Know Your Facts: What Is a “Redirect”?
As the old adage goes, knowledge is power, and Namecheap is committed to empowering people — including our customers, potential customers, and Internet users everywhere.
This article is intended to inform you about a process known as domain redirects. Redirects are a common practice used with domains and websites. We believe it’s important that people understand how redirects work and the ways in which they may be used, including how someone could use them for malicious purposes — a practice that recently made the news.
How Redirects Work
Websites, individual web pages, and even pieces of content on the web all have unique web addresses that allow a computer browser to reach them. For example, Namecheap.com is the web address for our website, while https://www.namecheap.com/blog/know-your-facts-what-is-a-redirect/ is the web address for this specific piece of content that you’re reading right now.
Similarly, major company websites and blogs, individual posts on social media such as Facebook and Twitter as well as many images and other digital content (such as YouTube videos) all have their own web addresses.
Every domain that is registered, as well as every URL to specific content, comes with the ability to apply a “redirect”. Meaning, if you tried to reach the web address for the domain BestRegistrarInTheWorld.com and it was set up to redirect to Namecheap.com, you’d come straight to our website.
Important Fact: Redirects are entirely controlled by the domain registrant and/or website owner. They are not controlled by the website or the page to which they redirect. We’ll explain why this is essential to know below.
Why Does Someone Use a Redirect?
There are many different uses for a redirect. Let’s look at a few of them.
- Rebranding. Once upon a time, you might have built a website at a domain like widgetsarefun.com. Later on, as your business grows, you might decide your original domain name no longer fits your business concept, perhaps because you now offer a lot more than just widgets. You can redirect all traffic from your old domain name to a new one so your customers don’t get confused.
- Humor. Some people create links that sound serious but actually lead to a joke. One of the most common instances is when you send someone to an important article but they end up on a YouTube video of Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up”, a practice known as Rickrolling.
- Avoiding “404” results. Redirects can be set up to point any website or piece of content to another URL. For example, if a company decides to take down a blog post because it’s old, the company can point the web address/ URL back to its main blog page (for example, we could set up a redirect from an out-of-date blog post to https://www.namecheap.com/blog/ ). Creating such a redirect provides a better user experience than allowing it to reflect a 404 page saying the page is unavailable, a very frustrating experience for the visitor.
- Create an unauthorized association. Redirects can also be used in unauthorized ways, some of which are intended to be malicious. These are redirects that intend to fool or mislead people into believing one site is actually associated with another and can be used to harm a brand or cause confusion.
These are some examples of common uses for redirects. As you can see, there are many reasons for setting up a redirect and why understanding the uses is important in order for you to be empowered to know what is legitimate or what is trying to deceive you.
As an example: anyone could register a domain such as NikesGreatestShoes.com and redirect it to Adidas.com. The fact that NikesGreatestShoes.com lands on Adidas’ website does not mean that either Nike or Adidas are involved in the website redirect. While it is possible that somebody at Adidas set up the redirect, it’s just as possible (and much more likely, in fact) that this is somebody else either trying to stir up trouble or having a laugh.
Redirects are useful for many legitimate purposes, but in some cases, they can be used to confuse or harm. It’s important to remember that when you click on a link to a website, it is possible that it forwards you to another site that is unrelated, misleading or trying to cause confusion.
Empowered by the information we’ve provided, we hope you will venture forth as a more informed citizen of the Internet. Understanding domain redirects will allow you to understand what is legitimate, what could be malicious, and of course, when somebody might just be trying to have a bit of fun.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. If the association isn’t authorized by the destination website and it’s malicious, why is it allowed?
Great question. There are a number of factors at play. First, the domain/website that instructs the redirect has control over when/where they send the redirect. The landing site usually has no knowledge that it’s happened and/or learns later. Second, unless the redirect is in violation of laws, there is nothing to prevent them from redirecting. Usually, there are no laws that prohibit this.
2. Why don’t registrars and/or hosting companies just take action?
Namecheap can’t comment on why other registrars/hosting companies take action (or not), but we gladly want to share ours.
We believe that the Internet provides unmatchable access and freedom: access/ability to becoming an entrepreneur as well as freedom of speech and opinions regardless of whether the voice is globally accepted or one considered a minority. As stewards of key tools that give this access (domains and hosting), we staunchly walk our responsibility to be neutral in service of our ideals. This means that we follow established laws and that we defer to the forums (such as courts of law) who are the proper ones to make decisions on freedoms of action and speech.