How to Set Up Smart 404 Handling

This article explains how to reduce load by discarding expensive 404s.

Most Magento servers are configured so that requests for non-existing files are routed through the Magento index.php. This enables search engine friendly URLs, which most people want. However, it might pose a problem when there is loads of traffic for (old) URLs for which Magento does not have a configured page. For example, other sites embed a non existing picture on your site ==> every hit will load the whole Magento framework. Oops!

Are You Affected?

Check the amount of 404s on your site that are processed by PHP. On Hypernode, you can run this command:

parse-nginx-log --yesterday --php --filter status=404 --fields duration,request,referer

This will give you a list of requests for non-existing objects and their referrers. Plus the time (in seconds) spent on handling these useless requests.

In the wild, we have seen 10-30% of capacity spent on these misconfigured 404s.

How to Fix It

If you control the referring page, obviously you should fix the source. If you do not, you have two options: redirect the traffic to a more appropriate location, or discard it altogether. It is smart to redirect pages to your frontpage (or a deep link product page), since this is most likely a human clicking on an old link. On the other hand, you could simply discard requests for URLs which indicate assets such as images, CSS and JavaScript. They are embedded, and the container object (a foreign page) will not benefit from embedding HTML instead of an image.

So the trick is: have the server send a static 404 instead of starting Magento to produce a 404 page. The webserver Nginx can do this a whole lot faster than PHP! Order of magnitudes faster. Perhaps even 500 times faster. That’s a lot faster, right?

Solution 1: Whitelist URLs

Use this, if you know the exact URLs that give 404s.

Create the force404.conf file:

touch /data/web/nginx/force404.conf

Create the following file at /data/web/nginx/http.force404.conf

map $uri $force404 {
    default 0;
    include app/force404.conf;

And now the real magic: generate a list of all static 404 assets, based on yesterday’s traffic.

parse-nginx-log --php --yesterday --filter status=404 --fields request |\
    grep -E '^(GET|POST)' | cut -f2 -d' ' | cut -d'?' -f1 | sort | uniq |\
    grep -Ei '.(jpg|png|css|js)$' | while read uri; do echo "$uri 1;";
    done > /data/web/nginx/force404.conf

Have a look at this file. Are you happy? Then activate the static 404 by creating the following file at /data/web/nginx/server.force404.conf:

if ($force404) {
    return 404;

Solution 2: Discard 404s Under Specific Folder

If you do not know the specific URLs but want to disable PHP processing for a specific part of your URL namespace (say /mymedia), you can create the following configuration at /data/web/nginx/server.disable_php_processing_for_mymedia.conf:

location ^~ /mymedia {
    try_files $uri =404;

You should make sure there are indeed no .php files under this folder, otherwise the webserver will happily serve them as plaintext (along with your precious code).


Monitor your access logs for the desired behaviour:

tail -f /var/log/nginx/access.log | parse-nginx-log --filter status=404 --fields request_time,handler,request

It should show you no PHP handler, and a near-zero request time. Celebrate another bunch of saved CPU cycles and a performance gain of your shop!