Python snippets: Chasing redirects and URL shorteners

Quick post today. A few years back, there was a proliferation of link shorteners on Twitter: tinyurl, bit.ly, j.mp, goo.gl, and so on. When characters are precious, you don’t want to waste them with a long URL. This is frustrating for several reasons:

Twitter have tried to address this with their t.co link shortener. All links in Twitter get wrapped with t.co, so long URLs no longer penalise your character count, and they show a short preview of the destination URL. But this is still fragile – Twitter may not last forever – and people still wrap links in multiple shorteners.

When I’m storing data with shortened links, I like to record where the link is supposed to go. I keep the shortened and the resolved link, which tends to be pretty future-proof.

To find out where a shortened URL goes, I could just open it in a web browser. But that’s slow and manual, and doesn’t work if I want to save the URL as part of a scripted pipeline. So I have a couple of utility functions to help me out.

All the good link shorteners use HTTP 3XX redirects to send you to the next URL in the chain. A lot of HTTP libraries will just follow those if you make a GET request, so it’s enough to make a GET request and see where you end up. Here’s what that looks like with python-requests:

import requests

def resolve_url(base_url):
    r = requests.get(base_url)
    return r.url

if __name__ == '__main__':
    import sys
    print(resolve_url(sys.argv[1]))

When run from the command-line, this just prints the final URL.

Sometimes I also want to see the intermediate links involved in the resolution: for example, if a site “helpfully” redirects any broken pages to a generic 404. In that case, I make individual HEAD requests and follow the redirects manually:

import requests

def chase_redirects(url):
    while True:
        yield url
        r = requests.head(url)
        if 300 < r.status_code < 400:
            url = r.headers['location']
        else:
            break

if __name__ == '__main__':
    import sys
    for url in chase_redirects(sys.argv[1]):
        print(url)

This prints each URL involved in the chain. It’s useful for debugging a particular URL, or working out where a redirect chain falls over. I don’t use it as much, but it’s useful to have around.

There are definitely weird setups where these functions fall over (for example, a pair of pages which redirect to each other), but in the vast majority of cases they’re completely fine.

I have these two scripts saved as resolve_url and chase_url. I can invoke them from a shell prompt, or incorporate them in scripts. They’re handy little programs: incredibly simple, quick, and perform one task very well.