5xx Server errors
Last updated May 26, 2023

500 - Internal Server Error

Benjamin Bouchet
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The HTTP Status Code 500 is a generic error message returned to the client when an unexpected condition arose as a result of the client's request and the server is not able to provide a more specific or suitable message.

What is HTTP Status Code 500?

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol, colloquially known as HTTP, is the cornerstone of data communication on the World Wide Web. To comprehend its intricacies, it's essential to understand its response codes, specifically the HTTP response status codes. One of these, HTTP status code 500, often raises eyebrows among developers and web users alike as the "internal server error".

As part of the wide and diverse array of HTTP status codes, a '500' status error is a catch-all error message. The 500 status code error is the server's way of saying "something went wrong, but I'm not sure what." It appears when no other more specific message suits the situation. Fundamentally, this HTTP error is a response status code that signifies an internal issue within the web server, obstructing it from fulfilling the client's request.

An important distinction to make here is that, unlike many other HTTP errors that point to issues with the client request or the requested resource, an HTTP status code 500 is predominantly server-side. This indicates that the error arises from issues within the web server itself. Common causes include a syntax error in a CGI script or an .htaccess file, a PHP timeout causing the server to hang, or even a PHP memory limit being exceeded, thus denying the server the resources needed to fulfill the request.

In some cases, it can be due to a permissions error where the server doesn't have the necessary rights to access a resource or perform an operation. Despite the "temporary error" label, it calls for immediate attention from the server administrator.

Internal server errors, though frustrating, are commonplace and can occur on any web page across the internet. As a user, when you encounter this error in your web browser, it's a clear indicator that something has gone wrong with the website's server.

When and How is HTTP Status Code 500 used?

In the web world, HTTP status 500 plays a significant role. It's the web server's distress signal, indicating that it's encountered an internal server error. The cause of this distress can vary drastically. The web server may return this status code error when there's a snag in the configuration data, an issue with outbound rule execution leading to a rule execution error, or when a new software deployment hasn't gone as planned.

One commonly observed cause is problems with the .htaccess file. The .htaccess file is a directory-level configuration file used by several web servers, playing a vital role in URL rewriting, access security, and other server adjustments. However, when there's a rewrite error or syntax error in this file, the server promptly responds with an HTTP 500 error. The same holds true for problems with the content management system or third-party plugins used by a website, which can cause complications when they conflict with server operations.

Another frequent source of the issue can be related to the server's software or hardware. For example, if the server's PHP memory limit is exceeded, causing the server to run out of resources, or if there's a PHP timeout due to an operation taking longer than the defined limit, the server can respond with an HTTP status code 500. Issues with the server's configuration, especially in its managed pipeline mode, can also result in this status error.

Server errors of this nature can be incredibly challenging to diagnose and fix. However, this is where log files come into play. Log files are comprehensive records of server operations and are invaluable for troubleshooting. Server administrators should inspect these files to pinpoint the exact cause of the HTTP 500 error. The remediation process often involves tweaking the code causing an exception, reconfiguring the server, or patching the server software.

Despite being a thorn in the side for users and site owners, an HTTP 500 status error serves a crucial purpose. With suitable notification handling, it sends a clear signal that something isn't right with the web server and demands immediate attention.

Example Usage of HTTP Status Code 500

As we delve further into our discussion on HTTP status code 500, it's important to illustrate its usage with examples. An understanding of how these codes are employed in practice, both in simple and complex scenarios, can greatly aid in navigating the world of HTTP status codes.

Part 1: A Simple Example

Let's imagine you're browsing the web, trying to access your favorite blog. You enter the URL into your web browser's address bar and hit Enter. Instead of the usual blog interface, you're met with a generic error message: "HTTP 500 - Internal Server Error". This indicates that something has gone wrong on the server's end while processing your request. Even as a non-technical user, this gives you a basic understanding that the problem isn't with your internet connection or your web browser; rather, the issue lies with the web page's server itself.

Part 2: A More Technical Example

For a more detailed insight, let's dive into a PHP script running on a web server. Suppose there's a block of code in a PHP script that reads and writes data to a database:

connect_error) {
        die("Connection failed: " . $db->connect_error);

    // create a query that will fail
    $sql = "SELECT * FROM non_existing_table";

    // run the query
    if ($db->query($sql) === FALSE) {
        // return an HTTP 500 error
        die("Error: " . $sql . "
" . $db->error); } $db->close(); ?>

The script connects to a database, executes a query, and handles any errors that might arise. If there's an issue - such as the table not existing in the database - the script explicitly returns an HTTP 500 status code.

What is the History of HTTP Status Code 500?

The history of the HTTP status code 500 is intertwined with the evolution of the HTTP protocol itself. The Hypertext Transfer Protocol has seen several iterations since its inception by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. Each new HTTP version introduced additional status codes and refined the functionality of existing ones.

The HTTP status code 500 was introduced in HTTP/1.0, the first version of the protocol that was widely implemented. Since its introduction, HTTP 500 has maintained its definition as an "internal server error". Over time, however, more specific 5xx status codes were introduced to handle distinct server error scenarios, reducing the need to use the generic HTTP 500 status code. Yet, it remains a crucial part of the HTTP protocol and continues to be widely used.

How Does HTTP Status Code 500 Relate to Other Status Codes?

HTTP status codes form a comprehensive system that allows for effective communication between a client and a server. HTTP 500 falls within the range of 5xx HTTP status codes, a category devoted to server errors. Each 5xx status code provides unique information about different types of server-side errors.

In relation to other status codes, HTTP 500 is the most general, denoting an undefined server error. In contrast, more specific 5xx status codes like 502 (Bad Gateway), 503 (Service Unavailable), and 504 (Gateway Timeout) are used when the server can pinpoint the error more precisely. Despite the introduction of these more specific status codes, HTTP 500 remains essential for cases where the server error doesn't fit neatly into the definitions provided by other 5xx status codes.

Other Interesting Things to Know About HTTP Status Code 500

In our exploration of HTTP status code 500, we've covered what it is, its practical usage, its historical background, and how it relates to other status codes. Yet, the story of this versatile and crucial status code doesn't end there. There are additional interesting facets of the HTTP status code 500 that are worth noting.

Role in Web Server Health Maintenance

Understanding HTTP status 500 is key to maintaining a healthy web server. Since it's a generic server error, it often prompts further investigation by the server administrator into the log files. Log files contain valuable information about the server's operations and can point out the exact cause of an error.

Connection with New Software Installations

Server errors like the HTTP 500 could be due to new software installations or updates, which might introduce unforeseen issues in the system. For instance, the installation of third-party plugins in a content management system could lead to conflicts causing the web server to return a 500 status error.

Link with Configuration Data

Configuration data in files like .htaccess can play a role in generating a 500 status error. Incorrect syntax, permissions errors, or rule execution errors in the .htaccess file can lead to an HTTP status 500.

Relationship with CGI Scripts

Interestingly, HTTP status 500 is not limited to internal server errors caused by PHP script failures or database issues. It could also be related to problems with server-side CGI scripts, indicating a broader array of potential issues.

Potential Triggers by Client Requests

Even though HTTP status 500 is considered an "internal" server error, it's essential to note that it could also be indirectly triggered by a client request. An overly large post request, for example, might exceed a server's capacity to handle it, thus leading to an HTTP status 500.

Each of these points illustrates that even though HTTP status 500 is a generic error message, it is deeply entwined with the server's health, operation, and configuration, making it a vital part of understanding web server management and HTTP protocol.

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