Traditionally, link addresses to webpages include a path to a file’s location. For example, in the address www.yourdomain.com/images/family/dog1.jpg indicates that at yourdomain.com, the picture dog1.jpg lives in the “family” folder inside the “images” folder. As you can imagine, some of these addresses can get quite long. The links can get even more complicated if the site is built using the PHP programming language. This can pose a problem if you would like to share a link using software with a character limit, such as Twitter. Enter the URL shortening services. By registering your link with a company such as bit.ly or TinyURL, you can get a much shorter link address that will forward to your intended page.
As with many great ideas, some nefarious people have found a way to exploit this service. They use shortened URLs to mask links to malicious sites. So, how can you know if that shortened link someone posted or sent you is legitimate before you click it? Thankfully, there are a few ways to check.
- bit.ly – If your link has this text in the address, copy the link and paste it into your browser. Add a + to the end of the link and enter. This will bring you to a special bit.ly page that will give you details about the link, including the fully expanded URL.
- TinyURL – Copy and paste a TinyURL link into a browser address bar. Add the word preview before the address. For example, tinyurl.com/3k2k91 becomes preview.tinyurl.com/3k2k91. Following the preview link will bring you to a preview of the page with the fully expanded link without exposing you to malware.
- If you use the Mozilla Firefox browser, there is an add-on called bit.ly preview that will display information on the link while you hover over it with your mouse.
- Google Chrome users can also download a similar extension.
- If you have several links to check, or do not want to use the above options, you can paste shortened URLs into LongURL, ExpandMyURL or Long URL Please.
For more information on how to preview shortened URLs, please visit Joshua Long’s comprehensive guide. Though people you trust would not willingly send you a malicious link, it’s always a good idea to vet any links before clicking on them.