‘500 internal server error’: The message that appeared on websites across the internet – and what it means

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Much of the internet has been hit by an issue that took major websites offline.

The problems hit much of the internet: Discord, Amazon Web Services, Substack, some online games and more were offline.

Users were instead shown a somewhat cryptic message, informing them only that they were experiencing a “500 error”.

It might not be immediately obvious what the problem means, or if it is possible to fix it. But the issue is quite simple – even if the technology that caused it and is affected by it is not.

A “500 error” is a specific problem, one of a number of codes that are used to inform internet users about what has gone wrong.

They can be shown in a number of ways: sometimes browsers will call them an “internal server error” or a “temporary error”, or use the letters “HTTP”. But they all refer to the same basic problem.

The error message means that the problem isn’t your fault, or the fault of your internet connection or computer: the 500 error specifically means that the issue is with the website itself.

But the nature of the modern internet means that the problem might not really be the website’s fault either. Today, many sites rely on infrastructure provided by other companies – and it is often that underlying technology that breaks, rather than the website itself.

This time around, the issue was with Cloudflare, which powers much of the internet. Other websites – including those listed above, and many more – use that technology to serve their websites to users, so problems at Cloudflare can very quickly become problems for everyone else, too.

The company confirmed the issue in a statement and said that a “network change in some of our data centres caused a portion of our network to be unavailable”, as well as confirming it was not the result of an attack.