Getting out of Redirect Hell

Recently, many redirect services have been popping up. From my perspective, it seemed to start out with the success of which saw a lot of use in newsgroups, instant messaging and e-mail. The main advantage at the time was the prevention of problems with clients and servers adding linebreaks to long URLs posted verbatim, breaking the links in the process. With the advent of microblogging and Twitter in particular, TinyURL got more popular and other services started popping up like the popular

Now, people are voicing concern about Redirect Hell, since services have started creating redirections to redirection services. How does this work? Well, a service like is fairly simple. It allows you to enter an arbitrary URL. It quickly checks if it has seen it before and tells you its short version for it, if it has. If it hasn’t, it generates a new and unique short URL – often a random arrangement of characters like, which happens to link to this page. Whenever anyone clicks a shortened link, their browser tries to get them that page (starting with and the service just tells the browser the original address, sending the browser there instead (this is called redirection).

If this ‘original address’ is yet another service like – say TinyURL – it will tell the browser what it thinks the original address was and send it there, i.e. redirect it again. Try this one; did you enjoy the confusing page inbetween? Now Twitter plans on adding another service on top, changing all links to links starting with So, you could end up clicking a link, getting sent to a address, then getting sent to a address and finally ending up at the address you were interested in.

Now I am wondering: what is stopping a service like from resolving all known redirectors like themselves and directly redirecting the user to the non-redirecting result page?

Instead of the user going down the >> >> >> lolcats chain, Twitter could do that in it’s own spare time and update the initial >> link to >> lolcats. They would still get all the information they want (i.e. “how many people link to what” and “how many people clicked this link”) and their users get snappy performance. As a bonus, the full redirect chain only happens once. Everyone we care about wins.

I can see how c.s. wouldn’t be amused about getting cut out of the loop, but there’s really no stopping it. Unless of course they fight back and block any requests from known ip ranges, but there’s ways around that too…

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Jaap van der Velde

I live and breathe software, love games and spent many a vacation touring Europe on my motorcycle. Currently diving, riding, hopefully flying and gaining perspective around Oz.

2 thoughts on “Getting out of Redirect Hell”

  1. Someone brought to my attention that, as of a few days ago, the link I provided now actually does exactly what you’d want it to. Who said blogging doesn’t change the world? 😉

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