Error Pages test

What does it do?

Checks for error messages and faults which strongly suggest the website is broken in some way. Some errors can highlight serious security vulnerabilities.

Example results

Example of error pages test results

Why is it important?

If a website has an error, it can:

  • Put users off the website / lower their confidence in the website
  • Cause search engines to avoid the site
  • Indicate a security vulnerability which hackers can find and exploit

How is it measured?

This test checks each page in turn for:

  • Are any error messages reported in the page? (e.g. PHP, ASP, JSP errors) These should never be visible and can indicate a security issue as well as a technical one.
  • Is the page completely empty? Empty pages usually suggest a fault.
  • Does the page contain an HTML and body tag, and are both of these closed? The absence of any suggests a fault, such as an incomplete page or broken HTML.

Errors are rated for severity. Some errors are much more significant than others.

Potential problems

Sitebeam uses a dictionary of common error message formats which it uses to identify errors within a page. By definition this dictionary will always be incomplete, as new technologies which report errors are always being created. Therefore this test cannot detect every single error that could conceivably be reported by a site, but it will detect the vast majority of them.

This test does not detect Javascript errors, which are inherently unknowable as they would vary from browser to browser and require human interaction.

Very rarely, some websites may intentionally omit the <body> tag or <html> close tag on purpose. Usually the reasons are to minimise download time by shaving a few bytes off the end of their HTML files. This practice is frowned upon and Sitebeam will consider this an error.

How to improve this score

The website should never display error messages directly from the programming language it is written in, e.g. PHP or ASP. These should always be disabled for production websites for security reasons. This is usually a straightforward task requiring a slight configuration change to the webserver.

If a page is completely blank, it suggests that the code responsible for that page is broken in some way. You should check and fix the problem.

If a page is missing a <body> tag or <html> tag, this could suggest anything from a slight coding mistake to a totally broken page. You should check these individually and resolve them as appropriate. Even if these errors appear harmless, they may affect some browsers and proxies that are different from your own.

How to use this test effectively

If this test reports an error, it should usually be the highest priority to fix it, out of all tests. Otherwise this test automatically hides itself and can be ignored.

Was this article helpful? Contact our support team if you have a question.