URLs are UI – Scott Hanselman

Dev Tips


What a great title. “URLs are UI.” Pithy, clear, crisp. Very true. I’ve been saying it for years. Someone on Twitter said “this is the professional quote of 2017” because they agreed with it.

Except Jakob Nielsen said it in 1999. And Tim Berners-Lee said “Cools URIs don’t change” in 1998.

So many folks spend time on their CSS and their UX/UI but still come up with URLs that are at best, comically long, and at worst, user hostile.

Search Results that aren’t GETs – Make it easy to share

Even non-technical parent or partner things URLs are UI? How do I know? How many times has a relative emailed you something like this:

“Check out this house we found!
https://www.somerealestatesite.com/
homes/for_sale/
search_results.asp”

That’s not meant to tease non-technical relative! It’s not their fault! The URL is the UI for them. It’s totally reasonable for them to copy-paste from the box that represents where they are and give it to you so you can go there too!

Make it a priority that your website supports shareable URLs.

URLs that are easy to shorten – Can you easily shorten a URL?

I love Stack Overflow’s URLs. Here’s an example: https://stackoverflow.com/users/6380/scott-hanselman¬†

The only thing that matters there is the 6380. Try it https://stackoverflow.com/users/6380 or https://stackoverflow.com/users/6380/fancy-pants also works. SO will even support this! http://stackoverflow.com/u/6380.

Genius. Why? Because they decided it matters.

Here’s another https://stackoverflow.com/questions/701030/whats-the-significance-of-oct-12-1999 again, the text after the ID doesn’t matter. https://stackoverflow.com/questions/701030/

This is a great model for URLs where you want a to use a unique ID but the text/title in the URL may change. I use this for my podcasts so https://hanselminutes.com/587/brandon-bouier-on-the-defense-digital-service-and-deploying-code-in-a-war-zone is the same as https://hanselminutes.com/587.

Unnecessarily long or unintuitive URLs – Human Readable and Human Guessable

Sometimes if you want context to be carried in the URL you have to, well, carry it along. There was a little debate¬† on Twitter recently about URLs like this https://fabrikam.visualstudio.com/_projects. What’s wrong with it? The _ is not intuitive at all. Why not https://fabrikam.visualstudio.com/projects? Because obscure technical reason. In fact, all the top level menu items for doing stuff in VSTS start with _. Not /menu/ or /action or whatever. My code is https://fabrikam.visualstudio.com/_git/FabrikamVSO and I clone from here https://fabrikam.visualstudio.com/DefaultCollection/_git/FabrikamVSO. That’s weird. Where did Default Connection come from? Why can’t I just add a “.git” extension to my project’s URL and clone that? Well, maybe they want the paths to be nice in the URL.

Nope. https://fabrikam.visualstudio.com/_git/FabrikamVSO?path=%2Fsrc%2Fsetup%2Fcleanup.local.ps1&version=GBmaster&_a=contents is a file. Compare that to https://github.com/shanselman/TinyOS/blob/master/readme.md at GitHub. Again, I am sure there is a good, and perhaps very valid technical reason. But another valid reason is very frank. URLs weren’t a UX priority.

Same with OneDrive https://onedrive.live.com/?id=CD0633A7367371152C%21172&cid=CD06A73371152C vs. DropBox https://www.dropbox.com/home/Games

As a programmer, I am sympathetic. As a user, I have zero sympathy. Now I have to remember that there is a _ and it’s a thing.

I proposed this. URLs are rarely a tech problem They are an organizational willpower problem. You care a lot about the evocative 2meg jpg hero image on your website. You change fonts, move CSS around ad infinitum, and agonize over single pixels. You should also care about your URLs.

SIDE NOTE: Yes, I am fully aware of my own hypocrisy with this issue. My blog software was written by a bunch of us in 2002 and our URLs are close to OK, but their age is showing. I need to find a balance between “Cool URLs don’t change” and “should I change totally uncool URLs.” Ideally I’d change my blog’s URLs to be all lowercase, use hyphens for spaces instead of CamelCase, and I’d hide the technology. No need (other than 17 year old historical technical ones) to have .aspx or .php at the end of your URL. It’s on my list.

What is your advice, Dear Reader for good URLs?


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