How to Troubleshoot and Fix a 403 Forbidden Error on Your Website

A 403 Forbidden error is an HTTP status code that means access to the requested resource on your website is forbidden for some reason. This usually occurs when a visitor tries to access a file or webpage that they don’t have permission to view.

Troubleshooting and fixing 403 errors is important because they directly impact your website visitors’ experience. In This simple trick will fix common 403 error causes, troubleshooting steps, and solutions to resolve 403 errors on your site.

Common Causes of 403 Forbidden Errors

There are several common issues that can trigger a 403 error on your website.

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Missing or Incorrect File Permissions

Web servers require the correct read, write, and execute permissions on files and folders. If permissions are incorrect, the web server software may not be able to access the requested resource, resulting in a 403 error.

File permissions can be accidentally changed by FTP transfers, server migrations, or directory restores. Permissions may also be set incorrectly when new accounts, files, or folders are created on the server.


Problems with .htaccess Files or Rules

The .htaccess file provides directory-level configuration on Apache web servers. Incorrect rules or syntax errors in .htaccess files can cause 403 errors.

For example, having incorrect “deny from all” directives that block access to certain resources could trigger 403 errors for legitimate users.


Application Errors

Web applications built with frameworks like PHP, Ruby on Rails, or ASP.NET could have application code bugs that prevent access to resources. The apps may return 403 headers even when permissions are set correctly.


Authentication and Authorization Issues

If your website has authenticated sections, any authorization issues can lead to 403 errors.

For example, if user roles and permissions are not configured properly, users may get 403 errors when trying to access pages they should have access to.


Blocked IP Addresses

Web servers and applications can be configured to block requests coming from specific IP addresses. If a visitor’s IP address has been accidentally blocked, they will receive 403 errors site-wide.


Outdated .htpasswd Files

The .htpasswd file stores username and password credentials for basic HTTP authentication on Apache servers. Old or corrupted .htpasswd files could cause 403 errors for valid users.


Web Application Firewall (WAF) Rules

If your site uses a WAF, overly strict rules may block legitimate user traffic resulting in 403 errors. For example, false positive IP blacklistings, restrictive rate limiting settings, etc.


Steps to Troubleshoot 403 Errors

Follow these steps to diagnose what is causing 403 errors on your website

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1. Check Error Logs

The first step is to check your web server and application error logs. The error logs will often contain helpful details revealing reasons for 403 errors.

For Apache servers, error logs are located at /var/log/httpd/error_log. Other web servers like Nginx and IIS have different default log locations.

Look for log entries containing the requesting URL, IP address, referrer, and error details. This info will help pinpoint source issues.


2. Confirm File Permissions

Use SSH to connect to your server and navigate to the parent directory of the requested resource that is returning a 403.

Run ls -l to view permission settings of files and folders. Verify the web server user account has at least read permissions for the requested resources.

For example, if you get a 403 trying to access /var/www/html/product.php, check permissions on that file and also /var/www/html/.


3. Check for .htaccess Issues

Check .htaccess files in the parent directories of the requested resource. Look for any invalid rules or syntax errors that could be blocking legitimate access.

Try temporarily renaming .htaccess files to isolate if they are causing problems. You can also comment out portions of the files to test.


4. Test Application Functionality

For dynamic resources like .php or .aspx pages, test application functionality by accessing the file directly from your local development environment.

If the application works locally but returns 403 on the live server, it points to an application configuration issue on the server causing problems.


5. Try Alternate Access Methods

Attempt to access the resource using alternate methods like a different web browser, incognito window, device, or network connection.

If the 403 only occurs under specific conditions, it indicates something with the client request is triggering the error vs a general server issue.

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6. Check for Blocked IP Addresses

See if your public IP address has been blocked in firewall rules, .htaccess, application config files, or other locations.

Try accessing the site from a different network or using a proxy to determine if the 403 only happens based on the originating IP address.


7. Review WAF Settings If Applicable

For sites using a WAF, check it for overly restrictive rules. For example, rules based on IP reputation databases or rate limiting thresholds may need to be tweaked.


8. Test Authorization and Authentication

For protected sections of your site, try directly accessing them using the credentials of different user accounts with varying permission levels.

See if the 403 seems tied to user roles and access rights vs a general error impacting the whole site.


General Solutions for 403 Forbidden Errors

After troubleshooting, here are some common fixes for 403 errors based on the root cause


Adjust File Permissions

If file permissions are too restrictive, modify them using chmod. For example:

chmod 755 /var/www/html/file.php

Sets read, write, and execute permissions for the owner and read and execute for groups and public users.


Update .htaccess Rules

Fix any incorrect or outdated rules in .htaccess files blocking access to resources. Make sure to restart Apache after making changes.


Modify Application Code

For 403 errors stemming from bugs in application code, update the code to properly handle requests for the affected resources.


