Fortunately, an insightful reader named Bas pointed out that the errors were actually PHP functions. Bas explains:
The two functions (
Using this information to investigate the issue, I learned that PHP contains a function called
html_errors that “produces hypertext links that direct the user to a page describing the error or function in causing the error.”1 Together with
html_errors function controls the presence and formatting of PHP’s
docref error messages.
The error messages generated by the
html_errors function appear in several locations, including PHP log files, user error handlers, and
$php_errormsg variables. Of course, the revealing of sensitive error information should be disabled in the server’s PHP configuration settings because it reveals potential security vulnerabilities. Live reporting of error information may be useful during the development stage, but it is wise to disable such functionality on production servers.
robots.txt + .htaccess
Equipped with the previous information, we return to our previously discussed 404 errors. As we now may see, the bizarre errors that have been baffling us for many months turn out to be caused from the relatively linked function references that are produced by the PHP function,
html_errors. It all makes sense now. Before we realized this, we were forced to throw down a tough set of
disallow rules via
robots.txt to prevent search engines from following these automatically generated function links:
That seemed effective enough — at least it stopped us from seeing the symptoms of the underlying problem. Now that we have discovered the source of the misdirected links, we may focus our attention on eliminating them entirely. Once again, thanks to the functional symbiosis between Apache and PHP, we summon the mysterious powers of htaccess to forge a true solution. And, despite the confusing nature of our bizarre 404 errors, the answer is ridiculously simple:
# disable display of php errors
php_flag display_startup_errors off
php_flag display_errors off
php_flag html_errors off
php_value docref_root 0
php_value docref_ext 0
Simply copy & paste the previous code into your site’s root htaccess file and say goodbye to the pointless 404 errors. This snippet of htaccess code employs a series of
php_flag funtions to override the settings in your server’s
php.ini file. Here, we are disabling all
docref_ext) to disable the formatting of the HMTL error links. Technically, this isn’t necessary because we are disabling the links themselves with the previous three lines, so feel free to omit these last two directives at will.
Using these htaccess directives is ideal for shared hosting environments where access to
php.ini is not a reality. However, in situations where
php.ini is accessible, a better solution is to adjust the configuration settings directly:
display_startup_errors = Off
display_errors = Off
html_errors = Off
Of course, it is always a good idea to maintain a private log of PHP errors. To keep an eye on our now-suppressed errors, place a copy of the following code into your root htaccess file:
# log php errors
php_flag log_errors on
php_value error_log /home/domain/private/php-errors.log
Remember to edit the path to
php-errors.log and ensure that the file is writable by the server.
Finally, a big thanks to Bas and Sick of Debt for taking the time to respond to my suspicious article. With their insightful help, I was able to locate the information required to solve the issue. Thank you!