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What is 403 Forbidden Error and to Fix It (2020)

If ever you have faced a “403 Forbidden Error – you do not have permission to access / on this server” while opening a website on your web browser? But you can’t seem to know to fix it.

This comprehensive article on “403 Forbidden Error” will be an all-rounder guide for you, explaining what the error means, what are the reasons that cause this error to occur, and all the possible steps that would fix the error and open the website that your web browser was blocking till now.

To make things crystal clear and easy to understand, we will explain the solutions on how to fix this error on a WordPress website as an example.

These solutions steps are more-or-less uniform and similar for any other static websites or CMS. 

What is a 403 Forbidden Error (and How Can I Fix It) 2020

Depending upon various circumstances, the 403 Forbidden Errors may be reported differently by different web servers. More often, this error is the outcome of something done on the content owner or the server.

For instance, error may occur because of the application, or updates, or due to few changes that hosting companies might make in their system.

Therefore, keeping our mind empty and calm to grasp all the details in respect of the error thoroughly lets us move ahead and unravel all the correct knowledge about the 403 Forbidden Error one after the other, starting from its meaning to its solutions.

What does 403 Forbidden Error Mean?

A user encounters a 403 Forbidden Error message when he/she tries to reach or open a website or a web address on their web browser that is forbidden to access. Technically, this error is an HTTP status code, which means “access denied.”

Basically, when you are trying to open a website on your browser, it may consist of content that you are not authorized. And an error message instantly pops upon on your electronic screen, barring you from opening the same. This error message is called 403 Forbidden Error.

What does the 403 Forbidden Error look Like?

Like web pages appear inside the browser window. The 403 Forbidden Error is also shown inside the browser window. Like all other similar types of errors, this error may appear on any web browser working on any operation software.

When using the Internet Explorer browser, a message reading “The website declined to this webpage” means a 403 Forbidden Error. The Internet Explorer title bar would say something, like 403 Forbidden or anything that would mean the same. 

When reaching any website using Microsoft Office programs and you are not granted permission to open the same, a message inside the MS Office program will be generated saying something, like ‘Unable to open [url].

The information that you requested cannot be downloaded.’ Windows Update may report an HTTP 403 Error in the form of an error code “0x80244018” or may also give a message “WU_E_PT_HTTP_STATUS_FORBIDDEN” along with the code.

Apart from these, there are few more examples of 403 Errors that are common on any web browser and are mentioned below:

  • HTTP Error 403 – Forbidden
  • Forbidden: You don’t have permission to access [directory] on this server
  • Access Denied You don’t have permission to access 
  • 403 Forbidden
  • 403 forbidden request forbidden by administrative rules
  • HTTP 403
  • Forbidden
  • HTTP Error 403.14 – Forbidden
  • Error 403 – Forbidden
  • Error 403

Just like any other type of error, such as 404 Error and 502 Error can be customized, the 403 Error can be customized too by the website owners. The content or resource owners can design the error as per his choice and make it look the way he wants.

Now, after understating what 403 Error is and how it looks like, we will move on to discuss the causes or the reasons that, in general, lead to blocking of the website or any content, resulting in 403 Forbidden Error on our web browser. 

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Reasons behind the occurrence of 403 Forbidden Error

To fix any problem, we first need to know what the problem is, where the problem lies, and the reasons that cause the problem to occur.

So, by applying the same strategy here, we have concluded that the simple reason why we see a 403 Forbidden Error when trying to access a website is that we are trying to open something that we are not permitted or allowed to open by the owner of the resource.

