Surfed to a 404 or page not found? Here's how to automatically view archived page

Chrome and Firefox users have Wayback Machine options to automatically retrieve archived copies of web pages that otherwise result in 404 or page not found errors.

Wayback Machine Chrome Extension and Firefox addon
Credit: Wayback Machine

If you hate hitting a digital dead end, such as by surfing to a 404 or “page not found” error, then Chrome and Firefox users should consider doing away with them altogether…that is, as long as there is an archived copy available.

When you surf to a dead link, both browsers have an extension/add-on which will automatically offer to serve up a preserved copy of the page via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. It’s one way to push back against “link rot,” meaning all those URLs that return nothing of value since sites are redesigned and undergo structural changes that result in broken links.

Over 279 billion web pages have been recorded over the past 20 years by the Internet Archive. When announcing the Wayback Machine Chrome extension, Mark Graham, co-founder of the Internet Archive, mentioned that all the preservation is a good thing because the web is “fragile and ephemeral. For example, a 2013 Harvard study found that 49% of the URLs referenced in U.S. Supreme Court decisions are now dead. Those decisions affect everyone in the U.S., and the evidence the opinions are based on is disappearing.”

Using a Chrome extension or Firefox addon which automatically offers an option to retrieve archived copies can “help mitigate against link rot and other common web breakdowns.”

The Chrome extension, which debuted on Friday, “will detect error codes 404, 408, 410, 451, 500, 502, 503, 504, 509, 520, 521, 523, 524, 525, and 526 and check to see if archived versions of the URLs requested are available via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.”

If a dead URL has been recorded by the Wayback Machine, then this is an example of what you would see in Chrome.

Wayback Machine Chrome extension Internet Archive

Tap on “click here to see archived version” and you can check out the page that was previously unavailable or look for versions of articles that have been edited or otherwise altered.

You really should use a VPN or proxy if you don’t want some three-letter agency knowing what you browse online, but if you don’t, then the Internet Archive tries to have your back. Graham noted:

The Internet Archive considers the privacy of our users to be of critical importance. We try not to record IP addresses, and we have fought National Security letters. You can rest assured that the use of the Wayback Machine Chrome extension will not expose your browsing history. In addition, we are in conversation with Google about adding a proxy server as an additional layer of protection.

The option to automatically retrieve a page that otherwise results in a 404 error has been an option for Firefox users since August 2016; it’s done via the No More 404s add-on, which is one of Firefox’s Test Pilot experiments. If the page has been preserved by the Wayback Machine, then this is an example of what you would see via Firefox.

No More 404s addon for page not found errors Mozilla's Firefox Test Pilot/Internet Archive

Click on the “view saved version” button and voilà.

Of course, a person can also use the Wayback Machine and manually enter the URL to see if there is a saved copy, but these are time-savers that you might want to try.

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