Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What's with that website?

We had a few questions this week from people having trouble accessing Films on Demand, one of our databases, and it seemed like a good reason to talk about why you might have trouble accessing a website (and what you can do about it.)

Cause 1: Something is affecting your connection to the Internet 

To see if this is the case, try loading a couple of other different sites (I usually try the Mantor Library page, Google, and something else - sites run in three different places). If these don't work, check to make sure you're connected to the Internet.

(And a little humor: Have you checked your input/output badger?) 

Cause 2: Something is affecting that specific site

Sometimes a specific site goes down. Large sites generally run on computers in 'datacenters' that have redundant connections to the Internet. That way, if a single connection fails, the others stay up and running, and you can still reach the site.

However, it's possible that all the connections can fail at one (which is rare but does happen, usually because someone with a backhoe dug in the wrong place and broke a lot of cables.) Or the datacenter is somewhere where there's been an extensive natural disaster.

One of the other ways a site can go down is because of a Denial of Service (DDOS) attack - this is what happened with Films on Demand. Basically it means that someone is trying to interfere with a given site and make it inaccessible. The most common way is to set up lots of computers to connect with the site they've targeted with over and over again, bringing everything to a grinding halt, but there are other methods. 

(This is why - besides protecting your own files and data - it's so important to have a virus check and other protective tools on your own computer. Some viruses and malware are designed to allow others to use your computer in a Denial of Service attack.)

To check if this is the case, you can use a tool like - type in the address of the site you're trying to reach, and it will test and see if the problem is you or the site. However, in a DDOS attack, the site may be up and down for a bit while the people running it sort things out. A lot of sites also use Twitter to update about site outages.

Cause 3: It's that specific site, but it's all about you

There are some things that can affect you accessing that site. If you've installed filtering software, turned on parental controls, or installed a concentration tool on your computer, some of them may block your access to a site in a way that's not immediately obvious. If you can generally access other sites, and you've made sure the site you're trying to reach is up, this is the next place to try.

Solving it is usually a little trickier.  The best thing to do is undo any recent changes (back to before you noticed the problem.) If that doesn't work, try disabling all of the extensions in your browser (and any filtering software or parental control software) and then re-enabling them one at a time until you figure out which one is causing the problem.

Cause 4: It's that site, but it's partly you

Sometimes part of the site will load, but parts won't. If you haven't used the site for a while, there's a chance that your computer or browser needs an update. Check out the help information for the site and try clearing the cache, and see if that helps. This is especially common with sites relying on Flash to play videos or provide graphics.

(If you need help with this, try putting "clear cache" and the name of the browser you are using into your favorite search engine. Searching on "not loading" and the name of the site sometimes helps too.) 
Other tips:
- Make quick notes of what you've already tried. If you need to ask someone else for help, it'll help them figure out what's going on more quickly if you tell them what you've already done.

- If you're having problems with one of our databases, we'd love to know, and we'll do our best to help you figure out what's going on. The best way to reach someone immediately is via Access Services (ext 7210, or stop by) or at our Reference desk (stop by, or if someone is available on chat through our home page, try that.)

-  In many cases, a site that is down briefly will be up again - especially if it's a smaller, independently hosted site. Come back in 5-10 minutes, and many brief glitches will have resolved.

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