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Issue #778: June 19-25, 2022

Q: My question is similar to one I read in your column a few weeks ago (Geek Note: I.G.T.M. #768, April 10, 2022).  I have two iPads, a notebook, a laptop and an Android tablet.  I have AT&T U-verse (100Mbps). With WiFi I frequently receive the message ‘Cannot load page because the server quit working” or “Cannot get mail because the server quit working”. There is always a strong WiFi signal showing. Only one or two connections in use at a time. There is fiber to the main distribution box but old old copper wires to the lot (75 feet). My question is whose server? Is there any way to know who might be at fault?

 – Eugene S.
Lubbock, Texas

A: Based on what you’ve told me, I can’t promise that there are not any problems with your network or your devices, Eugene.  However, by the time we get done discussing this and you’re able to do a little research, I think you’ll agree that it’s more likely than not that the issue you’re experiencing is not on your side of your Internet connection. Let’s discuss.

Let’s address your question of “whose server?” first.  The word server is part of the common dyad client/server. This is a phrase that’s used to describe the relationship between a user’s device and a device somewhere on the Internet.  Think of it this way:  you are always the client, like you are a client when you patronize a business.  The website you’re accessing, on the other hand, is the server, because it is serving up content.  So, to reiterate what I said above, the chances are better than average that the “server” in question isn’t your device, but that’s no guarantee that there isn’t some other problem on your device, or within your portion of the network.

One thing that you should understand about connecting to a server over the Internet is that there is not a single, direct connection between your device and the server.  I’m going to re-use my business analogy from above.  When you leave your house to visit a business, you don’t have a single path that leads straight from your door to theirs.  You must go through connecting streets, intersections, parking lots, and so on, and there are almost always multiple routes to get there.  A connection between your device and an online destination is remarkably similar.  The request must go through multiple network segments, each connected through a hub of some sort.  These are types of servers themselves, whose job it is to route network traffic.  Chances are that even connecting to one of the major sites online, like Facebook or Google, your connection might go through a dozen or more “hops” before it reaches the intended server.  So, why is all of this relevant?  Well, because if any point along the route is underperforming or not working properly, it can result in you seeing that error.  There is a lot more going on behind the scenes than most people realize for even the simplest network connection.

You can see for yourself the route between your computer and any other server that you’re trying to access.  That is, you can get a list of all the IP addresses through which your request passes to get to that ultimate server on the distant end.  You do this using the venerable old network command tracert (Trace Route).  Let’s try it using Google’s server as an example.  Start by opening a CMD window.  Use the keyboard sequence [WinKey]+R to open the “Run…” box and type CMD, then hit “OK”.  In the command window that opens, enter “tracert google.com” then watch.  The first few hops are within your own network, as it goes from your device to your router and/or modem, then to your Internet Provider.  You’ll then see it pass through other various IP addresses which Trace Route doesn’t bother to identify by name.  It’s possible to find out who and where these are located, but that’s a complex process, too long to share here.  Eventually, after some number of hops, the trace will reach the IP of the server, and the process will be complete.  

You’ll find Trace Route tools available for other, non-PC devices in your App Store.  Hopefully, using these tools you can discover the answers to your questions.  Whether that helps you to solve the “server quit working” issue is another matter entirely. 

 


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