HTTP 401 Response Status Code Guide: What is it, Usage, Methods

May 23 2024 by Oskay Günaçar

What Is HTTP 401 Status Code?

The HTTP 401 Status Code, also known as "401 Unauthorized," indicates that the request has not been applied because it lacks valid authentication credentials for the target resource. This status code is sent when the server requires authentication but the client fails to provide it, or the provided credentials are invalid.

Here are some key points about the 401 status code:

  1. Authentication Required: The server requires the client to authenticate itself to get the requested response.

  2. Authorization Header: Typically, the server responds with a WWW-Authenticate header field containing a challenge applicable to the requested resource. The client must provide the appropriate Authorization header field with valid credentials in subsequent requests.

  3. Not to be Confused with 403: The 401 status code specifically deals with authentication issues. In contrast, a 403 Forbidden status code indicates that the server understood the request but refuses to authorize it, even if the client provides valid credentials.

  4. Typical Usage: This status code is commonly encountered in web applications requiring user login, API calls requiring tokens, and other scenarios where access control is implemented.

Example of a 401 response header:

HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized 
WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm="Access to the site" 

In this example, the server is requesting the client to authenticate using Basic Authentication for access to the specified realm.

Importance of the HTTP 401 Status Code in SEO

The HTTP 401 status code, "Unauthorized," plays a specific role in SEO, mainly related to how search engines crawl and index web content. Here are the key points highlighting its importance:

Access Control

The 401 status code signals that certain resources require authentication. This helps webmasters protect sensitive or private content from being indexed by search engines, ensuring that only authorized users can access it.

Preventing Duplicate Content

By requiring authentication, the 401 status code can help prevent unauthorized access to content that might otherwise be duplicated across multiple URLs. This helps maintain content integrity and uniqueness, which are crucial for good SEO practices.

Crawl Budget Management

Search engines allocate a specific crawl budget for each website. When search engines encounter 401 errors, they understand that they should not waste resources attempting to crawl these protected pages repeatedly. This helps ensure that the crawl budget is used more efficiently on publicly accessible pages that can be indexed.

User Experience and Trust

Properly implementing 401 status codes ensures that users, including search engine bots, are aware of the need for authentication. This can enhance user trust and experience by clearly distinguishing between publicly available content and private or restricted content.

Error Resolution

If a search engine frequently encounters 401 errors on a website, it can indicate issues with how authentication is managed. Resolving these issues can improve the overall health of the website and its SEO performance.

Security Signals

Correct use of the 401 status code can signal to search engines that a website follows best practices for security and access control, which can indirectly contribute to better rankings and site reputation.

How to Use HTTP 401 Status Code for a Website

Using the HTTP 401 status code for a website involves implementing authentication mechanisms to restrict access to certain resources. Here’s a guide on how to properly use the HTTP 401 status code:

Implementing Authentication

  1. Choose an Authentication Method: Select the appropriate authentication method for your website. Common methods include Basic Authentication, Token-Based Authentication (like JWT), OAuth, and others.

  2. Set Up Authentication on the Server:

    • Basic Authentication: Configure your web server (e.g., Apache, Nginx) to require authentication for specific directories or files.
    • Token-Based Authentication: Implement token validation logic in your backend code.
  3. Require Authentication for Specific Resources:

    • Web Server Configuration: For example, in Apache, you can use .htaccess to protect a directory:
      AuthType Basic
      AuthName "Restricted Area"
      AuthUserFile /path/to/.htpasswd
      Require valid-user
    • Application Code: In your backend code (e.g., using a framework like Django, Flask, Express), you can add middleware or decorators to enforce authentication.

Handling Unauthorized Requests

  1. Return 401 Status Code: When an unauthenticated request is made to a protected resource, return a 401 status code.

    • Example in Express (Node.js):
      app.get('/protected', (req, res) => {
        if (!req.headers.authorization) {
        } else {
          // Validate the token or credentials
          // If valid, proceed with the request
          // If invalid, respond with 401
  2. Include WWW-Authenticate Header: Indicate the type of authentication required in the response header.

