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What is a 500 Internal Server Error?

Alex Sheehan

Sep 30, 2019 — 4 min read

Learn what a 500 Internal Server Error is and what to do when you encounter one.

500 internal server error explained

If you’ve ever browsed the internet, chances are you’ve encountered an error or two. While most websites might load without issue, there are those instances where you receive an error message or are unable to access the page you’re trying to load. Sometimes, this is because of an issue with your devices or network, and other times, it’s because of an issue on the site owner side.

What is a 500 Internal Server Error?

A 500 Internal Server Error is an HTTP status code which indicates that the website you’re trying to visit has an unspecified issue that is preventing you from being able to load the page.

A 500 Internal Server Error could indicate a number of issues with the website server. It simply serves as the first indication, or flag, that something’s wrong and further investigation or action is needed.

500 Internal Server Error is also referred to as a server error, HTTP error and 500 error.

What 500 Internal Server Error looks like

If you’re browsing the web and hit a 500 Internal Server Error, here’s what it might say:

  • 500 Internal Server Error
  • 500 Error
  • HTTP 500 – Internal Server Error
  • HTTP Error 500
  • 500. That’s an error
  • Temporary Error (500)
  • Internal Server Error
  • 500
  • HTTP 500 Internal Error
  • The website cannot display the page

What causes 500 Internal Server Error

The 500 Internal Server Error is simply a general indication that something’s wrong on the server side. This could be caused by a number of things, but it’s always on the website server and not an issue with your computer or internet connection.

In most cases, this means the server is down. A server could go down for a number of reasons, mostly boiling down to one of the following:

  • It’s “full” and can’t handle more data (for example, too many people are trying to access the site at one time)
  • There’s a mistake with the code

How to fix a 500 Internal Server Error

If you’re not the site owner

The simplest way to fix a 500 Internal Server Error is to refresh your browser or application window. You can do this on most computers with a keyboard shortcut, F5 should work, as well as CTRL + R on Windows and CMD + R on Mac. You can also find the refresh button in your browser and click (or tap) that. This might solve the issue if the 500 Internal Server Error is temporary.

You can also clear your cache and browser history and start fresh. Remember to delete your browser’s cookies and restart the browser before you try again. Or, open and browse in a new incognito window.

If those don’t work, and you don’t need to access the site immediately, simply try coming back to it later.

If you need more immediate assistance, see if the site has a status page. Many SaaS (software-as-a-service) companies have a dedicated webpage that gives users status updates on any technical errors or site outages. Here’s an example of an outage status page from Asana:

Asana outage status updates

Note that Asana also allows users to subscribe to updates, so you can receive an alert as soon as any issues have been troubleshooted and resolved.

However, it’s very possible that the site you’re visiting doesn’t have a page like that. In this case, contact the site owner. If the contact information isn’t readily available, and live chat isn’t an option, check social media or do an old-school Google search for the company’s contact information.

If you own the site

If the website is yours and you’re dealing with 500 Internal Server Errors, the steps to resolve the error are more involved. Because it could be a number of causes, your first task is to diagnose the issue and find out what’s signaling the error message.

To do this, check out your server’s log files to pinpoint the issue. Some common scenarios include:

  • .htaccess file code error
  • Permissions error (incorrect permissions on server files and folders)
  • Missing software installation
  • Software updates needed
  • PHP timeouts when connecting to external resources

To find out how to check your server’s log files, check your website builder’s resource library. Here are a few to get you started:

If you can’t diagnose and fix it yourself, you also have the option of hiring a professional consultant or company to address the 500 Internal Server Error for you. Do your due diligence to find a company you can trust; ask for referrals from within your network, check the company’s website and look up customer reviews on Google.

More tips for handling 500 Internal Server Errors

As a website user, you don’t have to worry too much about handling 500 Internal Server Errors on your own. But there are a few handy tips to know:

Don’t refresh transactional pages. If you’re entering your credit card or other payment information and receive a 500 Internal Server Error, skip the advice on refreshing your browser and instead contact the site owner directly. If you did refresh the page, be sure to check your statement that you didn’t get duplicative charges.

Look up older versions of the website. A tool like Wayback Machine will allow you to visit historically cached versions of the website and its pages. Note that the content may be different than what’s currently live on the site, and that the design and layout may also be distorted.

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