Mail server

Server errors are usually not user-side issues

Q: My question is similar to one I read in your column a few weeks ago (Geek Note: IGTM #768, April 16, 2022). I have two iPads, a notebook, a laptop and an Android tablet. I have AT&T U-verse (100Mbps). With Wi-Fi, I frequently get the message “The page could not be loaded because the server has stopped working” or “The mail cannot be received because the server has stopped working”.

There is always a strong Wi-Fi signal showing. Only one or two connections are used at a time. There is fiber up to the main distribution box but old copper wire up to the lot (75 feet). My question is whose server? Is there a way to find out who might be at fault?

Eugene S., Lubbock, TX

A: From what you’ve told me, I can’t promise there’s no problem with your network or your devices, Eugene. However, by the time we’re done discussing this and you can do some research, I think you’ll agree that it’s more likely than not that the problem you’re having isn’t on your end of your internet connection. .

Let’s talk.

Let’s first address your question about whose server. The word server is part of the common client/server dyad. It is a phrase used to describe the relationship between a user’s device and a device somewhere on the internet.

Think of it this way: you’re still the customer, like you’re a customer when you patronize a business. The website you are accessing, on the other hand, is the server, as it serves content. So to reiterate what I said above, the odds are better than average that the “server” in question isn’t your device, but that doesn’t guarantee there isn’t another problem on your device or in your part of the network.

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One thing you need to understand about connecting to a server on the internet is that there is not a single direct connection between your device and the server. I will reuse my business analogy from above. When you step out of your house to visit a business, you don’t have a single path that leads directly from your door to theirs. You have to cross streets, intersections, parking lots, etc., 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 pass through multiple network segments, each connected through some hub. These are types of servers themselves, whose job is to route network traffic. Chances are that even connecting to one of the major online sites, like Facebook or Google, your connection could go through a dozen or more “hops” before reaching the intended server.

So why is all of this relevant? Well, because if a point along the route is underperforming or not working properly, it can lead to this error. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than most people realize, even for the simplest network connection.

You can see for yourself the route between your computer and any other server you are trying to access. In other words, you can get a list of all the IP addresses through which your request goes to access this ultimate server at the remote end. To do this, use the venerable old network command tracert (Trace Route).

Let’s try using Google’s server as an example. Start by opening a CMD window. Use keyboard sequence [WinKey]+R to open the “Run…” box and type CMD, then press “OK”. In the command window that opens, type “tracert google.com” and look.

The first hops are within your own network, as it goes from your device to your router and/or modem and then to your ISP. You’ll then see it go through other miscellaneous IP addresses that Trace Route doesn’t bother to identify by name.

It is possible to find out who and where they are, but it is a complex process and too long to share here. Eventually, after a certain number of hops, the trace will reach the server’s IP address and the process will be terminated.

You will find Trace Route tools available for other non-PC devices in your App Store. I hope that by using these tools you can discover the answers to your questions. Whether that helps you fix the “server stopped working” issue is another matter altogether.

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