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Etsy Official Sheds Light on Recent Outages

Site makes changes to prevent future issues.

Etsy was offline on two days in late July and early August. On Monday, the company’s head of Technical Operations explained why the outages occurred and how Etsy plans to prevent similar disruptions in the future.

John Allspaw, Etsy’s vice president of Technical Operations, writes that the two outages were unrelated. The first, which occurred on July 30, was caused by two upgrades they were supposed to deploy separately but were accidently released at the same time. The second outage, which happened on Aug. 10, was caused by a shortage of space on Etsy servers. Allspaw explains that during these times, officials chose to take the marketplace offline to ensure everything was working properly.

The details

Allspaw notes that Etsy needs to create unique ID numbers for new elements on the site like new shops and listings. To do this, its servers need to be told what range these numbers will be in, so they can set aside memory space for them. However, the space they set aside wasn’t big enough for the IDs, causing errors. Officials decided to take the site down to address the issue and confirm that IDs generated were unique.

Officials also took the site down when Etsy accidently upgraded its site to support additional languages and, at the same time, made updates to how its databases handle nightly backups that were slowing down the site.

Etsy will improve its automated tools to make it more clear to engineers what upgrades are being made to the site

“We expected to make those improvements separately,” Allspaw notes. “Instead, they were accidentally made at the same time.”

Once officials confirmed that the databases were working properly, the site was brought back online.

Avoiding future problems

To prevent this from happening in the future, Allspaw says Etsy will improve its automated tools to make it more clear to engineers what upgrades are being made to the site, and will change the way it does major upgrades so they can’t be done with other site improvements.

To prevent future problems with space and unique ID numbers, Etsy will make changes to its database to “become even stricter about not allowing values that are larger than they are expected in order to fail in a louder, safer way,” he continues. “We would rather a member get an error message than allow our data to be corrupted.”

Allspaw adds that Etsy will also build automated tests so developers will easily see if numbers created are larger than expected and could cause problems.

“Unexpected outages can present a decision: 1. Keep the site online and risk either being too slow to be usable or taking in bad data, [or] 2. Take the site offline in order to fix the slowness and verify the data is correct,” he says. “In each case, we decided to take No. 2 because it’s safer for the community.”

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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