Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Origins of 404-Page Not Found

Ok, I got a mail from dear AjiPapa on a nice related topic regarding the origins of the error no. 404, when you try to access non-existing webpages on internet.
Here it is
"The history of 404

Before the beginning of time, when the Internet was still very much under
the spell of bare Unix shells and Gopher, before SLIP or PPP became widely
used, an ambitious group of young scientists at CERN (Switzerland) started
working on what was to become the media revolution of the nineties: the
World Wide Web, later to be known as WWW, or simply 'the Web'. Their aim:
to create a database infrastructure that offered open access to data in
various formats: multi-media. The ultimate goal was clearly to create a
protocol that would combine text and pictures and present it as one
document, and allow linking to other such documents: hypertext.

Because these bright young minds were reluctant to reveal their progress
(and setbacks) to the world, they started developing their protocol in a
closed environment: CERN's internal network. Many hours were spend on what
later became the world-wide standard for multimedia documents. Using the
physical lay-out of CERN's network and buildings as a metaphor for the
'real world' they situated different functions of the protocol in different
offices within CERN.

In an office on the fourth floor (room 404), they placed the World Wide
Web's central database: any request for a file was routed to that office,
where two or three people would manually locate the requested files and
transfer them, over the network, to the person who made that request.

When the database started to grow, and the people at CERN realized that
they were able to retrieve documents other than their own research-papers,
not only the number of requests grew, but also the number of requests that
could not be fulfilled, usually because the person who requested a file
typed in the wrong name for that file. Soon these faulty requests were
answered with a standard message: "Room 404: file not found".

Later, when these processes were automated and people could directly query
the database, the messageID's for error messages remained linked to the
physical location the process took place: "404: file not found".

The room numbers remained in the error codes in the official release of
HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) when the Web left CERN to conquer the
world, and are still displayed when a browser makes a faulty request to a
Web server. In memory of the heroic boys and girls that worked deep into
the night for all those months, in those small and hot offices at CERN,
Room 404 is preserved as a 'place on the Web'. None of the other rooms are
still used for the Web. Room 404 is the only and true monument to the
beginning of the Web, a tribute to a place in the past, where the future
was shaped.
"
Now when we look at the HTTP spec which defines the error codes
here. It more likely looks like the origins of 404 as given here maybe correct 404 History! My my, never realised that we cannot have a definitive say on certain thought-it-is-well-known-things. Does anyone else have any idea on this?

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