If you’ve spent any time browsing the web, chances are pretty good you’ve run into a page with an error code on it.
You’ve likely seen numbers 404 (“not found”) or 403 (“forbidden”).
Less commonly spotted is error code 418, which makes your browser proclaim “I’m a teapot.”
If it sounds like a joke, it is: Way back on April Fool’s Day in 1998, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) — a group that sets internet standards — proposed “a protocol for controlling, monitoring, and diagnosing coffee pots.” That document defined status 418 thusly: “Any attempt to brew coffee with a teapot should result in the error code ‘418 I’m a teapot.’ The resulting entity body MAY be short and stout.”
The error code has since become a running gag.
Go to Google.com/teapot, and see for yourself. Programming languages like Node.js and Google’s Go both include the 418 error as a little Easter egg, as does Microsoft’s ASP.NET framework. Someone even rigged a teapot to act as a web server, just so it can proudly display error 418 when you visit it.
On Thursday, however, the future of code 418 was briefly called into doubt. In a GitHub thread, Mark Nottingham, the chairman of the IETF working group that oversees hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), argued that the 418 error was never a part of the standard, which governs how web browsers communicate with web servers.
People should stop treating 418 as a core part of the HTTP standard, and free up the error number for more serious concerns, he said in his post.
“I know it’s amusing, I know that a few people have knocked up implementations for fun, but it shouldn’t pollute the core protocol,” Nottingham wrote.
This prompted a swift, but fiery, debate of the future of the web’s teapot error code. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.
The biggest champion of the teapot status was 15-year-old programmer Shane Brunswick. Brunswick, who will be a sophomore in high school this fall, started a “Save 418” movement, giving it the #Save418 hashtag.
The teapot error is something “that puts a smile on your face,” Brunswick told Business Insider. It’s a silly little thing from the early internet that’s worth preserving, he said.
“It’s a reminder that the underlying processes of computers are still made by humans,” Brunswick said. “It’d be a real shame to see 418 go.”
Others pointed out that the teapot status has been treated as a part of HTTP for so long that removing it could actually cause technical problems for many sites. That scored technical points for Brunswick’s side.
Nottingham wasn’t expecting such a big response, he told Business Insider. He just wanted to clarify 418’s status — or lack thereof. And he took Brunswick’s opposition in stride.
“I’m a bad, bad man,” Nottingham quipped on Twitter, with a link to Brunswick’s website.
While some have tried to chastise Brunswick for being disrespectful, Nottingham said that above all, he really appreciated that a teenager was taking such an interest in a standard that’s almost three decades old.
“I’m really happy that the next generation of developers still care about HTTP so deeply,” Nottingham said.
Ultimately, after a day of debate, Nottingham and Brunswick came to an accord that seems to have made everybody happy. On Friday afternoon, Nottingham filed a proposal to adopt 418 as an official HTTP code. If and when it’s approved, “I’m a teapot” will officially become a core part of the web.
In response, Brunswick updated his website: “Thanks for everything Mark Nottingham, you put up a good fight! =)”
The issue is now closed, with programmers cheering that their teapots are safe. For his part, Nottingham is keeping a healthy sense of humour about the situation.
“If you ask me, it’s a tempest in a … ah, never mind,” Nottingham wrote in an email to Business Insider.
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