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Yahoo Error "Unable to process request at this time -- error 999"
Operating System: Any.
Background: This error appears to be a "catch-all" error code that Yahoo serves up when it doesn't have a more specific error code. It essentially means "Oops! Something went wrong but we don't know what, so we'll just say that Error 999 occurred."
The most common reason for receiving Yahoo Error 999 is due to some sort of bandwidth limiting system that Yahoo has put in place on their servers. Once you have exceeded your allotted bandwidth for a specific period of time Yahoo gives you this Error 999 message and doesn't allow you to access the service. People have primarily reported receiving this error when they try to access Yahoo Mail or Yahoo Groups, but other Yahoo services may also be affected.
Why has Yahoo done this? There are two reasons that I can think of:
There are many programs around that offer to automate access to various Yahoo services, i.e. check your Yahoo mailbox every 5 minutes, archive Yahoo Groups messages, download files from the Yahoo Groups Photos and Files sections, etc. If you use one of these automated tools then there is a very real possibility that you will run into the Error 999 message. Normal human usage of the Yahoo services shouldn't normally generate enough traffic to trigger the Error 999 message unless you're a very heavy user.
It appears that Yahoo uses your IP
address to track the amount of traffic you're generating on Yahoo,
and once you reach the limit you get blocked by the
Resolution Steps: I've seen many possible solutions offered to get around the Error 999 message. Many of the solutions seem rather dubious to me, but I will present them all here:
Why might the suggestions above that involve changing your IP address not work for some people? Possibly because your new IP address, which prior to being assigned to you may have been used by someone else that accessed Yahoo a lot, may have already been blocked by Yahoo. It is for this reason that using a proxy server to access Yahoo is a bad idea because many other people may be using the same proxy server to access Yahoo, and Yahoo will attribute all these people's traffic to the proxy server's IP address. In addition, you may actually be using a proxy without knowing it! This is called "transparent caching", where all outgoing HTTP requests are intercepted by a proxy (usually your ISP's proxy) and all responses are cached. This sort of set-up is typically used in large companies, so you may find that you can access Yahoo from home but not from work because other employees have been using Yahoo heavily.
Why might the suggestions above, that I rate as having a low probability of working, work for some people and not others? Possibly because the person inadvertently changed their IP address (i.e. They decided to clear out their cookies so they disconnected from the Internet, cleared out the cookies and then reconnected. Low and behold it worked! They then attribute clearing their cookies to fixing the problem, not realising that by disconnecting from the Internet and then reconnecting they probably received a different IP address).
Official Response From Yahoo:
Someone has reported receiving the following email from Yahoo:
This fits in with my theory of Yahoo monitoring traffic usage per IP address.
Another observation: It appears that being banned from one Yahoo service doesn't ban you from them all. I've been banned from Yahoo Groups but was still able to access Yahoo Mail.
For a lot more information regarding the Error 999 message see the following:
Update (14 March 2005): I am 99% certain that the Error 999 when using Yahoo Groups is caused by Yahoo's bandwidth limiting. But I'm beginning to think that when using Yahoo Mail the Error 999 may also be used to signify other errors in addition to the bandwidth limiting. This is because I've received several emails from people offering solutions to the Error 999 while using Yahoo Mail and the solutions shouldn't work if the problem was only caused by bandwidth limiting (everything from changing browsers to emptying cache and cookies). So it is beginning to look like the Error 999 when using Yahoo Mail can be caused by many things in addition to bandwidth limiting, possibly something local to the user (i.e. a browser configuration setting).
Update (12 April 2005): It has been reported to me that the Error 999 can also appear when trying to access a Yahoo Geocities hosted website. Not only does this appear on sites hosted for free but also on those that have paid for their hosting. The person who reported this to me contacted Yahoo to complain and within six hours their website was back online. However he is still getting the Error 999 messages intermittently.
Update (24 June 2005): It has been reported to me that the Error 999 can also appear when trying to access the Yahoo News message boards. I've been told that the problem goes away after a while (anywhere from minutes to several hours). Also offered was the suggestion of accessing Yahoo Mail via setting up your email client (i.e. Outlook Express, Eudora, etc) to use Yahoo's POP3 and SMTP servers (only available to those people that have signed up for Yahoo's Mail Premium service).
