What does a 500 HTTP response indicate?

Error codes in the 4xx range mean you or your browser did something wrong. Maybe you weren't logged in, tried to access something you didn't have permission for, or simply got lost.

However, error codes in the 5xx range means the error is out of your hands entirely (unless you are the server developer / administrator). Perhaps the second* most frustrating error code you can ever stumble across on the internet is the dreaded 500.

What does it mean?

Simply put, the server tried to do something and failed.

According to RFC 7231:

The 500 (Internal Server Error) status code indicates that the server encountered an unexpected condition that prevented it from fulfilling the request.

The cause of this can be anything, really!

Let's imagine you are accessing a website using a Laravel PHP API for its back end.

The thing throwing the 500 error could be something as simple as an errant error_log trying to log an array instead of a string – something completely unrelated to your request, but nonetheless an error that PHP would throw and kill the request you made to the server.

Usually something as trivial as that would get caught before deployment (hopefully), but this just goes to show that, as the user of a website or app, the error is truly out of your hands.

How do you fix it?

As a user without access to the server, you really only have option:

Notify the site owner that a 500 is being returned when you'd expect otherwise

If you fully expect that you should be able to access the resource in question, but you are seeing this error, it is wise to let the team behind the site know.

Try to give the developers / support team as much information about what you were attempting to do so they can quickly replicate the issue to track down the bug.

If you are feeling especially helpful, or curious, you may be able to hunt down more clues in the network tab of the developer tools for your browser.

On Firefox you can open the network tab with the shortcut keys ctrl + shift + E. On Chrome, you can open the developer tools with ctrl + shift + I and then select the network tab.

With this tab open, attempt your request again and look for the 500 return code in the network output. Sometimes you might see a slightly more detailed server response describing the problem you faced. You can give that information to the developers to speed up the resolution to the problem.

If you are the developer, then you need to hunt down the bug and fix it! It could be anything, so I can't tell you how to do that. But if you are new to development, I would recommend first looking in the server logs for clues if it's not already obvious what the issue is.

Sit tight

Having reported the issue, you've done all you can reasonably do.

* are you wondering what the most frustrating error code to come across in the wild is? 418: I'm a teapot. If you come across this as an actual error, it means the developer went to the effort of implementing this as the error response, but it's a joke and doesn't give you information. It happens.

If you promise to never return a 418 in response to a real client side error, then you are welcome to keep in touch with me on Twitter @JacksonBates.

Learn to code for free. freeCodeCamp's open source curriculum has helped more than 40,000 people get jobs as developers. Get started

We all know the frustration of trying to visit a website and then seeing some sort of 500 status error. These are generic warnings for several computer errors. Basically, the server that hosts the website you are trying to reach cannot complete your request.

The issue causing the 500 error message could be a permissions or security issue with the server, the website reaching its memory limit, bad files on the site or a bad cache on your device, among other issues. 

A 500 Internal Server Error is also referred to as a server error, HTTP error and 500 error.

If you’re browsing the web and hit a 500 Internal Server Error, here’s what it might say:

  • 500 Internal Server Error
  • 500 Error
  • HTTP 500 – Internal Server Error
  • HTTP Error 500
  • 500. That’s an error
  • Temporary Error (500)
  • Internal Server Error
  • 500
  • HTTP 500 Internal Error
  • The website cannot display the page

What causes 500 Internal Server Error

The 500 Internal Server Error is simply a general indication that something’s wrong on the server side. Several things could cause this, but it’s always on the website server and not an issue with your computer or internet connection.

In most cases, this means the server is down. A server could go down for many reasons, mostly boiling down to one of the following:

  • It’s “full” and can’t handle more data (for example, too many people are trying to access the site at one time)
  • There’s a mistake with the code

How to fix a 500 Internal Server Error

If you’re not the site owner

  • Refreshing after clearing cache and browser history: You can do this on most computers with a keyboard shortcut; F5 should work, as well as CTRL + R on Windows and CMD + R on Mac. You can also find the refresh button in your browser and click that. This might solve the issue if the 500 Error is temporary. Remember to delete your browser’s cookies and restart the browser before you try again. Or, open and browse in a new incognito window.
  • Simply coming back later: Sometimes, the 500 status error will be cleared up in time automatically or by the site’s maintenance. Take a break and just come back later to see if the issue is resolved.
  • Check the site status page: If you need more immediate assistance, see if the site has a status page. Many SaaS (software-as-a-service) companies have a dedicated webpage that gives users status updates on any technical errors or site outages. Here’s an example of an outage status page from Asana.
  • Contact site owner: If the contact information isn’t readily available, and live chat isn’t an option, check social media or do an old-school Google search for the company’s contact information.

If you own the site

If the website is yours and you’re dealing with 500 Internal Server Errors, the steps to resolve the error are more involved. Because it could be many causes, your first task is to diagnose the issue and find out what’s signaling the error message.

To do this, check your server’s log files to pinpoint the issue. Some common scenarios include:

  • .htaccess file code error: “A file, containing one or more configuration directives, is placed in a particular document directory, and the directives apply to that directory and all subdirectories thereof,” explains the Apache Tutorial.
  • Permissions error: These are incorrect permissions on server files and folders.
  • Missing software installation: An error occurred while new software was installed and may require reinstallation.
  • Software updates needed: New software may be required or a new version of the current program may need to be updated.
  • PHP timeouts when connecting to external resources: This can happenwhen a “PHP request takes longer than five minutes to produce output, terminates, and produces an HTTP 500 error,” according to Acquia.

To find out how to check your server’s log files, check your website builder’s resource library. Here are a few to get you started:

  • WordPress
  • Shopify
  • Squarespace
  • Joomla

If you can’t diagnose and fix it yourself, you also have the option of hiring a professional consultant or company to address the 500 Internal Server Error for you. Do your due diligence to find a company you can trust; ask for referrals from within your network, check the company’s website and look up customer reviews on Google.

More tips for handling 500 Internal Server Errors

As a website user, you don’t have to worry too much about handling 500 Internal Server Errors on your own. But there are a few handy tips to know:

Don’t refresh transactional pages. If you’re entering your credit card or other payment information and receive a 500 Internal Server Error, skip the advice on refreshing your browser and instead contact the site owner directly. If you did refresh the page, be sure to check your statement that you didn’t get duplicative charges.

Look up older versions of the website. A tool like Wayback Machine will allow you to visit historically cached versions of the website and its pages. Note that the content may be different than what’s currently live on the site, and that the design and layout may also be distorted.

Ways to track data usage

  • Your router: Some routers do track the amount of data you are using. Use the router’s app or log-in page, and look for a data usage section.
  • Your ISP: Some ISPs provide an app to check on your data and/or a mid-month, opt-in email alert to let you know how much you’ve used to date.
  • Apps: Third-party apps like Glasswire and Data Monitor are available on Google Play and the App Store to monitor data use.

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Written by:

Alex Sheehan

Contributing Writer

Hey! I’m Alexandra Sheehan, a self-employed content strategist and copywriter for B2B companies in the retail, e-commerce and travel industries. I’ve also written for Verizon, Four Season Hotels and Resorts,… Read more

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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What is HTTP 500 error and how do you fix it?

An incorrect PHP version on your website may cause PHP scripts to time out or produce fatal errors. As a result, the website may return the “HTTP 500 Error.” Test switching the PHP version to an older or later version. If the error disappears, it's an indication that the previous version was wrong.

Is error 500 my fault?

If you try to visit a website and see a “500 Internal Server Error” message, it means something has gone wrong with the website. This isn't a problem with your browser, your computer, or your internet connection. It's a problem with the site you're trying to visit.