It's happened to all of us. You've finally found
the perfect Web page that has the exact information
you need. However, since you aren't going to use it
just this minute, you save its address so you can
come back to it later. But, when you try to open it in
your Web browser later on, the page is gone! Instead,
you find yourself staring at a vague message that
says something like "The page cannot be found,"
"HTTP 404 - File not found," or "Document Not Found."
The error is so a common that folks in the Web
industry simply refer to it as a "404." Or the term
that I like: "Web rot." The fact that it's a common
problem doesn't make it any less frustrating.
In the past, you might have given up at this
point, figuring you were out of luck. That's not
necessarily so however! Read on for some methods you can
use that just might track down that missing page after all!
Change of Address
Sometimes the link is broken because the page
really has been removed from the site. Or sometimes
it's broken because of a technical problem on the
Web server (the computer on the Internet that houses
the Web site).
But a third, fairly common reason is that many Web sites frequently reorganize their
information, and in doing so inadvertently forget to update
some of their links. So the page you want may still be
out there; it's just that it's been moved to a different
location on the Web site, and the link you just tried
to use points to the outdated location.
For example, let's say you want some scary
stories to tell around the campfire this summer, and
last winter you found a Web page with just what
you were looking for at www.example.com\stories\ 2000\july\scary-campfire.htm. But when you
try browsing to the page now, you get the dreaded
404 error. You're going camping tomorrow, and you
really want those particular campfire stories. What
can you do?
Strip Down the URL
Sometimes the page's address, also known as its URL, has a logical structure that might help you
out. (If your browser is Internet Explorer you'll see
the URL in the Address line; in Netscape Navigator,
it's called the Location.)
Try removing the last (right-most) part of the URL. Using the campfire story example, you
remove scary-campfire.htm from the end of the URL so
it becomes www.example.com\stories\2000\july. In other words, you'll be trying to browse the
contents of the \stories\2000\july folder on the www.example.com Web site.
When you do this, one of three things will happen.
- You hit the jackpot! Perhaps you see a Web
page that talks about all the stories published in July
of 2000, and one of them is the story you were
looking for! This result happens because a
designated default page exists in the folder. The default
page is a page that's automatically displayed when
that folder (but not a specific page) is browsed to.
- You see a list of the pages in that Web
site's folder. This happens when a Web site gives
you permission to see the file list. The list is just
like when you click the My Computer icon in Windows to see a list of files on your own
computer. If you recognize the page you're looking for,
click it to display it in its full Web glory.
- You see a cryptic "HTTP Error 403 -
Forbidden" message (or something similar).
Don't worry, you're not in trouble! This means you aren't allowed to view the list of files in the
folder (see number 2 above) and that the folder
doesn't have a default Web page to display (number 1).
If you get this message, try stripping the
right-most part of the URL again. In our example, you'd
remove "\july" from
www.example.com\stories\ 2000\july, leaving you with
www.example.com\ stories\2000. Do this over and over again
until you either find the page you want or you
make your way back to the home pagein this
Use a Map
Another approach is to look for what's called the
site map. Not all sites have one, but they're fairly
common. A site map is a page that shows you the
internal structure of the Web site, often using categories
and subcategories. And, frankly, a lot of Web sites
might be better off using this technique for their
You usually find the site map or a link to one
on the home page. Look at the top or bottom of the page or the left or right side for menus or
navigational links to the site map.
Here's a quick tip: if you use a modem to
connect to the Internet, a site map is a quick way to
navigate around a site that bogs down with lots of graphics.
Use the Web Site's Search Feature
Some Web sites provide the ability to search for
any text that's in any of their pages. Sometimes this
approach is your best bet, especially if you're good
at performing Web searches. Look for a link (again,
on the very top, bottom, or in a margin) called
"Search" or "Find."
The beauty of using a search is that you can
still find a page even if the site doesn't have any
valid links to it.
A final option is just to go to a standard search
engine such as www.altavista.com and try and find
the page. You can try searching for the page's name or
if that doesn't work, try searching on the address and
a description of the page ("www.example.com"
and "campfire stories") instead.
With these suggestions, and a little
perseverance, you'll be surprised at how often you can find
those missing pages!