When Did Errors Start Getting Numbers?

404 Not found. Nginx
Copyright 2022, All rights reserved

We have all seen these messages. The latest for me was from Allstate Insurance. They sent me an email saying that I had a new insurance document in MyBenefits (a subsite that offers access to your policies, claims, and other information like mysterious and vaguely threatening changes to your policy). After checking that the promised URL was legit (you hover your mouse over it to see if some part of the URL refers to the company purportedly sending the message and not some weird Indian Ocean-based .IO), I opened the webpage.

Then the fun began. I got to the dashboard after logging in with my 31-character password. (If you don’t use that length, shame on you.) Once there. I saw a list of different policies and their current status, but the promised link was under “Messages” and was happily listed with today’s date and a posting of about a half hour before I got there. I clicked on the link and….404 Not Found….

So, what does 404 mean? Well, it’s saying that the page you want and it thinks is listed on the server is not where it’s supposed to be. (Okay, we all misplace things. We found our french fry cutter yesterday by replacing all the drawer and cabinet fronts in the kitchen. You see, we had to pull out the drawers and — Voila! — there it was. But I digress.)

Why 404? Always 404. Hmmm…

The immediate answer is right below it, if you are a nerd or have access to a search engine. (I use Neeva.com because they don’t track me and sell my data to pirates in the .IO space. [Apologies to the inhabitants of the Indian Ocean. It’s actually quite nice. I was on the east African coast a few times and it really did look nice. But I digress, again.])

Nginx is an open source web technology used by many sites that have internal subsites that need to interact with the user, like look up a document when you ask for it. (At least until you actually do, then you get the dreaded error number in a way that makes you think you have been played the fool.) But why that number?

Long ago, well 2011, Engine X (renamed nginx because engineers have no literary creativity) adopted a common set of error codes in use. (Why invent something helpful if you can re-use the current cryptic methods that require a high-priest to decipher? Because you are lazy and dream of keeping your butt welded to a chair while making a living. [This is not how I make a living. In December, Medium.com deposited all my earnings from these rants in my bank account: $0.01. Yes, one cent. Hooray!)

All right, even longer ago, 404 began at the origins of the World Wide Web at a place called CERN in Switzerland that developed the first web site and browser in the 1980s. They needed a number for a not found error and picked the room number that housed their web server — Room 404. (OK, engineers do have a sense of humor, but it’s peculiar.)

So, what does this now really mean? It means, Allstate, that you are a shiftless….

Ahem. It means that whatever those changes are, will remain unknown by me. Perhaps I’ll send the URL of this article to them to let them know my mind. (Yeah, that’s the ticket! That’ll show them!)



Historian, informatician, novelist, and grandfather. Part-time curmugdeon.

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David Potenziani

Historian, informatician, novelist, and grandfather. Part-time curmugdeon.