What a 504 Gateway Timeout Error is, and How to Fix it

How To Fix a 504 Gateway Timeout Error

The 504 Gateway Timeout Error. It’s one of the many server-side issues that prevents your website from loading properly. It’s frustrating to see, especially for your users. 

Think of it like walking up to a busy restaurant; if your waiter doesn’t come to your table in time, you will get frustrated and consider leaving–that’s what your users will do if they see a 504 error on your website. And every second it’s up, it’ll keep hurting your website’s performance and rankings.

So how do you fix a 504 Gateway Timeout error? Well, keep reading. This article will help you understand them in detail, and teach you how to diagnose and fix it.

What is a 504 Gateway Timeout Error?

A 504 Gateway Timeout error is one of the many status codes that can be returned by a web server.

Whenever a user wants to load a page on your website, their web server will attempt to communicate with an upstream server, on which all of your website’s content and data is stored. If this connection is successful, then the page will load like normal.

But in this step, mistakes can happen. In the case of 504 errors, the mistake is this: these two servers are unable to communicate fast enough–which prevents the page’s content from being sent, leading to a timeout of sorts. 

Webmaster’s Note: This post is part of our advanced guide to Technical SEO, where I cover everything you need to know about crawlability, indexing, and page speed optimization, as well as helpful tips on how to troubleshoot common website errors. I also cover other 5xx errors in other posts.

Like other 5xx errors, websites can show a 504 error in many different ways. 

Variations of the 503 Service Unavailable Error

  • 504 Gateway Timeout
  • Gateway Timeout Error
  • HTTP 504 Error
  • Gateway Timeout (504)
  • 504 Error
  • HTTP Error 504 – Gateway Timeout
  • The page request got canceled because it took too long to complete.
  • 504 Gateway Time-out – The server didn’t respond in time.
  • This page isn’t working – Domain took too long to respond.

How Do I Fix the 504 Gateway Timeout Error?

Since a 504 Gateway Timeout Error is generic, you need to do some trial and error to find what exactly is causing the communication breakdown between the web server and the upstream server. Here are the steps you can take to resolve the issue:

  1. Check your internet connection
  2. Reload the page
  3. Clear browser cache
  4. Wait and retry
  5. Check server status
  6. Monitor server health
  7. Optimize server configuration
  8. Load balancing
  9. Check upstream server health
  10. Increase timeout settings
  11. Implement caching
  12. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
  13. Resolve Domain Name System (DNS) issues
  14. Review your third-party services
  15. Monitor and test

Check your Internet Connection

If you’re experiencing the error as an end user, ensure that your internet connection is stable and functioning properly. Sometimes, network issues on your end could be causing the error.

Reload the Page

Sometimes, the error might be temporary. Try reloading the page by pressing F5 or using the refresh button in your browser.

Clear Browser Cache

Cached data can sometimes cause issues, which can show a 504 error on your end (but not necessarily all of the users trying to load your website). Clear your browser’s cache and cookies, and then try accessing the site again. 

Wait and Retry

The 504 error might be caused by a temporary server overload, especially if it’s getting a lot more traffic than you usually do. To see if this is the cause, just wait for a while and then try accessing your site again. The issue might resolve itself once the server load decreases. 

Check Server Status

Contact your server host or check your website’s backend to see if the administrators have acknowledged any ongoing issues or maintenance. If so, the issue can be resolved once your server is back online.

Monitor Server Health

If you’re managing your website yourself, you should monitor your server’s health, CPU usage, memory usage, and network traffic. This will help you check if your server is currently experiencing high, sudden traffic load, or dealing resource constraints. If so, then it’s a likely culprit to your 504 error.

Optimize Server Configuration

Review and optimize your server’s configuration settings, including proxy and gateway configurations. Ensure that these settings are correctly configured to support quick communication between web servers and upstream servers. Here’s a guide you can use to avoid server misconfiguration issues if your web maintenance is done in-house. 

Load Balancing

If possible, try to implement or adjust load balancing mechanisms to distribute incoming traffic more evenly among multiple servers. This can help prevent overloading.

Check Upstream Server Health

Ensure that the upstream server is healthy and responsive. Monitor its resource usage, check for any ongoing maintenance, and address any issues.

Increase Timeout Settings

Adjust the timeout settings on the gateway server to provide more time for the upstream server to respond, especially if the server processing is naturally slow.

Implement Caching

Implement caching mechanisms to store frequently accessed content on the server. This can help reduce the load on your upstream servers, and reduce the chances of loading issues like a 504 Gateway Timeout error. 

Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Use a CDN to distribute content across several servers in different locations. This can help deliver your website’s content even to users located far from your main server, which also alleviates server load and improves overall site speed

Resolve Domain Name System (DNS) Issues

Check your DNS–particularly your DNS cache. If it’s outdated or corrupted, it could be causing an HTTP error 504 code. Otherwise, if you have recently changed your domain’s DNS server, then web servers might still be trying to find your website with the old DNS records stored in your Operating System’s cache.

In both cases, fixing the error is simple: you just need to flush your DNS cache.

Review Third-Party Services

If your website relies on third-party services or plugins, make sure they are functioning properly. Sometimes, issues with external services can impact your site’s performance.

Monitor and Test

Continuously monitor your website’s performance, conduct regular load testing, and be prepared to scale your infrastructure as needed.

Remember that resolving a 504 Gateway Timeout error might require you to work with your hosting provider and website development team, especially if the issue involves server configurations or network problems.

If you’re having trouble maintaining your website, SEO Hacker also offers web development and design services–we have years of experience creating beautiful, functional, and SEO-friendly websites from the ground up.

