“Unable to open URL. Cannot download the information you requested” error in Word/Excel

A client called me asking for help with a problem on one of their Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. They were creating content for their new website that I was in the process of building and wanted to include bookmarks to content they had already created on the site.

Whenever they clicked on a link in their spreadsheet, they received an error “Unable to open <url>. Cannot download the information you requested”. They also tried doing it in Microsoft Word, but received a similar error.

1-04-2013 10-17-40 AM

I had them send me the spreadsheet and Word document – I don’t use Microsoft Office, but I do have the readers installed. Strangely enough, I got exactly the same error – which was very perplexing considering that the link itself was completely valid and worked in my browser.

I had them create some test links to other website and found that these worked without a problem. This proved to be a major clue to the problem – it seemed related to the website I was building rather than a problem in Word or anything else.

After a bit of Googling I found a technote that explained that the Office programs will attempt to access the link first before forwarding the URL to your browser to load the web page. If there is an error returned from the website for that URL, Word or Excel will refuse to load it.

On closer inspection I found that web pages on the site I was developing were indeed returning 404 errors. I had set up a basic layer of security prior to site launch by including a conditional in the header template of the WordPress site which checked to see if the user was logged in to WordPress as an editor or administrator, and if not – display an error message explaining the site was coming soon.

The wp_die function I was calling returned a 404 HTTP code to the browser when it output the error message – which is all that Word or Excel could get from the site – thus they believed (correctly) that the URLs were (currently) invalid. When I turned off the security to test it, the links in Word and Excel worked as expected.

The real problem was that Word and Excel provided less than meaningful error messages – if they had just forwarded the request to access the URL to a browser, we would have seen the meaningful error message from the website and worked out what was happening immediately.

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8 Responses

  1. By vanya rhea on 7th April, 2013

    The ONLY post I have seen that addresses the error I am having. Thanks.

  2. By brandnewyou on 7th September, 2013

    hello! after struggling with this EXACT symptom of opening links in MS Office, thought i would share HOW IT WAS FIXED.

    while searching i found very few fixes for it and the few that i found were ineffective. like you describe, the problem URL linked to a protected page that requires a user logon, while hyperlinks to Google or other public pages opened fine. also, this was not limited to MS WORD and EXCEL, but extended to Outlook and possibly to the entire Office suite (but this was not tested)

    HERE IS A WORKING FIX from Microsoft: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/218153

    the error described is not the exact same message (similar…) but the real key is that this page was also linked from another MS KB that expanded on the reasons the “Fix It” was issued (here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/899927/en-us, section “Hyperlinks from Office to Internet Explorer or to another Web browser”) and confirms your suspicion that the call to open the URL was not making it to the browser at all.

    hopefully if you are still having this issue or it crops up in the future, you will have the chance to apply this fix and not struggle with MS’s lack of meaningful error messages 😛 thank you.

    1. By Cz on 30th August, 2017

      Thanks man! Your link helped solving this!

  3. By Asa on 5th June, 2015

    This is happening to our office (2010) with some URLs from our site, but they’re straight HTML. No htaccess protection or CMS restrictions.

    The ForceShellExecute doesn’t work. Anyone have any other suggestions?

  4. By Stuart F on 23rd April, 2016

    Just to confirm I applied the ‘easy fix’ .msi found at the page in the previous reply – https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/218153 – and it resolved the problem.

    Windows 10
    Excel 2013 (15.0.4815.1000)

  5. By Jay Stephens on 9th December, 2016

    WOW, thank you. With your help I realized the Https address was getting an error, so I logged out of my account on the page I was trying to link which returned me to Http. In Excel, the link works with Http prefix, but not Https

  6. By william mekeel on 31st January, 2018

    What worked for me was changing …Office\9.0\Common… to …Office\{Office version #}\Common… in MS fix #218153. E.g. Office 2013 version is 15.

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