Unblock IP Addresses

Remove firewall rules or application config blocking your public IP address if those are determined to be the cause.


Refresh .htpasswd File

Regenerate the .htpasswd file if it contains old or invalid credentials that are interfering with authentication.


Update WAF Settings

Tune the rules and settings of your WAF installation to allow legitimate traffic if it is incorrectly blocking users.


Adjust User Permissions

Modify user roles and permissions if certain users are getting 403 errors due to authorization issues for specific protected resources.


Advanced Troubleshooting Tips

For tricky 403 forbidden errors, these advanced troubleshooting tips may help uncover harder to diagnose issues:

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Enable Detailed Logging

Enable more verbose logging in your web server, applications, firewalls, and WAF to log detailed forensic data on all requests. Detailed logs may reveal the underlying issue.


Use Curl Commands

Curl from the command line can help recreate 403 errors. Test with different URLs, headers, and IP addresses via curl to isolate causes.


Perform Process Monitoring

Use tools like ps and lsof to monitor system processes and open files associated with 403 errors. This can spot processes interfering with normal function.


Conduct Traffic Analysis

Use packet sniffing tools like tcpdump to analyze network traffic associated with the 403 errors. Inspect request and response data for anomalies.


Test From Different Geolocations

Use a VPN or proxy service to test accessing your site from different geographic regions. Location-specific issues could cause 403 errors.


Inspectrewrite Rules and Caching Settings

Check rewrite rules and reverse proxy or content delivery network caching rules. Incorrect rewrites and caching could lead to 403s.


Reset Server Configurations to Defaults

Try resetting web server, application, firewall, and WAF configurations to default settings to see if problems persist. Indicates custom settings cause issues.


Preventing Future 403 Errors

Here are some best practices to avoid recurring 403 errors going forward:

  • Maintain consistent permission settings using groups and standard umasks. Avoid overly permissive 777 permissions where possible.
  • Implement version control for crucial configuration files like .htaccess so you can review changes.
  • Comment .htaccess rules to explain purpose and acceptable use cases.
  • Log and monitor changes made to IP blacklistings and WAF rules.
  • Keep user roles and permissions updated in web applications as needs evolve.
  • Enable maintenance mode or limit access during deployment of potentially breaking changes.
  • Set up monitoring tools to alert on spikes in 403 errors, latency, or failures.
  • Use layered security with sane defaults instead of overly restrictive blocking.
  • Adhere to application security best practices in development to avoid introducing vulnerabilities.
  • Establish and follow change management procedures for modifications to production environments.


Common 403 Troubleshooting Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about troubleshooting 403 forbidden errors


Why am I suddenly getting 403 errors across my entire site?

Sudden site-wide 403 errors typically point to a general server or infrastructure issue like incorrect file permissions, .htaccess problems, or an expired TLS certificate. Recent changes like a WordPress update or plugin installation could also be responsible.


Why does my site return 403 errors for some pages but not others?

Inconsistent 403 errors for some URLs but not others indicate an isolated issue with access to specific resources. Things like invalid file path references, unique .htaccess rules, and application bugs may impact individual files.


Why do I get 403 errors for image files only?

403 errors limited to image assets are typically caused by permissions problems with the image directories. Images are usually served from folders like wp-content/uploads which may have different permissions than the rest of the site.


Why do I get 403s when uploading images or files to my site?

Upload restrictions are commonly caused by permissions problems with the upload folder not allowing the web server to write new files. Uploaded file extensions may also be blocked by .htaccess or application validation rules.


Why does my site work locally but give me 403s on the live server?

403 errors on live but not local often stem from configuration differences and permission issues on the production server. For example, local tests may use broad permissions or run as admin vs the locked down live environment.


Why am I getting 403s after moving my site to a new host?

New hosting 403 problems can be due to permission, application path, and .htaccess configuration differences compared to previous hosting. New firewalls and server environments can also introduce restrictions.


Why do I get 403s after editing my .htaccess file?

403s after .htaccess changes are typically caused by syntax errors or invalid rules added to the file. For example, a bad rewrite rule or a directory access restriction could break intended functionality.



403 Forbidden errors prevent access to resources and can negatively impact your website functionality and visitor experience.

Troubleshooting 403 issues involves checking for common problems like permissions, .htaccess rules, application errors, blocking configurations, and authentication problems.

Isolating the root cause using error logs, access tests, traffic inspection, and process monitoring is key to determining how to resolve the errors. Addressing the specific issues by adjusting permissions, unblocking IPs, fixing code, or updating configurations will get your website back to normal.

Implementing preventative measures can help avoid recurrent 403 errors going forward. With proper troubleshooting and mitigation steps, you can minimize instances of 403 errors and provide a seamless browsing experience on your website.

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