    • Example:
      res.set('WWW-Authenticate', 'Basic realm="Access to the site"');

Testing the Implementation

  1. Request Protected Resource: Make a request to the protected resource without providing authentication credentials. Verify that a 401 status code is returned along with the WWW-Authenticate header.

  2. Provide Credentials: Test the request with valid and invalid credentials to ensure proper handling of authentication and authorization.

User Experience Considerations

  1. Custom Error Pages: Create a custom error page for 401 errors to inform users about the need for authentication and how to obtain access.

  2. Login Redirect: For web applications, consider redirecting unauthenticated users to a login page rather than just returning a 401 error.

Security Best Practices

  1. Secure Transmission: Always use HTTPS to encrypt authentication credentials and tokens during transmission.

  2. Token Expiry and Renewal: For token-based authentication, implement token expiry and renewal mechanisms to enhance security.

  3. Audit and Logging: Keep logs of authentication attempts, including failed attempts, to monitor for potential security issues.

By following these steps, you can effectively use the HTTP 401 status code to control access to your website's resources, enhancing both security and user experience.

How to Check HTTP 401 Status Code?

To check if your server or application is returning an HTTP 401 status code for unauthorized access, you can use several methods. Here are some common ways to verify the HTTP 401 status code:

Using Browser Developer Tools

  1. Open Developer Tools: Press F12 or right-click on the page and select "Inspect".
  2. Go to the Network Tab: This tab shows all network requests made by the browser.
  3. Make an Unauthorized Request: Access a protected resource without providing credentials.
  4. Check the Response: Look for the request in the Network tab. The status code should be 401.

Using cURL Command

You can use the curl command-line tool to make HTTP requests and check the response status code.

curl -i -X GET 

If the resource is protected and you don't provide valid credentials, the response will include a 401 status code.

Using Postman

Postman is a popular tool for testing APIs.

  1. Open Postman.
  2. Create a New Request: Set the request method (e.g., GET) and enter the URL of the protected resource.
  3. Send the Request: Without providing authentication details.
  4. Check the Response: The response section will show the status code, which should be 401 if the resource is protected.

Using JavaScript (Fetch API)

You can write a simple script using the Fetch API to check the status code.

  .then(response => {
    if (response.status === 401) {
      console.log('Unauthorized: 401');
    } else {
      console.log(`Status: ${response.status}`);
  .catch(error => console.error('Error:', error));

Using Python (Requests Library)

If you prefer using Python, you can use the requests library to check the status code.

import requests

response = requests.get('')

if response.status_code == 401:
    print('Unauthorized: 401')
    print(f'Status: {response.status_code}')

Using Automated Testing Tools

Tools like Selenium can be used to automate browser actions and check for specific status codes.

from selenium import webdriver

driver = webdriver.Chrome()
# Check for network status using browser logs or other means


  1. Browser Developer Tools: Inspect network requests directly in your browser.
  2. cURL: Use the command line to make HTTP requests and check the response.
  3. Postman: Test APIs and view status codes easily.
  4. JavaScript: Use the Fetch API to check the status code programmatically.
  5. Python: Use the requests library to make HTTP requests and inspect the response.
  6. Automated Testing Tools: Use Selenium or similar tools for automated checks.

These methods will help you verify that your server or application correctly returns an HTTP 401 status code for unauthorized access attempts.

Which HTTP Method is used with HTTP 401 Status Code?

