How to overcome Error 403

Written by matt durrant
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How to overcome Error 403
403 errors are returned by a web server when a request is forbidden. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the protocol used to transmit data on the Web, uses a number of status codes to relay information to users when a request is made for a web page. Error 403 is the HTTP code for "Forbidden," meaning that the web server understood the request but for various reasons is refusing to allow access to the page.

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The HTTP cycle

When you access a website using a web browser it first connects to the server hosting the website via an IP address, which is like a phone number specific to the website. The browser sends a request to the server for a specific web page, like the website's home page. Usually, if the request is valid, the server sends back the code "200 OK" and delivers the requested page. However, a web server can return a "403 Forbidden" error if it is set up to forbid access to a certain page.

Directory browsing

One of the most common reasons for a 403 error is that the website administrator has forbidden directory browsing.

Some websites allow you to view directories on a website, showing all files and pages -- even those not linked to on a page of the site. As this raises major security issues, most websites turn off directory browsing and return a 403 error. You can tell if you are attempting to browse a directory on a website by seeing if the URL ends with a slash (a "/") rather than an extension like ".html."

Google Sites

Users of personal websites hosted under the Google Sites service can occasionally encounter a "Forbidden 403 error" while trying to access their site. This can be caused by Google disabling an account after suspected hijacking. Usually the site should be re-enabled after Google determines the site is safe, but sometimes the site is not re-enabled and continues to give users the "Forbidden 403" error. Site owners must post a support request in the Google Sites Help Forum to fix the problem.

Misconfigured permissions and hidden files

The administrator of a website can alter permissions on files and directories to forbid access and deliver a 403 code to anyone attempting to access them. For users to be able to access files, the file permissions must be set to 755 or 644. The final digit means users either can read and execute (5) or merely read (4) the file.

Hidden files, like the ".htaccess" file or any file starting with a full stop, cannot be accessed through a browser.

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