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Undoubtedly, you’ve come across an error or two while browsing your favorite websites online. These errors are a common nuisance that both webmasters and consumers don’t like to see.

Still, these inconveniences manage to endure and continue to bother people even today.

But what exactly are these error codes that keep popping up out of nowhere and without explaining why they’ve appeared in the first place?

Simply put, the Internet or the World Wide Web functions based on the application protocol designed for distributed and collaborative hypermedia information systems, otherwise known as HTTP or Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

In other words, HTTP enables communication between clients and servers thus allowing seamless transfer of data between the two.

However, when there’s a communication issue somewhere along the way, an error occurs marked as a response status code. The most common errors are the 4xx ones that represent an issue or a problem. With that in mind, let’s focus on the 401 unauthorized error and how to fix it.

Types of 4xx errors

Errors or status codes that start with the number 4 oftentimes refer to client errors. In other words, issues have something to do with client requests or are directly caused by the clients themselves.

What’s more, these errors may indicate if the situation is temporary or permanent. Here are a few examples of 400 error codes.

  • Error 400: Bad Request – In this case, the server will not or cannot process the request due to various reasons, such as invalid request message framing, malformed syntax request, deceptive routing request and so on. Simply put, the server doesn’t understand what you want from it.
  • Error 401: Unauthorized – The focus of our topic today the 401 error is similar to the 403 Forbidden error. It occurs when you try to log in with the incorrect credentials way too many times so the server decides to keep you out. You’ve probably made a typo so shame on you. This lockout is temporary and it usually lasts for 30 min or so. The real issue is when you get this error but you’re certain you didn’t make a mistake.
  • Error 403: Forbidden – Everything is fine yet the server refuses to take action. Why, server, why? The most common issue here is that there’s probably a problem with permission configuration. Simply put, the server considers that you don’t have the permission to access a resource regardless of your authentication.
  • Error 404: Not Found – The all-time famous “Oops, something went wrong” or “Sorry, the page could not be found” error is probably the most common type of client status codes. As you probably guessed, this error occurs when the resource doesn’t exist or it isn’t available at the moment but may be so in the future.

Now that we have a better understanding of these pesky error codes, it’s time to focus on the 401 one and how to get rid of it.

Fixing the 401 error code: The user perspective

As mentioned before, if you experience the 401 error, it usually means that you’ve provided incorrect login credentials that server couldn’t recognize.

However, what happens when you do, in fact, provide correct login credentials but the server still provides you with an unauthorized message?

This indicates a deeper issue than a simple typo. It means that the web server may not have received your credentials due to browser issue so it decides to mess with you a bit more.

There are a few ways you can try to fix this problem and here are examples of each of them.

1. Check the URL

  • In some cases, you type a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) in the browser manually or you have an outdated URL bookmarked so you use that one. It’s a common mistake that can be fixed by checking for spelling mistakes or checking if the URL is still viable.

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2. Check your login credentials

  • You’d be surprised that typos are the most common reason behind our 401 problem. Spelling mistakes in useful tools that remember your credentials, such as LastPass or RememBear so that you don’t have to re-type credential every time you want to login.

3. Clear browsing history and cookies

  • Today, no one clears browsing history or cookies anymore and practically ever. Aside from collecting an abundance of digital junk over time, this habit may also cause a 401 error issue when you try to login to whatever website you prefer.The fact of the matter is that cookies are snippets that store some of your personal information, including login credentials. They can remind a website of who you are but they don’t always work correctly.

    If you get a 401 but you’re certain it’s not a typo, try clearing browsing history, cookies and cache then try again. Here’s how you can do that.

  • For Mozilla Firefox – Navigate to the hamburger menu, click Options, go to Privacy and Settings and find History, click Clear History and choose Everything to completely get rid of cookies.

firefox optionsfirefix privacyfirefox setting

  • For Google Chrome – Got to the dot menu in the upper-right corner, click on it, select Settings > Advanced > Clear Browsing Data.

chrome settings

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  • For Safari – Just click on Clear History in the History menu and you’re all set.

safari clear history

4. Flush DNS

  • Another culprit for 401 errors can be a DNS (Domain Name System) server issue. Fortunately, this problem is quite easy to fix.
  • For the Windows OS users – Login to your computer as an administrator. Type “CMD” in search bar to open Command Prompt. Once in Command Prompt, type in the following “ipconfig/flushdns” and hit enter.

window cmd

  • For the Mac OS users – Press Command and Spacebar to open Spotlight search. Once there type “Terminal”. In the command interface, type the following: “sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder“.
  • Also, have you tried turning it off then back on again?

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Fixing the 401 error: The webmaster perspective

Now that we covered what a 401 unauthorized error is and how to fix it from a client-side, let’s have a look at what webmasters can do to get rid of these errors.

Roll back to the previous version

  • Oftentimes, webmasters utilize a CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress, to go about their business. Every CMS requires updates from time to time and these updates can introduce fresh new bugs aside from the ones they’ve fixed. In other words, it’s not uncommon for updates to cause 401 errors. In that case, simply roll back to the previous version prior to update where everything worked fine.

Uninstall changes

  • CMS platforms, such as WordPress being the most popular one, have various add-ons that can help a webmaster out. These add-ons include themes, plug-ins, widgets and so on. As you can imagine, any third-party add-on can cause a conflict with the system of which one is a 401 error. In such a scenario, simply uninstall any add-ons that may have caused an error.

The impact of errors on users

Errors are quite an inconvenience, to put it mildly. They can irritate users and have a major negative impact on their satisfaction and overall experience, even though the error occurred because users made a mistake.

However, an error page and message can be made interesting and even entertaining, in order to minimize and mitigate users’ frustration.

That’s why developers create custom pages for error messages. For instance, you can alter the meta descriptions for error pages to give users context behind the error, as well as instructions to possible solutions to the problem at hand.

But where’s the fun in that?  Indeed, a dull message describing a solution to the error may be off-putting, to say the least. That’s why developers oftentimes go a step further to ease the users’ pain.

  • As an example, Android’s 404 error page allows you to play a silly but nonetheless entertaining game. If you stumbled on an error page, you might as well make the best of it.

404

  • Another example is Slack’s error page. Although the colorful landscape with interactive pigs and chickens may inflame your frustration further, you can’t help but shed a joyful tear in laughter.
  • If you want entertainment, then check out Kualo’s error page. This web hosting company allows you to play the legendary space invaders type of a game and even score a discount if you reach the high-score.

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In any event, even an inconvenience can be an opportunity to turn things around and turn user frustration into not-so-much-frustration.

Conclusion

In the end, it comes down to how creative you are and how you plan to approach the entire error thing. Errors will continue to exist no matter how hard you try to avoid them.

It goes without saying that at least you can do is to do your best to fix them before users resort to torches and pitchforks.

The 401 unauthorized error is quite common and mostly a result of a user’s inability to patiently type in their login credentials. Still, this error can happen for other reasons as well.

That’s why it’s important to understand how to approach the problem, as well as understand how to properly solve it.

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