HTTP 500 Server Errors: A Guide [and How to Fix Them]

Nothing can be more frustrating than browsing the web and encountering an error- whether it’s a missing page proclaiming “404 not found” or the dreaded server errors: you see the Google robot tinkering with broken parts, exclaiming an error, or “HTTP Error 500.” While 404 errors are fairly straightforward– for whatever reason, the page isn’t where it should be – server errors can be a bit more tricky. It’s difficult to determine where and how the error occurred, and what to do to fix them.

Here’s our guide to what 500 status codes are, what to do to fix them, and what impact they can have on your site.

What are 5xx errors?

What does “internal server error” mean? It refers to an issue while browsing: when you browse the web, the browser you’re using sends a request to the server a given site is hosted on. The server receives the request, processes it, and provides the requested material, along with an HTTP header (that’s why URLs always start that way!). 500 status codes occur when something gets disrupted in the communication between the browser and the server. 

There are a few different types of server errors:

  • 500 – This is the most common and a ‘catch-all’ error, generally shown when the exact type of 5xx error cannot be determined.
  • 501 – Not implemented errors result when the server doesn’t do what is asked of it; generally this is an error in proxy servers.
  • 503 – Service not available errors occur when the server temporarily cannot fulfill the request.
  • 504 – Gateway timeout errors. These occur when a server does not respond in time.
  • 521 – Server is down errors. These occur when the server is, in fact, down.

What causes 5xx errors?

While many server errors point to the cause in their names – for example, the server timed out – they can often have more subtle root causes. 

Sometimes, the permissions of the server do not allow it to complete the request asked of it, or even a recent update to a browser can trigger server issues. Here are some of the main causes of 5xx errors:

User-Side

  • The browser cache must be cleared
  • Incorrect database login credentials
  • Third-party plugins

Server-Side

  • Corrupted database
  • Corrupted files, including WordPress core files
  • Database server issues
  • PHP issues, including memory limit and timeout
  • Incorrect file and/or folder permissions
  • Script errors
List of 500 Error Causes

500 status errors are tricky as they can be as much a result of user-side errors as actual server errors. Regardless of their ambiguous causes, there are always steps to take to diagnose the problem at hand.

How to fix 500 internal server errors

Since problems can occur both on the user side and the backend of a given site, here are approaches for both front-end users and webmasters to fix their HTTP 500 errors. 

How webmasters can fix 500 server errors:

  • Check your site’s error logs
  • Ensure all file and server permissions are correct
  • Double-check any plugins your site is running
    • First, disable all your plugins
    • Then, enable them one by one and see if further errors occur
  • Check server logs and/or enable WordPress debugging mode
  • If the server issue is due to a PHP error, enable PHP error reporting to get a sense of when it’s happening
  • Reinstall WordPress (especially if your core files are older)

How users can fix 500 server errors: 

  • Clear your browser cache: so often, browser caches are responsible for server errors- clear your cache, refresh, and try again.
  • Refresh the page: Sometimes 500 internal server errors are simply a misfire, and refreshing the page will do the trick
  • Disable plugins: Plugins, especially third-party plugins, can occasionally disrupt server connections while browsing
  • Double-check your password information and ensure you *should* have permissions

Preventing 5xx errors

Given the sheer variety of possible 500 server errors, how can you prevent them? There are a few simple, easy steps to incorporate into your workflow to keep your servers humming smoothly:

  • Monitor your site regularly: the best prevention is early detection
  • Use only reputable plugins: 3rd party plugins can often be less secure and more prone to error
  • Update software and plugins regularly: older plugins and software can have security defects, ultimately putting your website at risk.
icons and tips for how to prevent 5xx errors

The impact of 5xx errors

Obviously, it’s not ideal to encounter a server error as a user. It disrupts your flow through a website. Users might avoid browsing that site or its products, resulting in a loss of customers or potential conversions. Having a high-quality UX is important for any business site if they expect to keep and/or grow their customer base. 

Not only that, but it can also have dire SEO consequences. If search engine robots crawl your site and are unable to access it, then there’s no opportunity for your immaculately optimized content to be crawled and indexed (and therefore showcased on the SERPs). If server errors aren’t remedied as quickly as possible, the SEO impact could really damage a business and its site traffic. Even downtime as little as a few hours might see your site missing the window to be re-crawled by Google and inevitably tanking in search rankings. 

Final word

500-level server errors can be difficult to both diagnose and remedy. There are so many different permutations, and even discerning the cause can occasionally prove difficult. That said, careful maintenance and monitoring can solve your problems before they even occur. With these tips and tricks, you can keep your site safe, secure, and always reachable. 

If you’re having issues with site errors plaguing your site, tag us in for our SEO services.

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