Displaying this error on your browser is the website’s method of communicating to you that you lack sufficient/necessary permissions to proceed further and view their content. The following reasons cause the 403 Error to occur:

  • Incorrect file or folder permissions: Your browser might have got the wrong file or folder permissions instead of the one that is required to view the particular resource that you are trying to access.
  • The content has been tagged as ‘Private’: It might happen that the website owner has blocked his content as private, the reason for which could be anything from temporary reasons, like behind the scenes website upgrades to permanent reasons, such as the website being a subscriber-only success.
  • Incorrect settings in the .htaccess file: Your .htaccess file might have the wrong settings set as default, which is stopping you from viewing the resource on your web browser.
  • The content is geographically restricted: Some websites come with geographical restrictions. Like, you shall be granted permission to access that particular website only if you belong to a specific geographical region. For example, leading OTT streaming platforms, Netflix and Hulu disallow access to users of a few geographic locations. It’s with the help of your computer IP address that such websites are able to get your true geographical location. This IP address is like a street address, which is unique in every computer.
  • The IP address may either be blocked or prohibited: A IP address may be prohibited or blocked for various reasons, the most common being unwanted posts or spam that are directed by a particular IP address. Another familiar reason is too many failed or incorrect login attempts.
  • The content is user restricted: Few websites only authorize authenticated users to access their web content. For instance, such restrictions on viewing a website are very common in organizations, like schools, colleges, universities, and libraries, where the number of users is defined or limited.

Just for your knowledge, Microsoft IIS web servers give more specific and detailed information about the cause of 403 Error by simply adding or suffixing a number after the 403, like “HTTP Error 403.14 – Forbidden”, which means that you are not allowed to view the Directory listing.

The majority of the time, there is nothing much we can do to fix the 403 Forbidden Errors from our end completely to. It’s either because our browser is permanently barred from accessing the page, or a temporary error on the server’s part is stopping us from viewing the page.

But still, we have a few measures or solutions that can help us fix the 403 Error and enable our browser to access it. 

Ways to Fix the 403 Forbidden Error message

The following methods of fixing the Error 403 are for WordPress but can be of effective use to fix the error on other websites too. So, let’s check each method one by one thoroughly. 

1. Resetting the file and directory permissions

Generally, when files are created, certain permissions are automatically set as default. Such permissions control the way or the extent we can read, write, and execute the files for our purpose.

A FileZilla FTP Client also provides its users with the requisite resources required to edit and folder and file default permissions. To start with, you should:

Resetting the file and directory permissions
Resetting the file and directory permissions
  1. 1
    Use any FTP client to access your website files.
  2. 2
    Search and pave your way to your hosting account’s root directory.
  3. 3
    Now, choose the main folder where all your website files are stored (commonly, displayed as public_html), right-click on the same, and choose File Attributes option.
  4. 4
    From the resultant page, select Apply to Directories only option and write permission 755 in the Numeric Value tab, after which you are required to hit the OK button.
  5. 5
    After FileZilla has successfully changed the folder permissions, you need to repeat the above step number iii and select the Apply to files only option this time. In the resultant page, feed the digits 644 in the Numeric value tab.
  6. 6
    Once all the above settings have been changed, try to open your desired website to check whether the error is occurring again or not. 

2. Checking the .htaccess file

Found hidden in the project directory .htaccess file is not something that we users are familiar with. If Hostinger File Manager is what you use, you would find the .htaccess file in the hPanel by default.

Checking the .htaccess file
Checking the .htaccess file

However, in case you are using cPanel, checking the .htaccess file can be done by accessing your hosting Control Panel using File Manager. The steps involved in this are as follows:

  1. 1
    In the hosting Control Panel look for File Manager.
  2. 2
    Go to the public_html directory and search for .htaccess file.
  3. 3
    If you fail to find any .htaccess file, click on the Settings option and click on Show Hidden Files (dotfiles) option to enable it.

A .htaccess file is a server configuration file, which works mainly by changing the configuration that is there on the Apache Web Server settings. If this .htaccess file is not present in your WordPress website or mistakenly gets deleted, you are required to create a new .htaccess file manually. 

