I can imagine how it feels when you’re cruising through your WordPress tasks, and suddenly you’re staring down the barrel of a 403 Forbidden Error. It’s like hitting a brick wall when all you wanted was to get your website to perform seamlessly. You’re not alone in this; even the most seasoned website managers run into this snag from time to time.

Let’s start by uncovering the usual suspects behind this digital roadblock. Often, it’s a case of incorrect file permissions. Your website is like a vault, and file permissions are the combination numbers. If they’re not set right, no entry is allowed! Or perhaps there’s a plugin that’s acting up. Plugins can be like that one rebellious orchestra member who plays out of tune, throwing the entire symphony into chaos. And let’s not forget about server configuration issues – they can inadvertently roll out the “no entry” sign on your website.

Feeling a bit better? Good. Now, roll up your sleeves because with this guide, you’ll turn from baffled to boss as you take control. By the time we’re through, you’ll not only understand the root causes of the 403 Forbidden Error but also know how to tackle each one with confidence. Let’s get your site back on track together!

Let’s talk about the 403 Forbidden Error

When you encounter a 403 Forbidden Error, you’re essentially running into a stern digital gatekeeper. This HTTP status code is the internet’s way of saying, “I understand what you want, but I’m not going to let you in.” It’s not about not finding the page; it’s about being denied access to it.

Permissions are often at the heart of the issue. Just like having a key doesn’t always guarantee you can open a door if you’re not authorized, having the correct URL doesn’t mean you can access a page if the permissions are out of alignment. On the other hand, security plugins are like overzealous guards, sometimes misinterpreting a harmless visit as a potential threat and slamming the door shut as a precaution.

Understanding that the 403 Error is a deliberate barricade, not a simple mistake or glitch, is crucial. It’s the server’s way of drawing a line, influenced by set rules or triggered responses to what it deems as unsuitable requests. But with the right approach, you can negotiate your way past this digital blockade and restore harmony to your site’s access ways.

Checking for .htaccess Corruption

Let’s walk through the steps to troubleshoot potential corruption in your .htaccess file, which can often be the culprit behind a 403 Forbidden Error.

Accessing the .htaccess File

To peek into the .htaccess file, you’ll need to use an FTP client or the file manager provided in your hosting control panel. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. FTP Client:
    • Open your FTP client and log in with your credentials.
    • Navigate to the root directory of your WordPress site, often named public_html or www.
    • Here you should see your .htaccess file. If you don’t, make sure your FTP client is set to show hidden files (since files starting with a dot are hidden by default on Linux based servers).
  2. Hosting Control Panel:
    • Log in to your hosting dashboard and access the file manager.
    • Go to the root directory of your website, similar to the FTP method.
    • Locate the .htaccess file. It should be listed among other files like wp-content, wp-admin, and wp-includes.

Renaming the .htaccess File

Once you’ve located the .htaccess file, try renaming it to diagnose the issue:

  • Right-click on the .htaccess file and select ‘Rename’.
  • Rename the file to something like .htaccess.bk and save the changes.
  • After renaming the file, try accessing your website.

If your site works after renaming the .htaccess file, it’s a strong indication that the original file was corrupt.

Creating a New .htaccess File

To create a new .htaccess file:

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Navigate to ‘Settings’ and then ‘Permalinks’.
  3. You don’t need to change any settings here. Simply click ‘Save Changes’ at the bottom of the page.
  4. WordPress will automatically generate a new .htaccess file with the correct permissions and default content.

By following these steps, you should be able to resolve the 403 Forbidden Error related to .htaccess file corruption. Remember, it’s always a good idea to back up your site before making changes to core files like .htaccess.

File Permissions Check

File permissions are critical in WordPress as they control who can read, write, and execute the files on your website. They’re the first line of defense against unauthorized access. Incorrect permissions can lock out legitimate users, leading to a 403 Forbidden Error, while too lenient permissions can expose your site to security risks.

Correct File Permissions for WordPress:

  • Directories: 755 or 750
  • Files: 644 or 640
  • wp-config.php: This is a critical file, so some recommend setting it to 440 or 400 to enhance security.

Checking File Permissions via FTP:

To check file permissions:

  1. Connect to your site using an FTP client like FileZilla.
  2. Navigate to the root directory of your WordPress installation.
  3. Right-click on a file or directory and select ‘File permissions…’ to view the numeric value representing the current permissions.

Setting Correct Permissions:

If you find that permissions are set incorrectly, here’s how to change them:

  1. For Directories:
    • Right-click on the directory and choose ‘File permissions…’.
    • In the numeric value field, enter 755 to set the permissions.
    • To apply these permissions to all subdirectories, check the option ‘Recurse into subdirectories’ and select ‘Apply to directories only’.
    • Click ‘OK’ to set the permissions.
  2. For Files:
    • Right-click on a file and select ‘File permissions…’.
    • Enter 644 in the numeric value field to change the file permissions.
    • To change the permissions for all files within a directory, choose ‘Recurse into subdirectories’ and ‘Apply to files only’.
    • Click ‘OK’ to apply the changes.

Remember to apply these permissions carefully and to avoid setting files to 777, as this allows anyone to write to your site, posing a significant security risk. If you’re unsure about changing file permissions, it’s a wise move to reach out to your hosting provider or a professional for assistance.

