You are here

Link Rot

January 10, 2014

Recently a patron contacted us because a few external reference links that were sent to him just a few months ago no longer existed. Most of us encounter this issue now and then whether we are users or administrators of websites: link rot.

Link rot (or linkrot), also known as link death or link breaking, is an informal term for the process by which hyperlinks (either on individual websites or the Internet in general) point to web pages, servers or other resources that have become permanently unavailable. ...  A link that does not work any more is called a broken link, dead link or dangling link. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Link_rot

According to the Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group, a collaborative archiving program, the average life span of a webpage is between 44 and 75 days. It is becoming more and more common for people to rely on linked resources to tell their story.

I was able to help the patron immediately find the resource that no longer existed by pointing him to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web and other information on the Internet created by the Internet Archive, a non-profit organization based in San Francisco, California. The Wayback Machine was started in 1996 with the mission to archive the internet.

Explore some of their early crawls:

While the Wayback Machine proves useful when tracking down that resource that no longer exists or for providing hours of nostalgia, it is not the solution to link rot throughout the web.  The web is frankly just too big to be wholly archived by the Internet Archive. Content creators can do a lot to ensure that the links they are publishing on their site have longevity:

  • Link to reputable sources, whose links are less likely to change (or at least they have someone managing link migration)
  • Link to the main page when possible; base URLs are more likely to stay the same
  • Make a copy of the original source
  • When directly citing a source, use the Permalink, Persistent URL (PURL), or Perma CC

As a webmaster there are things you can do to prevent link rot on your site. The Internet Archive has published a 404 Handler, which will convert your 404 page not found pages to include a link to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine's archived copy of that page. If the site you manage is published through WordPress, there is Broken Link Checker developed by the Internet Archive as a way to help fix the broken links on the internet.

Whatever your involvement with content creation on the internet is, it is important to be mindful of link rot.  It is almost unavoidable, but there are many useful tools to help ensure that you or your audience reach the intended content.