June 20, 2012

A tribute to Ray Bradbury in internet error code


Adam Sneed on Slate reports that Tim Bray, a developer advocate at Google is proposing that a new HTTP status code “451” — a reference to the Bradbury classic Fahrenheit 451 — be used whenever a website is blocked by the government.  Sneed explains,

“There’s a whole list of status codes to describe what could happen when a server is accessed online. If you’ve ever clicked a broken link, you’ve probably come across the 404 Not Found error, which means a computer could reach a site’s server, but the information requested (a specific page, for example) wasn’t available. The 403 Forbidden error appears when a user’s computer reaches a server but is denied. These two codes often appear when a user tries to access a censored website, but neither fully explains that the government is preventing a connection.”

This discussion grew out of a blog post on U.K. blogger Terence Eden‘s site.

Eden’s ISP was ordered to block access to the file-sharing site Pirate Bay. When he tried to connect to the site he received a 403 Forbidden error, suggesting that it was the Pirate Bay, and not the government’s ruling that was denying him access. In response, Eden put out an open call for a new code to represent exactly the type of error that was occurring. One commenter suggested using the number 451 as a tribute to Bradbury’s novel, famously about government-mandated book burning.

If such a code were adopted, internet users would know exactly why they weren’t able to access censored sites. I somehow feel that Bradbury would approve.

And in case you needed any further confirmation of the man’s greatness, here is an diagram of the technologies he predicted in his work, which have now come to pass.  (Via RIA Novosti.)


Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.