What Can Cause a Website to Crash?

For a website owner or webmaster being greeted with a blank screen instead of their well designed website, when they type in their domain, can be a panic inducing experience. A little website downtime isn’t just annoying and inconvenient. It can cost a business dearly, especially if you have a busy ecommerce site. When you visit a website, you are basically requesting information from the server which gets delivered over the net to a browser. It could be a simple HTML page or dynamic information from a database or files, such as images.

Website outages can happen for a number of reasons including hacker attacks, traffic spikes, DDOs attacks, low bandwidth, coding errors or even natural disasters that affect your data centers and more. Here are some of the most causes for your website to be inaccessible.

Webmaster Errors

Coding errors, broken web code, or even running too many scripts can cause issues with your website. If you have made an update to the website and your site went down shortly after, this may be the likely cause. You should check your page loading speed, the efficiency of the code on your site by checking whether queries are optimized and database tables are properly indexed.  Check CMSs, blogs, and forums for coding issues.

If you have forgotten to renew your site’s domain name or hosting contract then your site may appear down. Even if you have made any recent DNS changes or newly registered your domain then it can take up to 24 hours for DNS Propagation and for those changes to show up,

Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS attacks)

Successful DDoS attacks are often used to deliberately target specific websites by overwhelming them with junk traffic from many sources and create painful outages. When a site gets swamped with fictitious traffic, it is impossible to tell apart genuine requests for information from the fake ones. The use of a Content Delivery Network to absorb the traffic by distributing content over multiple servers and also to track and block requests coming from certain fishy IP addresses can prove useful in case of such attacks. But more advanced automation tools are now being used to organize sophisticated application DDoS techniques that randomize IP addresses using botnets and mask transaction characteristics to send unique customized requests. This helps cyber criminals from creating the patterns that DDoS solutions monitor to tell apart an attack transaction from a legitimate one.

Server/Hosting Provider Error

Website crashes can happen when your host provider experiences server troubles. Datacenters holding multiple servers in a controlled environment can run into unforeseen problems, like severe weather, power failures or hardware malfunctions. If your site is hosted on such a datacenter’s servers then your site may be down temporarily. There is not much you can do besides wait for it to be fixed, when this happens. Websites often require hardware upgrades or software updates and have to be taken offline. This sort of regular server maintenance is generally scheduled for low-traffic times.

Massive Traffic Spike

Traffic to your website is great news but a sudden tidal wave of web traffic can overload a server and knock your site offline. You need to consider that your website’s hosting environment may not be geared to handle unplanned traffic spikes. Most sites will not see spikes unless a post that goes viral (Digg effect) or you make it to TV, run special promotions or have an email campaign going out. Website administrators generally have a fair idea of their normal and peak traffic levels and can run load tests on their servers to see whether their servers can handle the extra requests or users and then plan for growth.

Protect Your Website From Downtime

You can choose the hosting plan best suited for your needs based on the size of your website and how much traffic you get.  Remember that resources are limited on shared servers. So if you are on a small, shared host plan and your site is growing fast, then you might experience website crashes. High volume sites with heavy processing needs or high volume email can benefit from using managed hosting with DNS management & automatic backups to multiple datacenters. To deal with large unpredictable spikes, VPS or a cloud based solution can also be set up to automatically scale RAM/resources in real-time when needed.