Apache will return 403 (Forbidden) instead of 404 (Not Found) if the Indexes option is turned off. This is because with Indexes turned on, it considers it something it might be able to serve in the future. With Indexes off, it will never serve that page in the future (unless Indexes is turned back on).

The 404 plugin code only checks for 404, not 403. It should check for both.

There are plenty of reasons a web server might 403. In most of those cases, trying to create a page where the forbidden content is is not the right thing for ikiwiki to do. --Joey

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