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How to Shorten a URL Using a URL Shortener Service

Need to shorten a URL? This Webopedia reference guide will help you understand what a URL shortener is and how these URL redirect services work.

What Is a URL Shortener?

A URL shortener is a way to make a long URL (Uniform Resource Locator) shorter.  URL shortening services are Web tools (or services) that allow you to provide a long URL to a specific webpage and obtain a much shorter URL from the service provider.

Other Names for Short URLs

There are a number of phrases and words used to describe services to create a short URL. The list includes URL redirection, URL forward, URL generator, URL shortener, URL shortening, URL shrink and URL shrinker. Both URL shortener and URL shrinker tend to be the most commonly used.

Short URL Explained

Why Shorten a URL?

One of the most common reasons why people want a short URL is to save character space when typing messages on Twitter and other microblogging sites.  These sites limit the number of characters you can use in an update and a long URL means less space for a message.

Another good reason to use a URL shortener is when you have a lengthy and unattractive URL on an ISP or free Web hosting service. In some cases you can use a shortener to have a more pleasing Web address. Short URLs are also useful when sharing an extremely long URL over instant messaging or in email where there is a chance the long link could be broken during message transmission.  

Others may want to use a short URL to hide the originating domain name when posting a URL. This can be for legitimate reasons, but unfortunately this is a feature of short URLs that is frequently abused by spammers.

How Does a URL Shortener Work?

A URL shortener works because of a Web server function called a “Redirect” (URL redirection). Basically the new URL (the short URL) will redirect users to the old URL (your long URL).  When you enter a URL a browser, this actually sends an HTTP command to the Web server directing it to fetch and transmit the requested Web page. There are a series of redirect HTTP response codes that a server can return, including the following:

- 301: (permanent) Returns a permanent redirect status indicating that the resource has moved permanently.
- 302: (temp) Returns a temporary redirect status.
- 303
: (see other) Returns a "See Other" status indicating that the resource has been replaced.

Example: How to Shorten a URL Using Bit.ly

Webopedia's Twitter Dictionary page has a lengthy URL. If we want to post a link to this page on Twitter we would use a URL shortener to decrease the length of characters in the URL.  Using the Bit.ly service you simply enter in the page URL you want to make short and click the "Shorten" button on the Bit.ly homepage.

Short URL with Bitly

In this case the resulting short URL is: http://bit.ly/3wMIVa. When a person clicks the http://bit.ly/3wMIVa hyperlink, bit.ly uses a 301 redirect and sends users to the "permanent URL” at http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/Twitter_Dictionary_Guide.asp.

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.

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