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No, it's not about O.J.
It's about millions
of people using the
wrong addresses for
their web pages.




Contents:
1. The Problem
2. The Proof
3. Why Should I Care?
4. Conclusion

Home
"You think you use the correct URL for your pages? Are you sure?"

1. THE PROBLEM

The problem is simple: There are millions of people on Internet giving out the wrong URL's for their web pages. And they don't even realize it. Why? Because the URL that they give does work 99% of the time. So, they have no reason to doubt that it's not the right one.

Okay, here's an example. Consider these two URL's:

http://www.netexpress.net/~mkruse
http://www.netexpress.net/~mkruse/

What?! The only difference is that slash at the end, right? What difference does that make? The difference is that if you give out the top address, it's wrong. That is not the address of my site, and if someone requests it the server will tell them that what they actually are looking for is the second address. Fortunately for the user, the browser is smart enough to respond correctly and automatically load the second one for you. So you never notice that the address is actually wrong.

2. THE PROOF

Still skeptical? Watch this. This is exactly how a web browser would connect to a web server and request a page, and the response the server gives:

linux:~> telnet www.netexpress.net 80
Trying 206.65.64.2...
Connected to shamu.netexpress.net.
Escape character is '^]'.
GET /~mkruse HTTP/1.0

HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently
Date: Sat, 14 Jun 1997 22:36:41 GMT
Server: Apache/1.2b7
Location: http://www.netexpress.net/~mkruse/
Connection: close
Content-type: text/html

<HTML><HEAD>
<TITLE>301 Moved Permanently</TITLE>
</HEAD><BODY>
<H1>Moved Permanently</H1>
The document has moved
<A HREF="http://www.netexpress.net/~mkruse/">here</A>.<P>
</BODY></HTML>
Connection closed by foreign host.

That's what the server's response is. Notice the web page I want is not there.
Instead, the server responds by telling me that what I really want is actually somewhere else. The two bold lines (bold added by me) are the server's way of direting me to the actual location of the page I want. The browser would see the 301 response code and go to the address in the Location: header, which you can see is the correct URL from above.

3. WHY SHOULD I CARE?

If the browser takes care of it, and it will actually work anyway, you may be asking yourself why you should really care. Well, here are three good reasons:

  • Slower Response: If someone goes to the incorrect URL, their browser makes the connection, makes the request, realizes it should look somewhere else, makes another connection, makes another request, and finally gets what it wants. That's a lot of extra work, and on slow network connections it can cause a few seconds delay and maybe frustration for the user.
  • More Server Work: If you use incorrect links on your pages, your server will have to answer twice as many requests because of all the incorrect URL's. Why slow down your server with the extra work, especially if you're getting thousands of hits a day?
  • Newbie Alert: If you're trying to do serious HTML work and use the incorrect URL for addresses, it can be a sign that maybe you're more of a web newbie than you claim. Besides, telling people this little "secret" can only make you look smarter :)

4. CONCLUSION

If you're giving a URL, make sure you use the correct syntax. If you're giving a directory name and not a specific filename, make sure you end it in a / correctly. If everyone on Internet did this, imagine how much traffic would be reduced around the world. So if you've made this mistake, fix your pages and your signatures. And if you see the mistake in other places, be sure to tell the people about it.

This is my experiment with (purely voluntary) Micro-Payments. Basically, web users make very small cash contributions to the sites they find most useful. If many people do this, the web site operators can be rewarded without having to resort to banner ads, etc. This link will take you to PayPal where you can donate $2 to support my site (please... no need to donate more than once). This is purely voluntary and is in no way a "fee" for the information I put on my site. Thanks.

I write these articles to help people. Please let me know how I'm doing!
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June, 1997
Copyright 1997, Matt Kruse <matt@mattkruse.com>
This document may not be reproduced in any way without the permission of the author