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January 30, 2015

Deciphering a Link

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

I recognize that I’m odd, but I figure I’m not the only one who looks at a web page address and thinks, “What does all that crap mean?” Some addresses are pretty clean. Others look like the cat walked on the keyboard, lied down, and took a snooze.

In many ways, the typical web page address mirrors a pathname for computer storage. In fact, that’s exactly what it is: a pathname.

The URL (Universal Resource Locator) specifies the resource, such as a web page that’s accessed via the Hypertext Transfer Protocol. That’s http or https for a secure web page.

Next comes the domain name, the location where the information is stored.

After the domain name you may see a path to the specific page. If not, the browser opens a file named index.

Finally, after the page come options. These additional information tidbits are often the source of confusion when you attempt to decipher a link.

Some examples:

http://www.wambooli.com/

This address shows the URL http, then the domain name, wambooli.com. The contents of this address are the index file in the root folder of the domain’s web page storage area. This is the web page address for the Wambooli home page.

http://www.wambooli.com/help/pc/stickykeys.php

This address shows a specific page. It’s on the wambooli.com domain, in the help directory (or folder), then the pc directory. The web page file is named stickykeys.php. This is the same type of full pathname used on your computer to locate a specific file in a chain of folders.

http://www.wambooli.com/blog/?p=7135

This address is for this very page you’re reading. blog is the folder and you can assume that index is the filename because it’s not specified. The ? character signals the start of one or more options available to the web page. In this case the option is p=7135. The p variable is passed to the index file, where its value 7135 is evaluated. In English, p is the post number, and you’re reading post number 7135 on this blog.

Multiple options are separated by the & ampersand character. For example:

http://www.wambooli.com/fun/burma_shave/index.php?year=1933&Go=Go

In this address, two options are passed to the Burma Shave page: year and Go.

Beyond the ? and &, you might also see percent signs in a web page address. The % sign helps specify characters that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed in an address, or which would confuse the browser. As an example, if I chose not to use the underscore in burma_shave (above), you might see burma%20shave instead. In this case %20 is the code for the space character.

The % is followed by two digits. The value of those digits in base 16 (hexadecimal) represents the ASCII code for the character in question. Hex 20 is equal to decimal 32, the ASCII code for the space character.

Lots of percent signs in an address indicate characters not allowed in the URL. That’s a necessity because otherwise the characters might screw up web page redirection or cause other problems.

Overly complex and cryptic addresses are exactly that, and on purpose. The web page address is scrambled so that it cannot be decoded. In many cases, the address is temporary, used for tracking purposes, or made complex for security reasons.

Trivia tidbit: Web page addresses can be up to 2000 characters in length, although the maximum value is specific to the web browser. I would strongly recommend not even trying to make sense of such long web page addresses.

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