Mike was a server admin at your typical everyday Initech. One day, project manager Bill stopped by his cube with questions from Jay, the developer of an internal Java application.

“Hello there- thanks for your time!” Bill dropped into Mike’s spare chair. “We needed your expertise on this one.”

“No problem,” Mike said, swiveling to face Bill. “What can I help with?”

Bill’s pen hovered over the yellow notepad in his lap. He frowned down at some notes already scribbled there. “The WAS HTTP server- that’s basically an Apache server, right?”

HTTP Error 455 - User is a Jackass

“Basically,” Mike answered. “Some IBM customizations, but yeah.”

“So it has a… HT Access file, or whatever it’s called?” Bill asked.

He meant .htaccess, the config file. “Sure, yeah.”

“OK.” Bill glanced up with wide-eyed innocence. “So we could put something into that file that would allow a redirect, right?”

“Um… it’s possible.” Uneasiness crept over Mike, who realized he was about to discuss a custom solution to a problem he didn’t know about, on a server he was responsible for. “What’s going on?”

“Well, Jay wants a redirect in there to send people to another server,” Bill replied.

Mike frowned in confusion. “We just stood this server up. Now he wants another domain?”

“Huh? Oh, no, It’s not our domain. It’s someone else’s.”

“OK… I’m lost,” Mike admitted. “Let’s start at the beginning. What’s the problem Jay wants to fix?”

“Well, he has this broken link in his app, and he wants to redirect people to the correct site,” Bill explained.

Mike stared, dumbfounded for several moments. “Excuse me?”

“Yeah. He has this link that points off to some external federal website- IRS, I think- and the link is broken. He wants to automatically redirect users to the correct site so they don’t get a 404 error. We started looking into it, and found that Apache has this HT Access file thingy. It looks like that’s what we need.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Mike blurted ahead of discretion.

“No. Why?” Bill’s eyes widened. “Something wrong?”

Mike swiveled around to retrieve his coffee mug, and a measure of composure. “Why doesn’t he just fix the link within the app so it points to the right URL?”

“Well, that’s what I asked him. But he thinks it’d be more convenient to redirect people.”

“If the link is updated, they won’t need to be redirected.”

“I realize that.”

Mike took a long swig. “That’s not what the .htaccess file is for. It’s meant to redirect an incoming request to a different server of your own, not someone else’s.”

“Oh.” Bill scribbled this down on his notepad, then stared hard at the scribbles. Every moment of silence ratcheted Mike’s nervousness higher.

“So you’re saying we can’t do the HT Access thing?” Bill finally asked, looking up again.

“To fix a broken link?”

“Yeah!” Bill’s eyes lit up. Apparently, Mike’s clarifying question had given him new hope.

“No.” Mike crushed that hope as mercilessly as he could.

“OK, so the HT Access thing won’t work. Hmm, OK.” Bill frowned back down at his notes, falling silent again. Mike sensed, and dreaded, another inane line of questioning about to follow.

“Well, another thing Jay mentioned was a custom error page,” Bill’s next foray began. “Can we do that in Apache?”

Mike hesitated. “…Yes?”

“Great! I’ll tell him that. He can develop a custom 404 page with some Javascript in it or something to redirect people to the correct site.”

“Huh?”

“Not the prettiest solution, I know, but Jay said he can make it work.”

Mike spoke slowly. “He’s going to create a custom 404 error page… for that broken link of his?”

“Yeah.”

“And that 404 page is supposed to display… when his broken link sends users off to some IRS web server?”

“Yeah.”

“The IRS web server, when it gets a request for a page that doesn’t exist, is gonna display Jay’s custom 404 error page. Is that what you’re telling me?”

Bill’s confidence faltered. “Um… I think so.”

Mike dropped the bomb. “How’s he gonna get that custom page onto their server?”

“Well, it’d be on our server.”

“Right! So how would that custom 404 error get displayed?”

“When the user clicks the broken link.”

“I asked how. You just answered when.”

“Well, OK, I don’t know! I’m not the developer here.” Bill’s hands rose defensively. “Jay said he could make it work.”

“He’s wrong!” Mike snapped.

“He was pretty confident.”

Mike hesitated a moment before his shoulders dropped. Facts and common sense were not to prevail that day. “OK then. Lemme know when it works.”

Bill perked up. “Really? You’ll put it on the server?”

“Sure. Just have him fill out a service request and I’ll deploy it.”

“Excellent! Thank you!” Bill jumped up with pleasant surprise, and left the cube.


A few days later, Mike was completely unsurprised to find Jay frowning into his cube. “My 404 page isn’t displaying!”

Mike created a new email addressed to Jay, then copied and pasted a link to the IRS Help and Resources page. “Sorry- you’ll have to take it up with the taxman.”

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