Artemy Lebedev

§ 48. Striving for the purity of URL

March 23, 2000

Unfortunately the only channel of the stream flowed close under the huts, the river elsewhere being so obstructed with rocks that navigation of any kind was impossible.

J. Verne. Dick Sands the Boy Captain

Let’s take a look at one of the crucial points of web navigation, the user’s ability to pinpoint his whereabouts at a website.

One should not only make the page URL as short as it can be, but also make sure that it’s decipherable. All you need for that is being a little more careful at the early stages of building a website. Before tumbling the valuable megabytes of texts into the abyss of the web, take your time to give some thought to what directory and file names should look like.

Housekeeping tip

URL stands for uniform resource locator. This abbreviation first emerged in a working document by Tim Berners-Lee on March 21, 1994.

Berners-Lee initially used UDI for uniform document identifier.

To begin with, you need to think about the language in which to enter file names. English is the best language to use for that. Mixing languages is highly inadvisable. For example:

This section has the following address: Every user may travel through the site by deleting some parts of the address back to the nearest slash. Deleting “48” will take you to the sections directory and so on.

If the address were something like ?q=%E8%E4%E8%EE%F2%F1%EA%E8%E9+ %E7%E0%EF%F0%EE%F1+%ED%E0+ %F1%E0%E9%F2&num=10, the user would be completely lost. Many website builders are unfortunately quite negligent about the purity of URL, but never with impunity: users forget all of internal pages and never figure out what the address is about.

Obiter dictum

Long and unreadable addresses are often a by-product of programmers’ laziness. It makes sense to gather programmers and make it clear to them once and for all that the website will not be launched until URLs change for the better. Shock is guaranteed, but next time they will get it right.

Hence the rule: the user should always have a chance to get a sensible and predictable message after backspacing part of the address to the nearest slash.

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