Different web servers report 403 Forbidden errors in different ways, the majority of which we’ve listed below. Occasionally a website owner will customize the site’s HTTP 403 Forbidden error, but that’s not too common.
How the 403 Error Appears
These are the most common incarnations of 403 Forbidden errors:
Forbidden: You don't have permission to access [directory] on this server
HTTP Error 403.14 - Forbidden
Error 403 - Forbidden
HTTP Error 403 - Forbidden
The 403 Forbidden error displays inside the browser window, just as web pages do. 403 Forbidden errors, like all errors of this type, might be seen in any browser on any operating system.
In Internet Explorer, The website declined to show this webpage message indicates a 403 Forbidden error. The IE title bar should say 403 Forbidden or something similar.
403 Forbidden errors received when opening links via Microsoft Office programs generate the message Unable to open [url]. Cannot download the information you requested inside the MS Office program.
Windows Update might also report an HTTP 403 error but it will display as error code 0×80244018 or with the following message: WU_E_PT_HTTP_STATUS_FORBIDDEN.
Cause of 403 Forbidden Errors
403 errors are almost always caused by issues where you’re trying to access something that you don’t have access to. The 403 error is essentially saying “Go away and don’t come back here.”
Microsoft IIS web servers provide more specific information about the cause of 403 Forbidden errors by suffixing a number after the 403, as in HTTP Error 403.14 - Forbidden, which means Directory listing denied. You can see a complete list at Microsoft.
- Check for URL errors and make sure you’re specifying an actual web page file name and extension, not just a directory. Most websites are configured to disallow directory browsing, so a 403 Forbidden message when trying to display a folder instead of a specific page, is normal and expected.
This is, by far, the most common reason for a website to return the 403 Forbidden error. Be sure you fully explore this possibility before investing time in the troubleshooting below.
If you operate the website in question, and you want to prevent 403 errors in these cases, enable directory browsing in your web server software.
- Clear your browser’s cache. Issues with a cached version of the page you’re viewing could be causing 403 Forbidden issues.
- Log in to the website, assuming it’s possible and appropriate to do so. A 403 Forbidden message could mean that you need additional access before you can view the page.
Typically, a website produces a 401 Unauthorized error when special permission is required, but sometimes a 403 Forbidden is used instead.
- Clear your browser’s cookies, especially if you typically log in to this website and logging in again (the last step) didn’t work.
While we’re talking about cookies, be sure you have them enabled in your browser, or at least for this website if you do actually log in to access this page. The 403 Forbidden error, in particular, indicates that cookies might be involved in obtaining proper access.