Web Hosting for Dummies: What is a 503 Error?

what is a 503 error

WHAT IS A 503 ERROR

what is a 503 error

It is not uncommon for website users to encounter error messages when browsing. Error messages are an important way for users and hosting providers to help determine where an issue may lie. One relatively common error message is the 503 error. In encountering a 503 error message, users may not understand what is happening. More importantly, those hosting the site may not understand a 503 error or how it is resolved. In this edition of our web hosting for dummies, we will take a closer look at these 503 errors.

HTTP Errors Explained

Your digital device likely uses one of the five most popular web browsers to “surf” through the internet. These include:

  • Google Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Internet Explorer
  • Opera
  • Safari

Each of these browsers uses HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) when sending a request to retrieve a file (webpage, image, photograph, etc.) from a server on the internet. These are noted by the “HTTP” that precedes “www.” in web addresses. The vast majority of these requests result in the expected display of the desired file or webpage within the browser, usually fairly promptly. On occasion, however, an error will occur and an error message may be displayed.

Each error message is designed to give the viewer and host reasons the requests could not be completed. These error codes are group into triple-digit groups, starting with 100 numbered codes up through the 500’s. Error codes that begin with a “5” are server-side errors, meaning the problem is not with the browser or digital device of the user but with the server the website is hosted on. A 5xx error is not only an indication the problem is with the server, it tells us the server recognizes it has a problem.

What Then, is a 503 Error?

Your browser will display a 503 error when a server where the desired website is experiencing an issue retrieving your requested image or page. In the case of HTTP errors, the message seen by a user can be customized by the web host, so it may be communicated back to the user in a variety of ways. Common variations of the displayed error message include:

503 Error
503 Service Unavailable
503 Service Temporarily Unavailable
HTTP Server Error 503
HTTP 503
HTTP Error 503
Error 503 Service Unavailable

This means either the server is receiving too many requests for it to handle at once, or that it may be undergoing maintenance. What is interesting about the 503 error is that it is actually an indication that the server is operating fine. It is just deferring requests intentionally until either traffic slows or maintenance is completed.

what is a 503 error

How to Resolve 503 Errors

Users can resolve 503 errors easily often by refreshing a page or by clicking on the F5 or Ctrl+R keys. If this doesn’t resolve the issue you can try again later or take the time to reboot your device and/or modem.

For those hosting a site or sites, getting 503 errors can be more concerning. It could likely mean you are getting more traffic than your server is designed to handle. For most, this is good news but you will need to react. If you have your own on-site server or servers, a simple reboot may resolve the issue. It may also be an indication you need to increase your bandwidth or overall system resources. If 503 service errors last for more than a few minutes or become common, you will want to consider an upgrade or contact your web hosting solution provider to see if perhaps there are routine maintenance issues. They can also guide you to increased server capabilities that could also resolve the issue.

It is important for both those hosting websites and for consumers to be aware that if a 503 error is encountered in the middle of a financial transaction, multiple purchases may result. This is just one of the reasons you want to minimize downtime. It can also be helpful to note that 503 errors can be seen on a variety of digital devices including mobile ones.

The Importance of Uptime

To minimize the display of 503 errors, uptime is critical when choosing a web hosting solutions provider. At OrangeWebsite.com, we are pleased to offer a 99.9% uptime guarantee backed with 24/7 customer service. Customer service and technical requests generally get a response within minutes. This exceptional service is available worldwide as OrangeWebsite hosts websites from over 100 different countries. Users not only appreciate our reliability and quick response times but our anonymous sign-up process and acceptance of Bitcoin, cash by mail as well as credit cards.

Our data centers in Iceland give us easy and quick access to internet users in North America and Europe. Our location also allows us to provide eco web hosting solutions through the use of 100% renewable energy sources like geothermal. Users have free access to use of our Green Label for their hosted websites, demonstrating environmentally conscious initiatives. Our Icelandic location provides us with more moderate weather and minimal air conditioning costs that result in lower costs for our customers. Iceland is also a country that values its internet freedom of speech and privacy. We offer a variety of hosting and co-location services and packages to serve your expanding needs. Learn more about our green hosting solutions by visiting OrangeWebsite.com. We look forward to minimizing the errors your customers encounter when visiting your websites.

The Inconvenient Truth about 24/7 Hosting Support

Technical support team on duty
Technical support team on duty

This is what customers expect their 24/7 technical support team to look like. The truth may be entirely different.