What Can Cause a 504 Gateway Timeout Error?

A 504 Gateway Timeout error can be caused by many things that affect the communication and responsiveness between two servers in your web infrastructure. Here are some common causes:

  1. Slow upstream server 
  2. Network connectivity issues
  3. Server misconfiguration
  4. Server overload
  5. Maintenance or downtime
  6. DNS issues

Slow Upstream Server 

Imagine a busy toll booth on a highway. If too many vehicles are trying to pass through the toll booth at once, the toll collectors might struggle to process all the transactions quickly. 

Similarly, if the server that needs to process requests from the gateway is overwhelmed with too many requests, it might not be able to respond on time, causing a 504 error.

A slow upstream server can cause a 504 gateway timeout error because the upstream server’s delayed processing and generation of a response exceeds the timeout threshold set by the gateway server. 

Network Connectivity Issues

Network issues can cause a 504 Gateway Timeout error because they disrupt the smooth flow of data between the gateway server and the upstream server, leading to delays in communication. 

Think of a telephone conversation between two people. If there’s static or interference on the line, the conversation might become garbled or drop altogether. Similarly, if there are network problems or “static” between the gateway and the upstream server, the communication might be delayed or disrupted, leading to a timeout error. 

Server Misconfiguration

Server misconfiguration can cause a 504 Gateway Timeout error due to improper settings or configurations that hinder the communication between the gateway server and the upstream server.

When you introduce processing bottlenecks, incorrect routing, or other issues that hinder the timely communication between the gateway server and the upstream server, that’s when server misconfiguration takes place. 

Imagine a translator who is supposed to convey messages between two individuals who speak different languages. If the translator misunderstands the message or doesn’t know the language well, there’s going to be a communication breakdown. 

Likewise, if the server configurations are not set up correctly, then the intended message might not get through, resulting in a 504 error. 

Server Overload

To understand why server overload causes a 504 Gateway Timeout error, picture a chef trying to prepare multiple complex dishes at the same time in a small kitchen. With too many tasks to handle, the chef might start to slow down and struggle to keep up with the orders. 

Similarly, if the gateway server is trying to manage too many incoming and outgoing requests simultaneously, it’s going to struggle to accommodate those requests, eventually leading to timeouts. 

Server overloads can happen if there’s a sudden surge of visitors on your website, or if your website is experiencing a malicious attack. Either way, this causes your server to exhaust its resources, which prevents it from accommodating user requests, leading potentially to 504 errors.

Maintenance or Downtime

Your server being in maintenance or downtime means that it just won’t respond to any server requests. It’s like a bridge that’s temporarily closed for maintenance. During this time, cars cannot cross the bridge, causing delays. It’s the same for your website–if the server is down or temporarily unavailable, it won’t respond to requests, resulting in a timeout error. 

DNS Issues

DNS issues can cause a 504 Gateway Timeout error when your DNS fails to resolve the IP address of the upstream server, preventing the gateway server from establishing a connection. 

The timeout mechanism on the gateway server is in place to ensure that requests don’t hang indefinitely, but if the DNS issues hinder IP address resolution, the gateway server generates the 504 error message. 

Imagine trying to find a specific house in a new town without a proper address. If you can’t locate the house’s address, you won’t be able to reach your destination. Similarly, if there are problems with DNS resolution, the gateway server might not be able to locate the IP address of the upstream server, preventing communication. 

How 504 Gateway Timeout Errors Affect SEO

504 Gateway Timeout errors can have negative implications for user experience, which means they can also hurt your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and website rankings. 

  • User Experience – User experience is a critical factor for SEO. When visitors encounter 504 errors, it reflects poorly on the website’s reliability and can frustrate users. Users who experience such errors are more likely to leave the site and seek information or services elsewhere.
  • Crawling and Indexing – Search engine crawlers regularly scan websites to index their content. If these crawlers encounter 504 errors while trying to access specific pages, they might not be able to index the content properly. This can affect how well your content ranks in search results.
  • Website Accessibility – If search engines find that a website frequently returns 504 errors, they might consider the site less accessible and reliable. This could potentially impact how search engines rank the site over time.
  • Algorithm Updates – While not a direct factor in search engine algorithms, user experience is becoming increasingly important for search engine rankings. Search engines aim to provide the best results for users, and sites with frequent 504 errors might be perceived as less user-friendly.
  • Backlinks and Referrals – If other websites link to your site and users encounter 504 errors when following those links, it can negatively affect your referral traffic and potential backlinks, which can influence SEO.
  • Indexing Frequency – Search engines might adjust how often they crawl and index your site based on its reliability and uptime. Frequent 504 errors could result in less frequent indexing, affecting how quickly new content is added to search results.
  • Competitive Advantage – A website that consistently provides a smooth user experience, without 504 errors, could gain a competitive advantage over sites that keep serving them. This advantage might translate to more engagement and longer visit durations.

To mitigate the potential negative impact of 504 Gateway Timeout errors on SEO, it’s crucial to promptly address the underlying issues causing these errors. Regular monitoring of server health, configurations, and network infrastructure can help prevent or minimize the occurrence of such errors. 

In addition, providing clear error messages to users and maintaining an informative maintenance page during planned downtimes can also contribute to a better user experience.

Key Takeaway

504 Gateway Timeout errors can happen from time to time on your website, so keep this troubleshooting guide in mind whenever you see this error message pop up on your pages. Fixing this as quickly as possible is key to maintaining seamless user experience, and ultimately contributes to a website’s reputation and effectiveness. 

With the right knowledge and tools, you can get past this hiccup, lessen its effect on your website, and continue delivering a great online experience to your audience.

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