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how to determine if site is down (through API)

I have a section of a website which writes info directly to Salesforce.  I need the ability to quickly test whether the SFDC is down.  I was just testing my webapp (while Salesforce was down) and the browser just hangs for a while - then I get a session timeout error (below).

Is there a quick way to check if the site is down, so that I can take the appropriate action?  Does the binding's timeout value also apply to the login command?  If so, I suppose I can set to timeout value to a low number (10 seconds?) for login, and then I'll bump it back to 60 seconds...


 faultCode: {http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/soap/envelope/}Server.userException
 faultString: java.net.SocketTimeoutException: Read timed out
        {http://xml.apache.org/axis/}stackTrace: java.net.SocketTimeoutException: Read timed out
        at java.net.SocketInputStream.socketRead0(Native Method)
        at java.net.SocketInputStream.read(SocketInputStream.java:129)
        at com.sun.net.ssl.internal.ssl.InputRecord.a(DashoA12275)