Most of web hosting services providers on the market claim to have technical support team available around the clock. This has somewhat become an industry standard for any reputable hosting company to have. What does 24/7 support mean exactly? Does it always mean you will get support anytime of the day instantly? Nope.. And here are a few examples to be aware of:

1. Only level-1 support available around the clock

This is probably the most common issue with 24/7 support. Some hosting companies claim that they have technical support available outside of office hours and even on holidays. What they don’t tell you is that this covers only level-1 support.  In many cases level-1 staff have very limited knowledge about handling issues. Their capability may be sufficient for assisting you with setting up an email account or pointing your domain to new name servers. However with more complex issues, such as website being down or hacked, the issue would be instantly escalated to a queue for higher levels of support.

Therefore in most cases level-1 is more like a virtual secretary who answers your ticket to let you know that the message has been forwarded to a technician, who will be responding to the matter “as soon as possible”. Worst case scenario you would have to wait for an answer for days, especially if it is holiday season or on weekends. This can be nerve-breaking when you need the issue to be addressed immediately.

2. Outsourced 24/7 technical support

Outsourcing technical support can be an attractive option for a hosting company to save money and resources. Instead of recruiting and training their own in-house staff whom would be on full payroll, many hosting providers take a shortcut and hire outside help. Sometimes if they get lucky they can get a capable team to help their clients but often outsourced help desks lack the quality of service.

The reason why an outsourced support team is never the same as an in-house one is mostly because of communication problems between the owners and support teams. Many times the outsourced support team is located in a different country. This may cause a language barrier and misunderstandings. The owners would never know for sure if the team is always there to perform their duty. The outsourced support team is not only working for one company. They are simultaneously working on multiple different help desks. It is also impossible for the owners to know the credentials of an outsourced technician. Many times they don’t even know their real names. Trusting your data in hands of someone nobody knows seems a bit risky.

3. Understaffed help desk

This is a common problem with bigger service providers. While they have 24/7 support team on duty, they don’t have enough staff to handle the ticket load fast enough. You might have to sometimes wait for hours between responses from the technician. This may lead to days in resolution time. A client of ours told his experience with a previous host of his when his website suddenly went offline:

“First I had to wait in a queue of live chat for 1 hour and 45 minutes to even talk to a technician. Once he confirmed the issue, the support ticket was created and escalated to Level-2 admin who responded next day by email without resolving the issue. All this time my website was down and I was forced to move my site elsewhere!”

It is a valid point to argue whether it is reasonable to call a support “24/7 support” if a customer has to wait for hours or days to even get a response.

4. No 24/7 support in reality

In the online world, it is difficult to know whether the hosting provider is honest about telling the level of support they provide. We have heard quite a few cases about companies claiming to have 24/7/365 support, but when all hell breaks loose, nobody is there answering your support tickets. This can be really disappointing from the client’s perspective.

So what can you do to avoid unpleasant surprises?

This all may sound really frustrating when you are looking for a hosting provider that you could really trust. You can never know for sure before trying but there are a few things you can certainly do to improve your chances of finding the best web host for you.

1. Contact the sales support before signing up to confirm if they also have Level-2 and Level-3 coverage 24/7. In case they do, is it free of charge outside of the office hours? You may also try to ask whether they have an in-house or outsourced support team.

2. See how long it takes to get a reply from a sales representative. It is understandable that with more complex system quotes it may take some time to compose the reply. However if the sales agent takes hours or days to answer to your simple questions regarding the service, you can expect the same from the technical support.

3. Pay attention to communication skills of the support agent. If they fail to answer your questions, don’t understand you at all or in case the reply contains numerous errors, you might be dealing with an incompetent, outsourced customer support agent.

4. Try contacting the technical support on inconvenient hours, in example during holidays or in the middle of the night. If you get swift replies at all times, you can be sure the company in fact has 24/7 support. In case you have to wait for answers for hours or even days, move forward to your next potential hosting service option.

5. Read customer reviews on reputable web hosting review web sites. It is a really good indicator to read testimonials of existing customers of the hosting provider. Google is your best friend when looking for unbiased customer reviews of your potential web host candidate.

If you are tired of looking further, you are welcome to sign-up with our web hosting services. I can assure you that you will be satisfied with the level of support we can provide to you. Our in-house support team has been awarded as one of the best support team’s on market. We provide real 24/7/365 support with unlimited level-3 coverage and guaranteed response time within minutes.

You can view our hosting plans here and in case you have any questions, please feel free to contact our support!