Lesson 14: What is a URL Shortener?

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What is a URL shortener?

Graphic of two people talking

Let's say you want to share the following link on Twitter:

www.google.com/maps/place/Beasley's+Chicken+and+Honey/@35.777025,
-78.638112,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x9ede9af11fda231a

This URL (or web address) is 118 characters long, but Twitter limits posts to just 140 characters. That only leaves 22 characters to say something about the link! Luckily, there is an easy solution: URL shorteners.

A URL shortener is an online service that gives you a new, very short URL that is easier to share. It's not just useful with Twitter, but also with email, text messages, and any other situation where a long URL is unmanageable.

Let's shorten a URL!

Even if you've never shortened a URL, it's very easy. We're going to use TinyURL, but the process will be similar when using other shortening services.

The basic process is to copy the long URL into the URL shortener, and it will give you a shorter URL. The exact steps are below:

  1. Go to any website (you can use this link if you want). Websites with longer URLs are the best candidates for URL shortening, although any site will work.
  2. Select the URL in the address bar and copy it. You can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+C (or Command+C on a Mac) to copy it.
  3. Go to TinyURL.com and paste the URL into the space provided, using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+V (or Command+V).
  4. Click Make TinyURL.
  5. The shortened URL will appear. You can then copy the new URL and paste it wherever you want!


How it works

Basically, when the URL shortener gives you your shortened URL, it "remembers" the full address. When other users go to the shortened URL, they will be automatically redirected to the full address.

The webpage will still exist at the longer URL—the shortened URL is simply a shortcut to make the link easier to manage.

So what can you do with a shortened URL?

URL shorteners aren't just useful with Twitter. There are lots of situations where a shorter URL is more convenient:

  • Emails: Long URLS can sometimes wrap to two or more lines, which makes them unwieldy.
  • Resumes and cover letters: Shortened URLs can look a bit neater.
  • Text messages: Most text messages have a limit of 160 characters, making short URLs essential.
  • Phones: If you need to tell someone to go to a specific webpage, a shortened URL can save time and trouble.

Those are just a few examples, but URL shorteners can be used in any situation where a long URL would cause problems.

Other URL shorteners

We've focused on TinyURL, but there are many other URL shorteners out there. Below are just a few examples:

Some URL shorteners may require you to create a free account before using them, and the account may include additional features and perks. However, if you just need to shorten one or two URLs, we recommend using a service that doesn't require an account.

Some websites even have their own URL shorteners. A few of the most common ones are:

These specialized URL shorteners work the same as general-use ones, but they may be slightly more convenient to use because they are built into the site itself. For example, when you click the Share button on YouTube, it gives you a shortened version of the URL, starting with youtu.be (as shown below).

Screenshot of YouTube share options

A word of caution

Shortened URLs may use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and other characters. If you ever need to manually copy the URL (whether typing, writing, or telling it to another person), it's important to copy it exactly. For example, if you use a lowercase letter when it should be uppercase, it will go to a completely different website.

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