If you're getting a blank page or an error message, then these items might not apply to your situation.

Domain Name Issues

Here are a few things that could be wrong with your domain name:

  • It could be expired. Do a "whois" search on your domain name and check the expiration date on it.
  • The DNS servers could be down. There's usually a primary and secondary. They should be on different networks hopefully. It's rare that both go down but it's possible.
  • Your domain name could have been hijacked. Someone else could have paid for the registration of it. It's legal to do this if your domain name expired. Make sure your domain's contact info is always up to date. We have some tips on how to manage your domain name's contact information correctly. Check and make sure that the domain name registrar your first registered your domain with is still listed as the registrar.
  • Try going to your website with and without having the "www" in the domain. The "www" part is actually a subdomain and it might not be configured properly. Both should really point to your website to follow best practices. If not, contact your IT staff, Network Administrator, website host or website developer.

Was the Website Just Moved?

If your website was just moved from one host to another, then there could be some DNS (name server) issues. Maybe your local DNS hasn't caught up yet - if so, then either reboot your computer or manually edit your computer's hosts file. If the issue is just within your office network, then (again, as we mention above) check to make sure your office's internal network is set up correctly.

Troubleshooting Websites

Sometimes, there are problems on websites. It happens. We're happy to diagnose these issues for you and get things working again. Here is some information about what we need from you. The more information you can provide us, the better.

Often, if you have an e-commerce website, your customers might alert you to an issue. When that happens, please try to get as much information from them as possible. This article also explains what we need to know for those issues.


How to Get More Help

If you've checked out everything we've listed here or really have no clue about what we're talking about, then we can help you. It's best to do as many of the items listed above as you can. The first section about checking to make sure the website is up and the section about possible domain name issues are important. Check those items for sure - anyone can.

What We Need to Know

If at all possible, try to get us as much of this information as you can:

If you have an emergency website issue, then contact Webstix. We can help you.

Here is the information that we will need - please have it ready because we will ask you for it:

We will do our best to help you get your website up and running again.

Conclusion

Just emailing us and saying "there's a problem!" is a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack. Ir's difficult to figure out where to begin. Also, we can try it and it might work just fine for us because we're using a different web browser or have different settings or something. The more we know, the better. Find out all you can and we'll be glad to give support for our clients.

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