HTTP 403 error

  • Fabian Sinner
  • January 24, 2024

Table of content

    HTTP 403 error

    The display of an HTTP 403 error informs the user that there was an error with a website request. If your web browser displays a 403: Forbidden code instead of the desired website, something did not go as planned and you are not authorized to visit the page.

    However, the display of this HTTP status code cannot be linked to a single problem, as there are many different causes of the error.

    What does an HTTP 403 error: Forbidden mean?

    The error message is one of a number of possible HTTP status codes that a user may encounter on the Internet. Error messages with a “4” at the beginning indicate that it is most likely a client-side problem.

    A 403: Forbidden code means that the addressed server recognizes the request but cannot or does not want to authorize it. The result: The page is blocked for you and the browser informs you of the error.

    However, this is not always due to a technical problem because on many websites the owner actively prevents the browsing of certain directories. There can be many reasons for this: The website operator could deliberately block sensitive or private content for some users or provide additional protection for material that is easy to copy, for example, and would therefore be easy to steal.

    Why does the error message not always look the same?

    Error pages can be manually customized and displayed by the website owner. In most cases, it is common to see a generic, white page with black error text in the browser.

    If the operator adapts his error messages visually, the page can be displayed with images or in company colors, for example. Even the display of the error code can vary, even if the core message always remains the same. So don’t be surprised if the error on such pages is “403 – Forbidden”, “403 – Access denied” or “403 – Oops, something went wrong”.

    What causes the HTTP 403 error code to be displayed?

    As mentioned, there can be various reasons for the 403 error message. In most cases, the problem is on the client side, but it can also be due to special settings made by the website operator.

    Possible causes for the display of a 403 error include:

    • Website operator setting: The website visited is only enabled for a certain type of user or its IP address is within a blocked IP range.
    • Technical problems on the website: The domain is not forwarded to the correct server, plugins are causing problems, there is a missing index file, particularly restrictive rules in the stored .htaccess file, or other problems with a technical background.
    • Error source on the user side: There may have been a typing error when entering the URL or the website was loaded at an inopportune moment when there were temporary problems on the target page itself.

    How can I solve the problem of an HTTP error 403: Forbidden?

    Potential solutions arise from the problems mentioned in the previous paragraph. In some situations, the solution may be simple; in other cases, your hands may be tied. Rehardless, it is worth performing the following actions when an HTTP error 403: Forbidden is displayed:

    • Reload the website in the browser: It can always happen that a web page is opened at the moment when a problem has occurred on the target side. A simple refresh of the open browser tab can therefore be sufficient.
    • Check the URL: Was there a typing error? It is not uncommon, for example, for a typo to have crept into the URL.
    • Deleting the browser cache: Deleting your own browser cache is always a solution.
    • Deactivate browser plug-ins: There are situations in which the web server in question denies access because unwanted plug-ins have been detected. Common examples would be adblockers or proxy add-ons, which are not welcomed everywhere.
    • Your own firewall settings: A final attempt could be to deactivate your own firewall – but only if you actually trust the target site.

    Are there solutions for webmasters?

    Although the issue can easily be addressed from the client’s side, website owners/operators can also try different approaches to eliminate the error code.

    • Restoring the .htaccess file: If a .htaccess file is present in the current server setup, the error can often be hidden there. The .htaccess acts as the basic configuration file of the system, in which a lot of information such as link redirects (301 redirects) are entered. Such a list can grow extremely quickly. Anyone familiar with .htaccess files knows how confusing they can be. Only in the rarest of cases is it worth taking the time to identify the problem yourself. It would be easier to delete the existing file and have the system generate a new one.
    • Checking file authorizations: Webmasters can assign a separate authorization to each file stored on the system, which determines exactly who is allowed to do what. In rare cases, it can happen that an incorrect configuration has crept in here.
    • Check your own CDN: A content delivery network (CDN) is often used to make content such as images or videos available to users more quickly. If there is a problem with the settings here, it can lead to a 403 error code. This can be easily tested by temporarily deactivating the CDN and then checking your own website.
    • Check the plug-ins: Many websites, especially those based on WordPress, work with plug-ins. In many cases, irregularities in plug-ins lead to a 403: Forbidden error being displayed. It can be caused by plug-ins not being updated for a long time, an update was faulty, or plug-ins have compatibility problems with each other. Temporarily deactivating individual extensions and then checking them could help to find the cause.

    The reasons for an HTTP error 403: Forbidden can be manifold and the search is not always easy. However, there are direct solutions for both users and website operators to resolve the problem. If none of the suggested solutions work, it is always worth contacting your website hoster.

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