WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram not working on your smartphone? It’s not just you. A colossal outage has caused issues for hundreds of millions of users across the globe. To hint at the sheer scale of this outage, WhatsApp alone boasts more than two billion users every month – crowning it as the most popular messaging platform on the planet. And WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger and Facebook are all offline.
But what is behind the outage, which started around 4.50pm this afternoon? Facebook has acknowledged the problems, apologising to users. However, it has remained tight-lipped about the cause of the problems. Posting on Twitter – which is not owned by Facebook and therefore working as expected – the Californian social network shared: “We’re aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products. We’re working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”
Why are WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram not working?
Although nothing has been confirmed, a number of sources suggest that a DNS issue could be behind the global outage.
For those who don’t know, in a nutshell, a DNS is a phonebook for your gadget. The first thing that happens when you type a URL into your browsers’ address bar – like express.co.uk, for example – is that your device translates that text into an IP address that it understands, something like 192.168.1.1.
To translate the human-friendly web address in plain English into the computer-literate IP address, your machine uses a DNS. This acts like an enormous phonebook which tells your browser what IP address it needs to load to take you to the website you’re looking for.
According to some reports, Facebook’s DNS records were withdrawn from the global routing tables a few hours ago – triggering a huge outage. Facebook has yet to confirm whether a withdrawal of its DNS records led to the widespread problems with WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and more. Previous problems with DNS providers, like Cloudflare, caused outages with a number of popular websites, from Amazon to Discord, Feedly, Shopify and League of Legends.
If the reports are accurate, Facebook withdrew its own DNS records, which would explain why only Facebook-owned platforms have been impacted by this outage. According to some reports, Facebook’s internal messaging apps – which are used by employees to communicate – are also not working. That has purportedly hampered teams’ efforts to coordinate a fix, which might explain why the problems have dragged on for so long compared to WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram outages in the past.
Worst still, New York Times reporter Sheera Frenkel claims that some Facebook employees have been left unable to gain access to the office due to the problems stopping their security badges from being recognised by the computer. It’s possible that employees are struggling to physically access the computer servers needed to update the records to DNS servers around the world – prolonging an already incredibly drawn-out outage.
According to one expert, “it’s going to be interesting to see how long it takes” for Facebook to restore its DNS records and restore its services, including WhatsApp and Messenger. That suggests this isn’t going to be an easy fix.
Brian Krebs, a renowned investigative journalist and New York Times best-selling author, has explained how the DNS error works. He writes: “In simpler terms, sometime this morning Facebook took away the map telling the world’s computers how to find its various online properties. As a result, when one types Facebook.com into a web browser, the browser has no idea where to find Facebook.com, and so returns an error page.”
“In the meantime, several different domain registration companies listed the domain Facebook.com as up for sale,” Brain Krebs adds, “There’s no reason to believe this domain will actually be sold as a result, but it’s fun to consider how many billions of dollars it could fetch on the open market.”