Link rot

Anyone who has been running a website for a few years (and paying attention) will be familiar with the reality of link rot. Sites get redesigned or removed from the web and, in so doing, links you have made to them in the past cease to be functional or lead to the right content.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge amount that can be done about this. For the people doing the linking, there is only so much effort that can be devoted to making sure old links are still current. It is feasible for a few critical links (blogroll items, links in key posts), but not in the case of hundreds or even thousands of old entries. If the content had been moved, there is at least the theoretical possibility of combatting link rot through updating. If the content is simply gone, there is really very little that can be done.

Those being linked can probably do the most in response. When they move from one type of site organization (or one site location) to another, they can provide tools to help those brought in through old links. The gold standard is to automatically redirect people to the correct pages in new locations. At the very least, sites should provide a mechanism for lost visitors to search for the content they wanted.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

17 thoughts on “Link rot”

  1. Here are some WebCite links to publications of mine. Hopefully, this will help them better withstand the ravages of time:

    Thesis: Expertise and Legitimacy: The Role of Science in Global Environmental Policy-Making.

    The Legality and Sustainability of European Union Fisheries Policy in West Africa.” MIT International Review. Spring 2007. p. 32-41.

    Sovereignty and Environmental Protection: Not Incompatible Values.” UBC Journal of International Affairs. 2004. p. 93-102.

    The Space Race as ‘Primitive’ Warfare.” UBC Journal of International Affairs. 2005. p. 19-28.

    Common Threats, Joint Responses: The Report of the 2005 North American Security Cooperation Assessment Student Tour.” Produced for the Canadian Department of National Defence. August 2005.

  2. I wasn’t talking about you specifically. I would be pleased if only 10-20% of all the links on this blog have become invalid since they were posted.

  3. Shorten This!
    Do we really need link-shortening services like
    By Farhad Manjoo
    Posted Tuesday, June 23, 2009, at 5:23 PM ET

    To find a Web page you wanted in the pre-Google era, you often had to guess at its address. Was General Motors,, or This led to all kinds of trouble—a speculative bubble in domain names, huge legal battles over valuable addresses, and unseemly attempts to benefit from the confusion. (Accidentally visiting would bring up stuff that was much less safe for work than the Starr Report.)

    In 1997, an entrepreneur named Keith Teare came up with what he considered a simple solution to the problem. His company, RealNames, sold natural-language keywords that would work as Web addresses. General Motors, for instance, could buy “General Motors,” “GM,” “Chevy,” “Chevrolet,” and so on. RealNames signed a deal with Microsoft to build its keywords into Internet Explorer, and RealNames became a dot-com darling. Microsoft bought a 20 percent stake in the firm, and there was talk of an IPO. But even though it espoused simplicity, RealNames was a bit kludgy; it didn’t work across browsers, and it created a single point of failure on the Web (if RealNames went down, all keyword-based addresses would stop working). Soon Google came along with a much handier way to find things online. In 2002, Microsoft dropped RealNames from IE. Just like that, the company was toast.

  4. LINK rot afflicts the connective tissue of the internet. If sites rejig their content carelessly, useful web addresses (technically known as URLs) may bring up only an error message. A technical glitch on October 8th at Twitter brought an ominous outbreak of link rot, when the microblogging site’s link shortener suffered a 40-minute outage.

    Shortening services turn long web addresses into handy short ones: a tweet featuring this article’s cumbersome address,, would instead show That is particularly handy for those constrained by Twitter’s 140-character message limit. But short links are useful anywhere on the internet where concision is valued.

    Convenience has its cost. Twitter’s glitch highlights a serious weakness, notes Mikko Hypponen, an internet-security expert. Manufactured short links are particularly prone to link rot. They contain no clue about the ultimate destination. If the providers vanish, so do all the vital signposts they have created and stored. When that happens, the user has little or no recourse.

  5. Broken Link Checker

    This plugin will check your posts, comments and other content for broken links and missing images, and notify you if any are found.

    This plugin will monitor your blog looking for broken links and let you know if any are found.


    Monitors links in your posts, pages, comments, the blogroll, and custom fields (optional).
    Detects links that don’t work, missing images and redirects.
    Notifies you either via the Dashboard or by email.
    Makes broken links display differently in posts (optional).
    Prevents search engines from following broken links (optional).
    You can search and filter links by URL, anchor text and so on.
    Links can be edited directly from the plugin’s page, without manually updating each post.
    Highly configurable.

    Basic Usage

    Once installed, the plugin will begin parsing your posts, bookmarks (AKA blogroll) and other content and looking for links. Depending on the size of your site this can take from a few minutes up to an hour or more. When parsing is complete, the plugin will start checking each link to see if it works. Again, how long this takes depends on how big your site is and how many links there are. You can monitor the progress and tweak various link checking options in Settings -> Link Checker.

    The broken links, if any are found, will show up in a new tab of the WP admin panel – Tools -> Broken Links. A notification will also appear in the “Broken Link Checker” widget on the Dashboard. To save display space, you can keep the widget closed and configure it to expand automatically when problematic links are detected. E-mail notifications need to be enabled separately (in Settings -> Link Checker).

    The “Broken Links” tab will by default display a list of broken links that have been detected so far. However, you can use the links on that page to view redirects or see a listing of all links – working or not – instead. You can also create new link filters by performing a search and clicking the “Create Custom Filter” button. For example, this can be used to create a filter that only shows comment links.

    There are several actions associated with each link. They show up when you move your mouse over to one of the links listed the aforementioned tab –

    “Edit URL” lets you change the URL of that link. If the link is present in more than one place (e.g. both in a post and in the blogroll), all occurrences of that URL will be changed.
    “Unlink” removes the link but leaves the link text intact.
    “Not broken” lets you manually mark a “broken” link as working. This is useful if you know it was incorrectly detected as broken due to a network glitch or a bug. The marked link will still be checked periodically, but the plugin won’t consider it broken unless it gets a new result.
    “Dismiss” hides the link from the “Broken Links” and “Redirects” views. It will still be checked as normal and get the normal link styles (e.g. a strike-through effect for broken links), but won’t be reported again unless its status changes. Useful if you want to acknowledge a link as broken/redirected and just leave as it is.

    You can also click on the contents of the “Status” or “Link Text” columns to get more info about the status of each link.

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