The HTTP 401 status code can be used with any HTTP method, as it indicates that the request lacks valid authentication credentials for the target resource. The most common HTTP methods that may encounter a 401 status code include:


  • Usage: Retrieves data from a server.
  • Example: Accessing a protected webpage or API endpoint.
  • Scenario: A user tries to access a protected resource without proper credentials.
    GET /protected-resource HTTP/1.1
    • Response:
      HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
      WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm="Access to the site"


  • Usage: Sends data to the server to create/update a resource.
  • Example: Submitting a form or API request.
  • Scenario: A user tries to submit a form to a protected endpoint without valid authentication.
    POST /submit-form HTTP/1.1
    Content-Type: application/json
      "data": "example"
    • Response:
      HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
      WWW-Authenticate: Bearer


  • Usage: Updates or creates a resource at a specific URL.
  • Example: Updating user information or API data.
  • Scenario: A user attempts to update a resource without proper credentials.
    PUT /update-resource HTTP/1.1
    Content-Type: application/json
      "update": "new data"
    • Response:
      HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
      WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm="Access to the site"


  • Usage: Deletes a specified resource.
  • Example: Deleting user data or API resource.
  • Scenario: A user tries to delete a resource without valid authentication.
    DELETE /delete-resource HTTP/1.1
    • Response:
      HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
      WWW-Authenticate: Bearer


  • Usage: Applies partial modifications to a resource.
  • Example: Partially updating a user profile.
  • Scenario: A user attempts to partially update a resource without proper credentials.
    PATCH /update-partial HTTP/1.1
    Content-Type: application/json
      "partial_update": "new data"
    • Response:
      HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
      WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm="Access to the site"


  • Usage: Similar to GET, but it only retrieves the headers.
  • Example: Checking resource headers without fetching the entire content.
  • Scenario: A user tries to retrieve headers from a protected resource.
    HEAD /protected-resource HTTP/1.1
    • Response:
      HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
      WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm="Access to the site"

What is the Browser Compatibility of HTTP 401 Status Code?

The HTTP 401 Unauthorized status code is universally supported across all modern web browsers. This status code is part of the HTTP/1.0 and HTTP/1.1 standards, making it widely recognized and handled appropriately by any browser that supports these protocols.

Browser Compatibility

Here's an overview of how major browsers handle the HTTP 401 status code:

Google Chrome

  • Compatibility: Full support
  • Behavior: Chrome displays a default error page indicating that authentication is required. Developers can inspect this status code using the browser's developer tools under the "Network" tab. If the request requires authentication, Chrome may prompt the user to enter credentials.

Mozilla Firefox

  • Compatibility: Full support
  • Behavior: Firefox shows an "Unauthorized" error message. The browser will prompt the user to enter authentication credentials if required. The developer tools in Firefox allow inspection of network requests and status codes.

Microsoft Edge

  • Compatibility: Full support
  • Behavior: Edge displays a default "401 Unauthorized" error page. The browser may prompt the user for credentials. The developer tools in Edge provide detailed information about network requests, including status codes.


  • Compatibility: Full support
  • Behavior: Safari shows a "401 Unauthorized" message and may prompt the user to enter authentication credentials. The Web Inspector tool in Safari can be used to view the details of network requests.


  • Compatibility: Full support
  • Behavior: Opera will show an "Unauthorized" error page and prompt the user for credentials if necessary. Developers can use Opera's developer tools to inspect network activity and status codes.

 Best Practices for Handling HTTP 401

Handling HTTP 401 status codes properly is crucial for both security and user experience. Here are some best practices to follow:

Secure Authentication

  1. Use Strong Authentication Methods:

    • Implement secure methods like OAuth, JWT (JSON Web Tokens), or API keys.
    • Avoid using basic authentication unless it's over HTTPS, and even then, consider more secure alternatives.
  2. HTTPS Only:

    • Always use HTTPS to encrypt data in transit, protecting authentication credentials from being intercepted.

Clear Communication

  1. Provide Clear WWW-Authenticate Header:

    • Include a WWW-Authenticate header in your 401 responses to specify the required authentication method.
    • Example:
      HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
      WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm="Access to the site" 
  2. Custom Error Messages:

    • Customize error pages to inform users why they are seeing a 401 error and how they can resolve it.
    • Provide a user-friendly message explaining the need for authentication.

