For everyone who has ever had a website, there comes a heart stopping moment when you realize your site is down. You might have had a quick look at the site just to see how it was doing (as every parent looks in on a child), or you may have received a telephone call from a friend (or worse still an advertiser), and there it is... a white screen where the Internet's next big thing used to be. This type of shock actually gets the adrenalin pumping and it's very easy to go into a total meltdown. Don't. The calmer you stay, the faster your website will be back online.
How do I know my website is really down?
Problems at your Internet Service Provider (ISP) are often a source of reasons why a website cannot be accessed by certain members of the public. An underground or undersea cable might have been cut, or you provider might have been experiencing technical difficulties.
What this means is that your website is not accessible through that provider's services, but is accessible through other services. These issues could just impact access to servers that are abroad, or just impact access to servers that are in the country you are residing. So, check.
Visit a high profile website that generally isn't cached, something like CNN. Then do the same for a high profile website in your country - a leading local media site like CNN should do the trick. If you can access one but not the other, then it's probably an issue with your provider. Call them to find out. However, if you do not want to wait to speak to someone (as is often the case), you can check at a site called:
Just type in your website's URL and Down for Everyone or Just Me? will show if your site is down everywhere in the world, or just for you.
What do I do now that I know it is down?
Once it is clear your site is down for everyone, you need to take immediate action. There are a number of reasons why your site might not be visible:
Programming error or server issue?
Programming errors can be determined by checking your browser. If the site has loaded, then the server is working, even though you can't see anything. You can check if the site has loaded by checking the status in your browser.
If the browser says "Done", the site has loaded and the lack of content is a programming problem. Likewise if your browser continually says "Loading" or something similar, this might indicate a server issue. You can further check this using your PC.
Access your Windows Command Prompt by going to "Start", "All Programs", "Accessories" and then "Command Prompt". A small black screen appears. Type in 'ping' and the name of your website:
Press "Enter" and if the server is operating you will get a message that looks something like this:
Reply from 22.214.171.124
bytes=11 time=15ms TTL=45
Ping command from a Windows computer
This return shows your server's IP address, so you can assume your server is working fine. If nothing returns, the likelihood is your server is down. If you server is down, call your provider and get in their queue. If not, call anyway to see if they can help, but otherwise run some tests yourself.
What should I test?
Just like on your PC, server software screws up sometimes, making a server hang or malfunction in some other way. You can test whether your server software by using a telnet command, which is available on Windows, Linux and Mac machines.
You will need to look at your web host's documentation and tutorials to do this effectively, as testing for your specific server will require a specific string of numbers, symbols and letters. However, once you access this code, add it to your server C:\ prompt, and if the software is operational, the server will respond.
If telnet does not connect this is an indication that the software has malfunctioned, if it connects but does not respond, it might mean your software is misconfigured. You might have to get your provider to reinstall software if this is the case.
Restart your server
As we said previously, it may be that for some reason your software has just made your server hang. If this is the case ask your provider to restart your machine, or go into your control panel (usually cPanel or Plesk) and restart from there.
Check your disk space
It might be that you disk space has been fully utilized and as a result, your site can't launch. Again, you can check this from cPanel or Plesk. If this is the case, you need to free up space on your server's disk. Use FTP to remove any log files or back-up files you might have stored on your server to see it that has any impact.
Check your memory
It may be that your server hasn't crashed but might be running too slowly to operate. Again from your control panel, check memory usage. From the c:\ prompt add admin@server$ top to establish which software is using up all your memory. If something is using more than 10% of your memory, then likelihood it has been misconfigured and needs reinstalling.
It might prove sage to wipe your disk clean and reinstall, this time omitting unnecessary software.
If everything is working properly, it may just be that your site has reached the limit of the hardware you are using. Perhaps an upgrade would be in order - perhaps now is the time to invest in that dedicated server you have been thinking about!