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The HTTP Error 404 Antidote

Page 5 — Bonus 404 Baubles

If you want to invest a bit more effort in your 404 functionality, and you run Apache, you can have your Web server check for misspelled URLs on the fly. Apache's mod_speling (yes, one l) module is designed to do just that. It's not compiled in by default, so you will have to recompile Apache (or convince your Web host to do so) if you want to have access to this feature.

With mod_speling compiled as a module in your Apache installation, you can turn it on by including the directive ...

SpellCheck on

... in your .htaccess file.

The behavior of this function is: Apache compares the incorrect URL to all the available files on the site. If Apache finds a single match for a misspelled URL, it automatically redirects the user to the correct page; if it finds more than one possibility, it presents a list of choices to the user.

By default, the list is presented in simple Apache style. You can spruce it up, parse it, et cetera for your users if you like, though, with a bit of code. When Apache finds a misspelled URL, it sends status code 300. You can trap this and handle it yourself with an .htaccess line like:

ErrorDocument 300 /errordocs/300.php

The list of possible correct spellings of an URL is contained in the environment variable $REDIRECT_VARIANTS. Grab this variable and parse it for your users with a script you call 300.php, and you can have a beautiful "Maybe you meant" list, formatted as you like it, with your logo at the top and a search box at the bottom, and meanwhile you can log common misspellings.

If you want mod_speling-type functionality on an IIS site, it's Port 80 to the rescue once again. Its URLSpellCheck product provides a similar service to Microsoft-driven sites, at a much smaller cost.

Last, but most emphatically not least, if you crave attention, you can always make your 404 page fun. Blundering around the Web, one can find 404 pages with random pictures, arcade games, interactive fiction, animation, haiku, and heaven knows what other millions of brilliant ideas.

Here are a bunch, well-designed informative ones as well as entertaining ones. There's something pleasingly perverse about having your page-not-found page be the main attraction on your site, isn't there?

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