Update (17 September 2005): Since I originally wrote this article I've received hundreds of messages from people that have encountered the Yahoo Error 999 message. I am now 100% convinced that this error is a generic catch-all error code that Yahoo spits out whenever it doesn't have a more descriptive error to provide the user. Essentially Yahoo is saying "Something has gone wrong, but I don't know what so I'll just say Error 999 and leave it at that". Bandwidth limiting is one situation that can trigger this error, but so can many other things. Because Yahoo isn't providing a more detailed error message it is extremely difficult to work out exactly what the problem is. The problem could be at Yahoo's end or the end-user's end, it could be permanent or temporary.
Update (12 October 2005): I've had a report from someone that had a web accelerator that is designed to speed up web browsing. With the accelerator turned on they were receiving the Yahoo Error 999 message, but when they turned the accelerator off the error message didn't appear. This could be due to the accelerator using a proxy server (see my notes above about proxy servers and how they can cause an Error 999).
Update (28 October 2005): I've had a report from someone that suggested something that works for them:
Update (23 July 2006): Yahoo have now put up a much better error page that goes a little bit further to explain the problem. They now suggest that you scan your computer for spyware and viruses (yup, the old "blame it on a virus" excuse!), and they also say:
This answer seems to hint at the bandwidth limiting system that I talk about above, where Yahoo monitor how much traffic your IP number has used and cuts you off after a certain amount of time.
The new Error 999 page also has a link to a form that you can fill in to get help from Yahoo. Just don't hold your breath while you're waiting for a reply!
Update (22nd November 2006): I've had an email advising me that the Yahoo Error 999 can also occur when using Yahoo's 360° service. Apparantly it happens a lot when attempting to do mass deletions in the blog or of front page comments:
A Yahoo engineer that works on Yahoo 360 °has a bit more to say about Error 990 on the 360° service here.
Update (24th March 2007): If you get the Yahoo 999 Error when trying to upload a picture to Yahoo Profile then try the instructions found at:
Update (4th June 2007): Several people have contacted me saying they are getting the Yahoo Error 999 on the Yahoo! Answers service. This seems to occur a lot when people try to put links in their answers, if they remove the link then the error goes away. I've done some testing and found that I can answer questions and insert links into my answers, so obviously adding links doesn't always result in an Error 999. It may have something to do with how many questions the user has answered recently, i.e. heavy users of Yahoo! Answers may see this problem more than light users.
Update (15th August 2007): Rick Gallagher contacted me and said:
Update (3rd December 2007): I've had emails from several people saying that they are receiving the Yahoo Error 999 when they try to send email via Yahoo Mail and they include an email address within the body of the message. Some people have suggested adding extra characters on either side of the email address, i.e. you might add square brackets like this: [email@example.com]. Could it be that this is some sort of anti-spam effort on Yahoo's part?
Update (3rd December 2007): Three people have contacted me today to say they get the Yahoo Error 999 when trying to send an email that contained a CraigsList email address. I had a look at the CraigsList discussion forums and found lots of people there talking about this problem but no definite answers. One suggestion was to removing the "remailed" line as this seemed to avoid the error.
Update (5th December 2007): A couple of people have reported that the error only occurs for them when sending from their Yahoo Mail address to a HotMail address but not to a Gmail address.
Update (6th December 2007): I've had the following reported to me regarding the Yahoo Error 999 while using Yahoo Mail:
Update (19th February 2008): With regard to Yahoo Answers I've had a very interesting comment sent to me from MP. Seems they're having problems putting links to Wikipedia in their answers and they suggest:
Update (19th January 2009): I've had the following reported to me regarding the Yahoo Error 999 while using Yahoo Answers:
Update (2nd February 2010): I've had the following reported to me regarding the Yahoo Error 999 while using FireFox:
Recommended Reading For Yahoo Users: Yahoo! Hacks
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