When the boss says “I have a problem,” my ears perk up. Lifehacker is fine; we haven’t been blown up by PAM. However, Melissa can’t get her Gmail to load no matter what she tries — an issue that’s been plaguing her for months. It’s a peculiarity that makes me go “hmmmm,” since I never have issues loading Gmail.
Melissa didn’t write me an email about this, but to keep the reader-questions tradition alive, here’s some of what she said to me in one of our Slack channels:
“This is a REAL PROBLEM for ME. I don’t have problems with any site but Gmail, and it’s been happening for months. I’ve googled it several times and never found any good information.”
Worry not, Melissa. I have a few ideas. The rest of this column is going to take us on a little trip down troubleshooting lane. I don’t have any specific advice for why Gmail—and only Gmail—isn’t really working for you. However, there are a few tricks I use in situations like these to get to the bottom of the problem.
Try a new browser
You didn’t mention what browser you’re using. (I could ask, but I’m going to treat your Slack messages like a regular reader question in the Tech 911 mailbag.) So, my first troubleshooting step would be to load up a different browser, like Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, or even that Chromium-based Edge that’s been fun to use lately. If a backup browser gives you perfect access to Gmail, great! We’re narrowing it down.
Check for problematic “helpful” apps
If you still can’t access Gmail no matter what browser you try, something at the system level might be to blame. This could be something screwy with your operating system (your hosts file, perhaps), or perhaps some app you’ve installed that’s restricting your access for a reason. You’ll probably know if you’ve recently installed any kind of new antivirus or anti-malware tool that might be acting up. If so, consider checking the settings on that one to see if you can whitelist Gmail; at minimum, try disabling it (temporarily!) to see if that fixes your issue at all. If not, your issue probably isn’t the app’s fault.
If you haven’t installed anything like that recently, you should still run through your computer’s applications to see if there are any similar apps running that you might not know about. Same deal; see what you can whitelist, and consider briefly disabling the apps to see if your issue resolves. If it does, consider looking for a new antivirus or anti-malware app if you have no idea how to get Gmail working with what you’re currently using.
Reset all the things
Other steps I’d try include resetting your cable or DSL modem, as well as your router (if separate). While I doubt something has changed in your router’s settings to make Gmail, of all things, not load anymore, it’s worth considering. Make sure your router is updated to the latest firmware version and, if that doesn’t fix anything, consider starting from scratch—reset the device to factory defaults and set up your wifi again. It shouldn’t take very long to do, and this will ensure that some random option wasn’t accidentally set somehow to mess up Gmail. (I doubt this is the case, but troubleshooting is troubleshooting.)
Stop using your ISP’s DNS
You might also want to consider switching your DNS to something else, as I’m assuming you aren’t already using a third-party service like Google DNS or 220.127.116.11. Once you’ve set that up on your computer, be sure to clear your DNS cache by typing “ipconfig -flushdns” into a Windows Command Prompt or one of the many commands for whatever version of macOS you’re using.
(You can also configure your router to use one of these DNS services. It’s a slightly more intricate process, but one that will force everything connected to it to use the better DNS.)
What if your browser is to blame?
Let’s head back to the beginning. If your backup browser loads a website that your normal browser cannot, make sure you’re running the most up-to-date version of the latter (which you can typically check by visiting its “About” page, usually buried under its Help menu). However, I bet that some extension of yours is messing everything up.
Odds are good it’s some kind of privacy-themed extension. Go through everything you use, and you should know what they are, to see if you can whitelist Gmail in any way. (I often find that uBlock Origin, great as it is, can mess up the experience on some sites I frequent.) If you’re at a loss, you can also go into your browser’s extension manager and disable everything. See if that gets Gmail to load. If so, slowly start enabling extensions one-by-one, loading Gmail between each, to see which is responsible.
You can also try clearing your browser’s cache and cookies to see if that fixes the problem. There might also be some kind of general issue with Gmail and cookies, so go into your browser’s settings (like this) and make sure that you aren’t accidentally blocking cookies for mail.google.com (or anything else Google-y). To be safe, whitelist mail.google.com and www.google.com, and see if that fixes the issue.
If this is all a bit tricky to figure out, you can simply reset your browser to its default settings, which should also fix anything you’ve accidentally done to prevent Gmail from loading. If you’re on Firefox, consider refreshing the browser, too—maybe you’re having a problem with your specific profile.
Maybe everyone else is having an issue, too
Though this isn’t going to help out your particular situation, I bet, I’d also recommend bookmarking Down For Everyone Or Just Me, which is a great tool you can use to confirm whether a website is actually down, or, well, the problem is all on your shoulders.
If all else fails...
I wouldn’t recommend it as a long-term solution, but HTML Gmail might also at least give you access to your inbox while you solve the problem. Of course, you could also integrate your Gmail with a third-party app; what you lose in Google’s UI, you’ll gain in... being able to send messages.
I think that’s it for my list, though. Hopefully one of these many solutions will let you back into Gmail. If not, let me know! And if you’re reading this column and you have a great idea of something I left out, let me know in the comments! I’ll pass the suggestions on.