HTTP status code

An HTTP status code is the response of a server to a request by a client. There are three-digit codes for this response, which provide information about the success or failure of a request. Negative effects of error messages can be prevented by webmasters by simple measures.

There is probably hardly an Internet user who does not know this message: “Error 404 – this page does not exist” or shorter and in English: “404 – not found.” This is exactly what an HTTP status code is. Status here stands for the server’s response to a request. The request is usually to display a certain document – almost always an HTML page. And code stands for a three-digit number. The principle is therefore very simple:

  • The client (i.e. the browser) sends a request (HTTP Request).
  • The server processes the request and sends a response (HTTP Response).
  • The response is in the HTTP status code.

After a correct request, the server sends the client a class 2 message, for example, the status code 200 for “Okay”. As an Internet user, you don’t notice anything about this message – apart from the fact that the requested page is displayed correctly in the browser.

HTTP and the status classes

HTTP is the abbreviation for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. This is the technical standard used for sending and receiving multimedia documents on the Internet. An HTTP status code is sent as a response to the request. The header of the protocol provides a code that contains important parameters, such as the language or character set of the document. This is often accompanied by information about the client. There is also Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), which creates a tap-proof connection between the user’s browser and the website. FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. This method is used for uploading and downloading files.

The status codes of HTTP messages in the header are divided into five groups. The first digit in a request code indicates the status class.

Status 1: Processing of the request is ongoing. Example: 100 (Continue). With this response, the user can continue with his extensive request.
Status 2: Processing was successful. Example: 204 (No Content). This status means that the request was successful, but intentionally no document is displayed or content is delivered. However, there is no error.
Status 3: The request is redirected. Example: 305 (Use Proxy). In this case, the requested document (Requested Resource) is only accessible via a proxy. In the header, this proxy is displayed as a location.
Status 4: There is an error for which the client is responsible. Example: 413 (Request Entity Too Large). The server cannot process the request because the request is too large.
Status 5: There is an error for which the server is responsible. Example: 500 (Internal Server Error). An unexpected server error.

The status classes marked with the numbers 1 to 5 are documented in RFC. RFC is the abbreviation for Request for Comments. These are documents that describe the basics of network technology and are published by a group in the Internet Society ISOC.

Two known errors: 404 and 403

Not found – not found. This is probably the best known status code. Behind it is simply that a certain HTML page or other resource is not found at the URL entered. Possible reasons for this are:

  • The user mistyped and thus asked for a page that does not exist.
  • The link the user clicked on is incorrect.
  • The resource existed, but it has been deleted in the meantime, for example because it was only used for temporary purposes.
  • The URI is simply no longer up-to-date.

Every now and then, a surfer also encounters the message “forbidden”. This message appears with the 403 error, which is one of the better known codes, along with 404. In this case, the user has requested a page that requires special permissions. However, it is usually due to the browser settings of the client or a firewall that the page cannot be accessed.

Tip: Google Webmaster Tools provide Internet operators with various options for analyzing crawling errors on their own site.

HTTP status codes and Google

Website operators often ask themselves what influence HTTP status codes have on SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It is known that Google robots regularly crawl websites. This is also done, for example, to delete non-retrievable content from the Google directory. Therefore, a regular check of HTTP status codes is important, for example to check the functioning of the server.

For the own website it is also negative under SEO aspects, if it contains many dead links. The status code “Error 404” on the content requested via a link often indicates that one’s own website is also outdated – and Google’s algorithms also see it that way.

Create your own error pages

Especially for SEO it is important to create own error pages. Because a meager machine response to the query does not exactly invite a visitor to continue searching on the targeted domain. In order not to lose traffic, it is recommended to create a separate page for error messages. It should be designed in the design of your own website and invite the user to visit the homepage, for example, to continue searching there. Many error message pages also offer the visitor a search field. Technically, the redirect (for example, to a page named fehlermeldung.html) works with just one line of code:

ErrorDocument 404 /errorMessage.html.

This text is written to the .htaccess file, which is placed in the root directory of the server. This is also possible for other error messages. In the case of a 403 error, for example, the user can be informed that he was rejected due to his browser settings.

Tip: It is also possible to include a function on the error message page that automatically sends an e-mail each time it is called up. Then you as a webmaster are always up to date about possible wrong configurations on the server.

HTTP status codes are helpful to test the state of your own internet presence. Therefore, it is recommended to check the HTTP status codes for certain requests on a regular basis. There are practical tools for this on the net. A self-created error page can even provide the user with content – or help him find the content he is looking for. This is the best way to turn visitors into customers who initially received the dreaded “Not found” message.


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