404 Room: The Story Behind 404 Not Found

404 Not Found

Once upon a time in a far far land (Not that far, it was in Switzerland). When there was no internet and web meant a spider web. Some young scientists were coding something for their own use in  a Laboratory know as CERN. CERN is abbreviation for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (French: European Laboratory for Particle Physics). Its located at Geneva, Switzerland. They were creating protocols by mean of which computers located in different rooms could communicate with each other.  While most of protocols and technologies they developed later became the building block of current web. But one of them got more attention that is “404 NOT FOUND” error. Even non-programmers get a pretty good idea that the content they were looking for does no exist, when they see this message.

404 was number of a room at CERN. It had a computer and two to three guys working there. The computer contained a database. Querying information from that database was just a request away. Any connected computer was able to send request to 404 room. The staff then used to search for those information and send them to the computer which requested them.

Eventually, the database grew up and they started to automatize the whole process. They created programs to search for the information automatically and serve that to the users. As time passed, the number of requests for information grew. And then the system started generating strange errors. Reason was that either the requested information did not existed or their request query for the database was misspelled.

To handle that problem, they edited the program to reply “Room 404: Not Found” whenever a given request could not be fulfilled. At that very time, they gave birth to the 404 Not Found Protocol. As web grew bigger and spread out of CERN to the whole world, the 404 Not Found Protocol was adopted as one of many standard protocols.  Though, it was renamed from “Room 404: Not Found”  to “404: Not Found”.

That was a short but interesting story about the Four-0-Four. Besides 404, there were other room numbers like 200, 302 etc which pretty much explain the wired numbering of now a days HTTP request codes. They also developed the Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) which is the only language to give structure to the web pages. The idea behind HTML was to serve text and image in one file. And to link to other such files from that file.

The guys at CERN never knew that what they are doing is going to change the world and life of humans. Web in now multi-trillion dollars industry and is continuously progressing. All this would have not been possible if the young minds at CERN adopted themselves to classical system of data exchange in form of papers.

So do whatever you think you can do and who knows one day you might be known as father of some innovation besides your own kids.