What is a .htaccess file?

The .htaccess file is a configuration file for web servers that controls access and behavior settings for websites. Learn more about its functions and how to use this file correctly.

What is a .htaccess file?

The .htaccess file is an important configuration file used by web servers to control the behavior of the website or a specific directory within a website. It is mainly used by Apache and Litespeed web servers, but is also supported by some other server platforms. The name ".htaccess" stands for "Hypertext Access" and refers to the fact that it controls access to web content.

How an .htaccess file works

An .htaccess file is processed at the server level and allows webmasters and administrators to make server-side rules and settings without direct access to the main server configuration. It can be used for a variety of different purposes, for example:

  • URL redirects or rewrites: The .htaccess file allows users to be automatically redirected from one URL to another (for example, from an outdated page to a new page) without the visitor noticing.
  • Directory protection: The file can be used to restrict access to certain areas of a website, such as administration areas or other more sensitive files.
  • Customization of error pages: The .htaccess file can be used to create custom error pages that are displayed when, for example, a visitor accesses a page that does not exist (error 404).
  • Enable caching and compression: Another use is to configure settings for browser caching and server-side content compression to optimize load times for users.

Create and edit a .htaccess file

To create or edit an .htaccess file, you need access to the website's file system, e.g. via the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) or the file manager offered by some hosting providers. The .htaccess file should be located in the main directory of the website and should also apply to certain subfolders with optional additions. If there is no .htaccess file in the directory, the webmaster should create one in plain text format and save it as ".htaccess" (without quotation marks). The desired rules and settings can then be added, whereby the exact syntax may vary depending on the desired function. Examples and documentation can be found in the official Apache htaccess documentation.

Caution when dealing with .htaccess files

Although the .htaccess file allows for many helpful features and customizations, it should be handled with care, as incorrect settings or syntax errors can cause the entire website to become inaccessible or buggy. Therefore, it is important to make a backup copy before making any changes to the file and to undo the changes in case of any problems. In addition, you should rely on trusted sources when looking for instructions or examples.

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