Deactivating All Plugins

Security plugins in WordPress are like vigilant gatekeepers, constantly on the lookout for suspicious activity. However, sometimes they can be a bit too protective, mistaking your legitimate actions for threats, which can result in a 403 Forbidden Error. If you suspect that a security plugin might be the cause, here’s how to troubleshoot the issue:

To see if a plugin is causing the error, you’ll need to deactivate all your plugins. You can do this in two ways:

  1. Via WordPress Dashboard:
    • Go to the ‘Plugins’ section in your WordPress dashboard.
    • Select all plugins, choose ‘Deactivate’ from the bulk actions dropdown menu, and click ‘Apply’.
  2. Via FTP:
    • Connect to your site using an FTP client.
    • Navigate to the wp-content directory.
    • Find the plugins folder and rename it to something like plugins_old or plugins_deactivate. This will deactivate all plugins at once.

If your site works after deactivating all plugins, it’s a clear sign that one of them was causing the 403 error.

Identifying the Culprit

To pinpoint the problematic plugin:

  1. Via WordPress Dashboard:
    • Go back to the ‘Plugins’ section in your dashboard.
    • Reactivate each plugin one by one, checking your site for the 403 error after each activation.
  2. Via FTP:
    • After renaming the plugins folder back to its original name, enter the folder.
    • Now rename each plugin folder inside one by one, similarly to the first step, and test your site after each change.

By following this process, you can identify which plugin is causing the issue. Once you’ve found it, you can choose to replace it with an alternative, reach out to the plugin’s support for help, or check the plugin’s settings to see if it’s being overly restrictive.

Remember, always ensure that you have a backup of your site before you start troubleshooting. This way, you can restore your website to a working state if anything goes wrong.

Checking for Hotlink Protection

Hotlink protection is a server-side setting designed to prevent other sites from using your bandwidth by directly linking to files on your server (usually images). While it helps save your resources, sometimes it can be overzealous, blocking legitimate users and resulting in a 403 Forbidden Error.

To check if hotlink protection is causing the 403 error, follow these steps:

  1. Check Your Hosting Control Panel:
    • Log in to your web hosting control panel (like cPanel).
    • Look for a section titled ‘Security’ or directly for an option named ‘Hotlink Protection’.
    • If hotlink protection is enabled, there should be a list of allowed referrers (websites that are allowed to link to your files).
    • Make sure your own site is on this list, and look for any other sites that need access to your files. If your domain is not listed, that could be the reason behind the 403 Forbidden Errors.
  2. Check .htaccess File for Hotlink Protection Rules:
    • Access your .htaccess file using an FTP client or file manager in your hosting control panel.
    • Look for rules that mention something like RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} which are typically used to enable hotlink protection.
    • If you find such rules, ensure that your domain is properly included as an allowed referrer.

If you determine that hotlink protection is indeed misconfigured:

  • Disable Hotlink Protection Temporarily:
    • You can try turning off hotlink protection in your control panel to see if that resolves the 403 error.
    • If the 403 Forbidden Error is fixed, you’ll know it was the hotlink protection causing the issue.
  • Update Hotlink Protection Settings:
    • If you need hotlink protection, update the settings to ensure that all legitimate referrers are included in the allowed list.
    • After updating, enable hotlink protection again and check if the site is accessible.

Remember, hotlink protection settings can vary based on your hosting provider, so if you’re unsure how to adjust these settings, it’s often best to contact your host’s support team for guidance. They can help ensure you’re protecting your site without unintentionally locking out your audience.


Regular maintenance and vigilant monitoring of your WordPress site are indispensable practices to ensure its smooth operation. It’s much like taking your car for a regular check-up; it can prevent a lot of headaches down the road. A 403 Forbidden Error can often be the first sign that something is amiss, serving as a prompt to take a closer look at the inner workings of your site.

Here’s a distilled checklist based on this guide for effective troubleshooting:

  1. Backup Regularly: Before you make any changes, ensure you have a recent backup. This is your safety net.
  2. .htaccess File: Check for corruption and reset it by renaming and regenerating a new file through the WordPress permalinks settings.
  3. File Permissions: Verify that directories are set to 755 and files are set to 644 to prevent access issues.
  4. Plugins: Deactivate all plugins and then reactivate them one by one to identify if a plugin is at fault.
  5. Hotlink Protection: Confirm that hotlink protection is not misconfigured and is allowing your own domain as a referrer.
  6. Server Configuration: Ensure that server settings are not inadvertently causing the 403 Forbidden Error. When in doubt, consult with your hosting provider.
  7. Security Measures: Review your security plugins and server-side settings to make sure they are not overly restrictive.
  8. Regular Monitoring: Keep an eye on your site’s performance and access logs. Sometimes they can provide the first clues to an issue.
  9. Keep WordPress Updated: Regularly update WordPress core, themes, and plugins to the latest versions.

By maintaining a checklist and regularly consulting it, you can not only swiftly address the 403 Forbidden Error but also maintain the overall health of your site. It’s about being proactive rather than reactive. By doing so, you’re not just fixing problems, you’re preventing them from happening in the first place. Encourage your team or manage your own schedule to include regular check-ups using this checklist as a guide, and you’ll likely see a decrease in unexpected 403 Forbidden Errors and an increase in your site’s uptime and performance.