It's a heart-wrenching moment when your web browser reports that it's no longer connected to the internet. But there's no reason to panic: We've distilled the troubleshooting process into five easy steps. Keep this list close by in case your internet suddenly breaks (or pass it on to friends and family the next time they call on your assistance).
Of course there are many different problems that could potentially affect your broadband, but the tips below should be enough to cover the most common issues -- even if you can't get everything sorted straight away, you can at least work out what's going wrong and take steps to fix it.
1. Power Cycle Your Router
It's an IT troubleshooting cliché, but that's because it often works: turning off your router and on again (or cable box or modem or any other device that brings the internet into your home) should clear away any temporary bugs and issues, forcing the device to reconnect to the web from scratch with a clean slate.
Most routers have a reset button on them for this specific purpose but you can always unplug the hardware as well. Wait 30 seconds or so before restarting the device and then give it (and your computer) a few minutes to get up and running again. Internet fixed? Good, you can stop reading here.
2. Test Multiple Devices
If rebooting your router doesn't work, the next step is to determine whether the problem's inside or outside of your home. A quick way of doing this is to see if your smartphone, tablet, or any other computers can get online. If they can, plug a laptop directly into the router using a spare Ethernet cable.
If none of your devices can get online, there might be a problem at your Internet Service Provider's end. Check your ISP's official website and Twitter feed to see if there's a problem currently being reported (using cellular data, of course) or call them to see if they can offer any estimate on when a fix will arrive.
3. Troubleshoot Wi-Fi Issues
Not everyone has a laptop and Ethernet cable at home, but if you do, you can check if the problem is with your internet as a whole (see previous section) or the Wi-Fi in particular. There are all kinds of ways to improve the Wi-Fi in your home, but they don't necessarily apply to a sudden and unexplained drop.
If your Wi-Fi was working but isn't anymore (and the problem persists across multiple devices) it's going to be hard to pinpoint the problem. You should check your router's settings (changing the Wi-Fi channel might help), reverse any recent modifications to the network, and make sure no one in the house has somehow changed the network password.
As we've indicated, there are no obvious solutions here, but if you've just decided to put a wireless device like a baby monitor or microwave next to your router then this could be one potential cause (you really need wireless devices like these as far apart as possible to avoid signal interference).
Heavy bandwidth use by one particular device might drag the internet connection speed down, but then you'd probably see the effect on a wired connection as well. Using a speed test site or app might give you some more clues as to what's causing the wi-fi to slow down or drop completely.
4. Troubleshoot Issues With a Specific Device
If only one of your devices can't get online, the focus of your troubleshooting can be much narrower, and it should be easier to find a fix. Resetting the device often works wonders, forcing a reconnection with the router and device that can iron out plenty of temporary problems.
You should make sure that the device is updated and running the latest available version of its operating system. On computers that applies to Wi-Fi adaptor firmware as well. If necessary, uninstall and reinstall the drivers associated with your Wi-Fi hardware to make sure they're functioning correctly.
If you're troubleshooting a laptop or desktop, then a thorough virus scan is well worth your time, and both Windows and OS X include wireless diagnostic tools that can help you pinpoint exactly what's gone wrong.
It's also worth trying a different web browser. It's possible that an extension, plugin or browser bug is the root cause of your internet hangups. If you do find your browser's at fault, uninstall and then reinstall it to force a complete reset of the software.
Here we're specifically concerned with a device that was getting online fine but now isn't, so a recent change is most likely to blame: try uninstalling any recently added apps (particularly network-related ones such as VPN tools). As a last resort, you can try running a factory reset on the device.
5. Other tips
In terms of good practices and habits: keeping everything up-to-date and current is important, and that means the software and the firmware for your devices (hosted on manufacturer websites and support channels) can help you. Any bugs will be squashed along the way.
If you think you've got neighbours likely to hack into your network, then head to your router's settings and change the wi-fi password (the manual should have pointers if you aren't sure) -- that means every device will have to reconnect to the router again from scratch, using the new password.