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What Is URL Shortening?

By David Bishop
Updated May 17, 2024
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A uniform resource locator (URL) is a string of text that allows computer users to identify and open a file, usually from a remote location. While there are several scheme names used to identify types of file transfers, the most common naming convention for URLs is the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Using this protocol allows the user to download websites, videos and other Internet content. Some URLs can be quite long, so programmers have developed several methods of URL shortening to create links that use significantly fewer characters. These shortened URLs are much easier to use when typing out emails, forum posts and blogs.

Since the beginning of the Internet, developers have had to contend with the system used to define files locations within the network. The early URL system utilized several scheme names to allow web browsers to locate and download content. As Internet development progressed, the HTTP and World Wide Web systems became the dominant protocols for delivering data to the end user. These protocols allowed Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) coders to define Internet domains, as well as home and sub-pages within these domains. The long length of some URL addresses led to misspellings and other errors and forced programmers to develop better methods for users to find files.

URL shortening has become one of the more popular methods for translating very long web addresses into much shorter text strings. This is typically accomplished by having a user copy and paste a long URL into a web-based application that then creates a short, unique link. This link will then redirect users to the original, longer URL. In addition to providing a shorter link, this method also allows users to share links while concealing the actual destination address.

URL shortening has proved to be useful for users composing emails or blogs, because it allows writers to include links to sub-pages with complicated addresses without cluttering up the text document with the long URL. This makes it easier for readers to either copy and paste the shortened URL into their own web browser or to type it in themselves. This method is vital for micro-bloggers and users of text messaging who may be limited to 140 characters in which to convey their content.

Some URL shortening applications rely on country code top-level domains to generate unique URLs, which results in traffic being routed through the country in question. While this has some advantages, it also can result in content being filtered or blocked, depending on the laws and regulations of the domain-holding country. This method also can lead to broken links in the future if the URL shortening company loses its contract with the host country or goes out of business.

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