Some status codes are more notorious than others. The 404 error, for instance, is one of the most common errors website owners and their visitors can come across. Other codes like the 301 Moved Permanentlycan be crucial for your SEO efforts.
But only a small number of people would know about the 451 error message. Website owners who have been affected by this error understand that when the government decides to censor your website, there aren't many things you can do.
In this post, we'll look at error 451 more closely and discuss four possible solutions for fixing it.
Let's dive in!
The 451 unavailable for legal reasons status code indicates to the user that the site they're trying to access is working and reachable, but it's unavailable for legal reasons.
In short, this status code is a reference to Ray Bradbury's 1953 dystopian novel. Similar to how books are outlawed in the novel, the 451 error message indicates that the site is unavailable, not due to technical issues, but legal.
In other words, the site has been censored by the government.
The idea behind the status code came in 2012 from Tim Bray, the co-author of the original XML specification, after the UK High Court directed internet providers in Britain to block The Pirate Bay, a notorious website for illegal downloading of files. During that time, internet providers and websites were displaying the error code 403 (Resource Forbidden) to show users that the website they're trying to access is inaccessible.
Tim went on to create a new error code that will indicate censorship and named it error 451.
The 451 status code can be displayed on:
websites that are considered a threat to national security
websites that violate copyright
websites that violate privacy
websites that violate blasphemy laws
However, this code is optional. In other words, governments are not obliged to disclose why certain sites are being censored.
Some internet providers may not even be legally permitted to disclose that the government censors certain sites. In other words, they might be forced to show 404 Not Found status codes or something similar instead of error 451.
One of the best examples of internet censorship comes from China and its "Great Firewall." This so-called firewall blocks Chinese users from accessing sites the government thinks are politically objectionable.
Each year, one nonprofit organization, called Reporters Without Borders, publishes a list that identifies that year's governments and agencies that censor the internet most heavily. Some governments and agencies that found themselves on the list include Pakistan's Telecommunications Authority, China's State Internet Information Office, and the US's National Security Agency.
One of the best ways to fix an error 451 is to use VPN to defeat online censorship.
Some of the best VPN providers are:
On average, you can expect to pay around $10 per month for a top-rated VPN service.
The next tip on our list is to change your DNS servers.
Here's how to do it if you're using macOS:
Go to System Preferences.
Select the Network icon.
Choose your current network, and click on the Advanced button.
Go to the DNS tab and click the (+) button next to “IPv4 or IPv6 addresses”, and click Enter.
Enter Google's DNS server under Preferred DNS server by entering 184.108.40.206, which is the primary DNS server for Google DNS.
At Alternate DNS server, add 220.127.116.11.
Enter the new DNS information and click on OK followed by Apply.
Restart your web browser.
Windows users can change their DNS settings by following these instructions:
Click on the Windows button in the bottom-left corner of the taskbar.
In the search field, type “Network connections”.
In the menu that appears, choose View network connections.
Choose the internet adapter you’re currently using. Right-click on the internet adapter, and then on Properties.
A new window will open. Choose Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), and then click on the Properties button.
Choose Use the following DNS server addresses and add the address of an alternative server (Google's, just like in the macOS instructions above).
Restart your web browser.
To sum up:
The 451 HTTP status code indicates to the user that the site they're trying to access is working and reachable, but it's unavailable for legal reasons.
The status code can be displayed on websites that are considered a threat to national security, that violate copyright and privacy, and more.
One of the best examples of internet censorship comes from China and its "Great Firewall."
There are four ways to fix the error 451: by using a VPN, changing your DNS servers, using a proxy server, and using HTTP instead of HTTPS.
And in case you want to dive deeper into the different types of status codes and their meaning, take a look at this comprehensive HTTP status code cheat sheet.
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