After locating your .htaccess file in your hPanel or cPanel, the next steps you need to follow are:

  1. 1
    Download the .htaccess file on your computer/laptop to be kept as a backup
  2. 2
    When finished downloading, delete the file from the respective Panel
  3. 3
    Now, try to open the desired website on your web browser
  4. 4
    If the desired content is accessed instantly, it means that the .htaccess file was corrupted
  5. 5
    To create a new .htaccess file, you need to login to your WordPress dashboard, click on Settings option, and then click on Permalinks
  6. 6
    Do not make any changes here and straightaway hit the Save Changes button, which will be there at the bottom of the page
  7. 7
    A new .htaccess file has been generated for your website

3. Disabling the WordPress Plugins

If you come down to this method, it means that the 403 Forbidden Errors was the outcome of a faulty or incompatible plugin. Here, we will learn how to disable plugins to fix the 403 Error. The best way to do this is to disable all the plugins at once rather than doing it individually. The process is simple:

  1. 1
    With the help of FTP access your hosting account and search for the public_html folder (or the folder that contains all WordPress installation files)
  2. 2
    On the resultant page, look for the wp-content folder
  3. 3
    Find the Plugins folder and rename it with a different name, like “disabled-plugins,” in order to easily track it
  4. 4
    Now disable all the plugins and try to open your desired content on your browser. You can deactivate the plugins one by one to identify the incompatible plugin. If asked, you choose to update your plugins or install a new one

How to Fix 403 Error "Forbidden"?

There are few other steps that are commonly used to fix the 403 Forbidden Errors, which are explained as follows:

  1. 1
    Checking of URL errors: You must make sure that you write the actual web page file name and the extension, and not just a directory (that ends with “/”) because this is the most common reason that results into the 403 Forbidden Errors. Normally, websites are configured to deny directory browsing that leads to a 403 Error message when we try to open a folder instead of any specific page. Therefore, if you want to access a website without the occurrence of 403 Error, you have to enable directory browsing in the web server you are using. Normally, websites are configured to deny directory browsing that leads to a 403 Error message when we try to open a folder instead of any specific page. Therefore, if you want to access a website without the occurrence of 403 Error, you have to enable directory browsing in the web server you are using. 
  2. 2
    Enable special permission requests: At times, it happens that when we try to open a website, we receive a message saying that we require special or additional permission to view the page, which is a type of 403 Error. Usually, when a website denies access due to the non-availability of special permission, it sends a 401 unauthorized error, which sometimes may get replaced with the 403 Error.
  3. 3
    Clear your web browser’s cache and cookies: If you are using a cached version of a website, you are sure to receive a 403 Forbidden Error message. Remove all the caches, and you will be able to open the desired content without any restrictions. It may happen that when you are trying to log in to a website where you are a regular visitor, your login (the last step) was not successful, and you were denied access. In such a scenario, the first thing you should do is clear all your browser’s cookies to let the new ones work efficiently. That being said, you must make sure that cookies are always enabled in your web browser because the 403 Forbidden Error is an indication that the website requires cookies to get full access TO it. While clearing the cache or cookies from your browser, the saved passwords also get deleted sometimes. Therefore, to save your passwords from getting cleared, you must double-check your browser settings before clearing anything.
  4. 4
    Directly contact the website authorities: It might happen that the 403 Error message has occurred by mistake, which the users or the visitors are facing, but the website authorities are completely unaware of it. In this case, you must immediately contact the website’s support team and inform them about the error message you are getting in order to get a timely solution.
  5. 5
    Contact your internet service provider: If none of the above solutions are able to fix the 403 Error and you know that you are the only one on whose browser the desired website is non-accessible, you should right away contact your internet service provider because it might happen that your public IP address or the whole ISP has been blacklisted. This blacklisting of the ISP is responsible for producing a 403 Error message.
  6. 6

    Refresh the page or come back later: When nothing seems to work in your favor, either keep on refreshing the page (using the F5 key on your keyboard or by pressing the Refresh button on the address bar) you are trying to open or simply close it and try to open it after some time until the problem is fixed and your page is accessible.

From the above complete guide on 403 Forbidden Error, it must now be clear to all of you what the error message means, how or what makes the error occur, and how you can effectively tackle the error and resolve it by yourself.

Therefore, if you face this error message in the future, you know how to fix it by following the steps serially, and your desired website shall be back to action on your web browser.  


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About the Author

Piyush Kashyap is a Ph.D student at Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology, Sangrur. He is a budding editor/ writer and has been working as a part-time reviewer for online content. He loves to read tech-based articles and has a knack for reviewing such articles He likes to stay updated about the latest trends in technology. He has also been working as a reviewer for many scientific journals. He also writes articles based on science. Know More About Piyush

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