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No Excuse for Linkrot

Linkrot is a preventable scourge- it is rampant despite the available of utterly simple solutions.

What is Linkrot? Jakob coined it early, when web sites are “improved” or “redesigned”, often web urls are changed, or files are moved to a new directory, or just taken off the server. This is the case where a web developer only sees what they work with, and they completely forget when they move files around on a web server, that they leave stranding out there:

  • anyone who had a bookmark to the abandoned URL
  • Anybody who had a hyperlink to a foresaken URL
  • Search engines who still have the crufty URL listed.

There is no excuse for not leaving a forwarding address, a “this page has moved” message, or better yet, an automated forwarder (see below).

This happened recently when someone asked about one of our older web pages. I had a link to an article on learning objects, from what was then called elearning magazine, at the once published URL:

http://www.elearningmag.com/elearning/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=5043

which, as you can click, generates a rather ugly, and mostly un-informative “page not found” message:

Error 404–Not Found

From RFC 2068 Hypertext Transfer Protocol — HTTP/1.1:

10.4.5 404 Not Found

The server has not found anything matching the Request-URI. No indication is given of whether the condition is temporary or permanent.

If the server does not wish to make this information available to the client, the status code 403 (Forbidden) can be used instead. The 410 (Gone) status code SHOULD be used if the server knows, through some internally configurable mechanism, that an old resource is permanently unavailable and has no forwarding address.

Now that is very meaningful to the layperson. Does that really build “brand loyalty” or build “customer relationships”?

So scraping back the URL a bit to http://www.elearningmag.com/ you can guess what happend, this URL now bounces to LTIMagazine (“Learning and Training Innovations”) where they proclaim:

LTImagazine.com regularly for ‘breaking’ news, real-world case studies, research reports, in-depth technology articles, and expert columns, and to connect with your peers. You can count on LTImagazine.com to provide the information you need for learning and training success

Doing a search on their site found the old article that had been available at:

http://www.elearningmag.com/elearning/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=5043

now living quite fine at:

http://www.ltimagazine.com/ltimagazine/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=5043

so you can pretty much guess that the magziane was bought, subsumed, and the web pages more or less moved in tact to a different web host. Nothing has really changed, yet at LTI magazine (remember what the “I” stands for?) despite their calim, you cannot count on for implementing the most brain dead solution- an HTTP redirect– that would transparently send all requests from the old web URL to the new one.

If the server is Apache, it is one line that needs to be added to a simple text file, the magic of an htaccess redirect that is capable of sending requests of an entire old publish URL directory to a new one.

I use this quite often, especially as we “retire” some of our 10 year old web pages from our main MCLI web server to some secondary ones, yet we live no links hanging in the air. For example, most of our footer pages have a link to my rather dated “home page” listed as:

http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/alan/

where I first retired it to a secondary server by adding this line to my .htaccess file

meaning that any web request to anything inside the URL http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/alan/ gets automatically sent to the corresponding page inside http://dommy.com/alan/ That means every single HTML, image, etc inside gets safely shuttled with one line of code.

The 301 tells search engines that the move is permanent so they can incorporate updates to their indexed files.

For example, this snippet of Lingo code from my NoJava Shop:

http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/alan/nojava/show/code/corr.html

automagically gets sent to its actual location:

http://dommy.com/alan/nojava/show/code/corr.html

This is bone head simple for any webmaster worth their glazed donuts. If they are unfortunate to not work on Apache, there are very likely other tools for setting up redirects, or symbolic links, or aliases.

But there is no, zero excuse, in this dog’s book, for a corportate site, especially one that is in technology, to leaving old URLs hanging dead, swinging in the breeze.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.