User Experience

  1. Login Redirection:

    • For web applications, redirect unauthenticated users to a login page instead of just showing a 401 error.
    • Ensure that after logging in, users are redirected back to their intended resource.
  2. Token Expiry and Renewal:

    • Implement token expiry for security and prompt users to re-authenticate before their token expires.
    • Provide mechanisms for token renewal to maintain user sessions without frequent logins.

Security Measures

  1. Rate Limiting:

    • Apply rate limiting to authentication endpoints to prevent brute force attacks.
  2. Audit and Monitoring:

    • Log authentication attempts and monitor for unusual patterns indicating potential attacks.
  3. Session Management:

    • Implement proper session management, including session timeouts and secure handling of session tokens.

Code Implementation Best Practices

  1. Centralized Authentication Logic:

    • Centralize authentication and authorization logic to avoid duplicating code and ensure consistency.
  2. Handle Different HTTP Methods:

    • Ensure that all relevant HTTP methods (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, etc.) properly handle authentication and return 401 when needed.

Example Implementations

Example in Express (Node.js)

const express = require('express');
const app = express();


// Middleware to check for authentication
function authenticate(req, res, next) {
  const authHeader = req.headers['authorization'];
  if (!authHeader) {
    res.set('WWW-Authenticate', 'Bearer realm="Access to the site"');
    return res.status(401).json({ message: 'Unauthorized' });
  // Validate token (this is just a placeholder, implement actual token validation)
  const token = authHeader.split(' ')[1];
  if (token !== 'valid-token') {
    return res.status(401).json({ message: 'Invalid token' });

app.get('/protected', authenticate, (req, res) => {
  res.json({ message: 'You have access to this resource' });

app.listen(3000, () => {
  console.log('Server is running on port 3000');

Example in Python (Flask)

from flask import Flask, request, jsonify

app = Flask(__name__)

def authenticate(f):
    def wrapper(*args, **kwargs):
        auth_header = request.headers.get('Authorization')
        if not auth_header:
            response = jsonify(message='Unauthorized')
            response.status_code = 401
            response.headers['WWW-Authenticate'] = 'Bearer realm="Access to the site"'
            return response
        # Validate token (this is just a placeholder, implement actual token validation)
        token = auth_header.split(' ')[1]
        if token != 'valid-token':
            return jsonify(message='Invalid token'), 401
        return f(*args, **kwargs)
    return wrapper

def protected():
    return jsonify(message='You have access to this resource')

if __name__ == '__main__':


The HTTP 401 status code, known as "401 Unauthorized," is a critical component in web security and user access control. It indicates that a request lacks valid authentication credentials and prevents unauthorized access to protected resources. Understanding and properly implementing the 401 status code ensures secure and efficient handling of authentication in web applications.

Key takeaways include:

  • Secure Authentication: Utilize strong authentication methods such as OAuth or JWT, and always transmit credentials over HTTPS to safeguard data.
  • Clear Communication: Provide clear instructions to clients via the WWW-Authenticate header and user-friendly error messages to guide users towards successful authentication.
  • User Experience: Enhance the user experience by redirecting unauthenticated users to a login page and implementing token expiry and renewal mechanisms.
  • Security Measures: Incorporate rate limiting, session management, and thorough monitoring of authentication attempts to bolster security.
  • Code Best Practices: Centralize authentication logic and ensure consistent handling across different HTTP methods.

By adhering to these best practices, you can effectively manage authentication, protect sensitive data, and provide a seamless experience for authenticated users. Whether you are implementing these principles in a Node.js or Flask application, the focus should always be on secure, clear, and user-friendly authentication processes.

Oskay Günaçar
Oskay Günaçar is a Technical SEO expert and backend developer. His main areas of interest are back-end programming, Python, Django, Go, semantic SEO, technical SEO. With more than 5 years of SEO experience, he has held SEO specialist positions at İkiler, Webtures, Boosmart, and companies, and has been involved in numerous projects as an outsourced expert. Through the TechSEOHub website, he aims to share the expertise and experience he has gained from managing and developing (SEO) processes for many successful and large websites in the industry, and to produce content for easy access to accurate and high-quality information.