How to fix unauthorized error 401?


Ever came across a situation where you need to visit a webpage in order to get your things done and unexpectedly the webpage throws an error page in front of you? If yes, we know how frustrating experience that would have been. Not only frustrating, but often it creates anxiety among us if you need to go through the webpage very urgently.

Similar to many other HTTP error response, error 401 is often regarded as a headache either because of lack of solutions available on the internet to solve this error or because there are high chances that you will not be able to resolve this issue even if you make a single mistake.

So, if you are one of those who are facing this 401 error while trying to visit a website, we have put in a whole bunch of information regarding the error with the help of which you can quickly solve the 401 error.

Here in this article, this 401-error message is explained in a simple manner that can be understood by a layman.


What is error 401!?

401 is basically a Hypertext Transfer Protocol status code. That is, it’s a HTTP response code. The very fundamental meaning of this error message is that the site or the page that you were trying to visit is restricted and as a result requires an authentication but an authentication request from the client was unsuccessful.

Hence, rather than loading the website, the browser will display an error message.

The message that appears can vary depending on which browser is experiencing the error.

It’s completely upon the website developer to decide how to design and display the 401-error message. That means there is no fixed specific error message text which will be displayed once you encounter a 401 error.

You might receive the HTTP 401 error in the following possible pattern:

  • This page isn’t working! HTTP error 401
  • 401- authorization required
  • An error occurred while trying to load [URL].
  • 401 Unauthorized
  • There is an error 401 unauthorized
  • A 401-error occurred
  • Unauthorized HTTP 401
  • An HTTP 401 error has occurred
  • Access Denied

Is 401 error a browsers specific error or it can occur in any possible web browser?

Regardless of the error message of the text, the meaning of the 401 error is unambiguous. Sites requiring logins tend to have these errors. Most of the time these errors can be attributed to either invalid credentials or the browser’s inability to recognize them as valid.

HTTP Forbidden Error (HTTP status code 403) is very similar to this, since the user is not permitted to access the page. A 401-error message, however, indicates the failure of authentication process, unlike a 403-error message.

Codes are sent by the WWW-Authenticate header. This header identifies the authentication method that is being used for accessing a web page.

It doesn’t matter you are familiar with which browser, almost all of them display a 401-error message inside a browser window just in a way the web pages display 401 error messages.

401 Errors and their causes:

Whenever a HTTP response status code falls into the 4xx category, it is defined as a client error response. It is important to understand, though, that when a 4xx error appears, it does not necessarily imply that the problem is with the client, which in our case is the web browser or device being used to access the application.

While the 401 Unauthorized Error is considered a client error response, that does not inherently rule out the possibility that either the client or the server is at fault.

The server still produces these errors and returns them to the client as part of the HTTP response code, in these scenarios, but the client may be in some way to blame for the issue.

The 401 error occurs when a site is protected or restricted, for example a password-protected webpage and you are trying to access it. In this case, it would make sense to assume that the credentials are responsible for the problem.

If you are wondering that instead of providing a correct authentication credentials, the website is denying you the access then hold on there are other reasons also due to which you’re target website is displaying the 401-error message page.

The most common cause of a 401 error is an expired cache or out-of-date cookies in your browser, preventing a successful authorization. The server will reject the request if the browser does not use valid credentials (or any credentials) to authenticate.

In other instances, this error is a result of incompatibility or a problem with the plugin. Depending on the firewall or security plugin, the login attempt can be labelled as malicious and the page will be protected by denying you, its access. Thus, the server throws a 401 unauthorized error message.

There is also the possibility that a minor mistake caused the issue. This category of culprits includes incorrectly typed URLs or expired links!

For some reason, the client has been banned. When 401 Unauthorized Errors are used by applications to restrict access requests to specific IP addresses, the issue could be server-side bans if authentication isn’t an issue.

401 Unauthorized Error: How to Fix It

  • The easiest fix for the 401 error is to press F5, click the refresh/reload button, or try typing the URL in the address bar again. Even when no real problem exists, the 401 unauthorized error can appear for several reasons, so sometimes refreshing the page will often resolve the issue.
  • Make sure you are entering the correct URL. It may be the case that the URL that you entered is not correct and this caused 401 error to appear. It is also possible that you visited the wrong URL with the link you used to visit the page. Thus, it is worth checking your URL again. Check spellings in case you typed in the URL by yourself. Check that you clicked on the right link (or visit the page directly through the website) if you clicked on a link.
  • Cookie-based authentication enables modern web applications to easily know which user is active and what type of authorization should be granted to the current client (browser) based on data stored in a cookie.  In the case of 401 Unauthorized Error, the first thing to look at is if there is an issue with the cookies, resulting in improper authentication for the server. Even so, if you don’t know how to manually remove certain cookies, it’s safer and easier to delete all cookies at once.

Caution: “If you perform this action on your computer/browser, you may be logged out of every website you are currently logged into!”

  • By reducing load times, the cache on your browser enhances your online experience. Browser caches can contain almost anything ranging from compressed snapshots of pages you frequently visit to binary data your browser frequently uses.  However, it may sometimes cause unwelcome interruptions as well.

In the same way as cookies can be the reason, it’s possible for the 401 Unauthorized Error to be caused by the local browser cache. Due to your browser’s cache storing local copies of resources and content, you can occasionally experience conflicts between the live and cached versions of your application, leading to a 401 Unauthorized Error. Check whether clearing your browser’s cache fixes the problem. By doing so, your browser will be cleared of any invalid data stored locally, which is interfering with user authentication.

  • A 401 error can be caused by your DNS servers, especially if the website is available from other networks (such as your mobile phone provider) or someone at another location. This is a far less common problem, but if you haven’t had success with the first three solutions, you might try this one. You can flush the DNS by write the command “ipconfig/flushdns” in the command line of respective operating system used by you.
  • There lies a chance that your browser is not responsible for your 401 error. One or more plugins may be to blame if your WordPress site isn’t accessible. When certain plugins detect suspicious login activity that suggests an attack, they usually display a 401 error. There may be compatibility issues with other plugins. Deactivating all your WordPress plugins may resolve the issue, so you should try this step.

Lastly, if none of the above solutions worked in your case then surely it’s a server side problem and you confirming the WWW-authenticate header is all you can do for now.

When a server issues an unauthorized error code, it must also include a WWW-Authenticate header that includes one or more challenges. Authentication challenges specify how to obtain proper access to the requested resource. An HTTP header with WWW-Authenticate syntax is: WWW-Authenticate: <type> realm=<realm>. <type> can take one of a number of different authentication schemes. The term *realm> describes the area where one can access a “realm”.

For easy understanding, let’s take an easy example. WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm=”Access to the Developer server” tells the client to use Basic request for authentication (simply an ID and password combination) and that it will grant access to “the Developer server.”

If you are using Google Chrome, you can view headers by pressing F12 to open the developer console, selecting the Network tab, and then loading or reloading the page/resource that is error 401 Unauthorized. Sort the results by clicking on the Status column header, and then look for the “401” status code. By selecting that entry in the list, the Headers tab will appear. Generally, you can find the WWW-Authenticate header under Response Headers.

Final words:

There are many reasons why you might receive 401 errors. There are times when your browser and server have trouble communicating or authenticating requests, and this results in errors like the 401. Although this problem can be frustrating, it is generally a temporary one. Hopefully trying the hacks mentioned in this article will resolve your problem!

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