404’s Quick History and Why You Get Them

Littered among several of this week’s (and last week’s) “likes” and “follow” list were accounts where I backlinked into 404 pages. In fact, I found one person with a link to an About page where there was no website. Another person had a blog of the exact same name on three other websites according to Google (two redirected to 404, the other existed under a different author!).

So, what exactly is a “404” code?

Links that lead nowhere are considered ‘dead links’ or ‘broken links’. They are marked as HTTP status code 404; otherwise known  as ‘error 404’, ‘HTTP 404’, or ‘404 code’ on the target pages. What you are promised or led to believe will be at the end of something you click turns out to not be there.

But why call these errors 404 codes?

Back in 2007, Arun Vishnu posted on his Bugs of a Debugger blog a short but entertaining history of where “404” came from. ( Franck Dernoncourt, Research Scientist at Adobe Research re-posted it on Quora in 2012

Basically, in the 1980′s a group of scientists at CERN (Switzerland) began working on a project that eventually evolved into the World Wide Web (Engraziel, Merci, Grazi, Danke!) In an office on the fourth floor (room 404), they placed the World Wide Web’s central database. Any request for a file was routed to that office and faulty requests were answered with a standard message: ‘Room 404: file not found’ — which is still used today even after the manual process became automated.

What causes these faulty files?

According to the 1&1Digital Guide website:

  • The URL or its content (such as files or images) was either deleted or moved (without adjusting any internal links accordingly)
  • The URL was written incorrectly (during the creation process or a redesign), linked incorrectly, or typed into the browser incorrectly
  • The server responsible for the website is not running or the connection is broken
  • The requested domain name can’t be converted to an IP by the domain name system (DNS)
  • The entered domain name doesn’t exist (anymore)

What can you do if you come across a 404? 1&1 Digital Guide suggests: Reload the page; Check the URL; Go back through the directory levels; Use the website’s search function; Use a search engine; Delete the browser cache and cookies; Contact the website.

The other option I would suggest is that it may be a marketing scam where there is no content, just a bait and switch to get you to a page where you might click an affiliate link by curiosity or error. In that case take the 404 as a sign of sloppy website maintenance by people who don’t care enough about you to check their pages. I appreciate all you new “likes” and “followers,” but if you aren’t real bloggers, don’t bother.

(Your thoughts are ALWAYS welcome. Turn this into a conversation either here or on my Twitter account @amssvs}

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