For many years now I have maintained a blog that focuses on SharePoint administration. I use it mainly to document tasks I’ve done or to explain weird behavior of SharePoint. If my mother is to be believed, it could possibly be the best blog on the Internet. Taking my mother’s words to heart, I refer people to my blog often.
SharePoint’s URLs have always been a bit unwieldy, but for the most part these references were in email or on web pages, where the long, scary URL could be hidden with a hyperlink. Then along came Twitter and URL-shortening services like Bit.ly and tinyurl. Now SharePoint’s long URLs were no longer just unwieldy; they were flat out uncool! Tweets are limited to 140 characters, and a link to one of my blog posts was 59 of those precious characters. Factor in the @ reply characters, and I’d barely have enough space left to explain how great the linked blog post was. This was how I got started down the road of investigating URL shorteners in SharePoint and how I arrived at SharePoint ShortUrl from SharePoint Sense.
The story you are about to read is true, and the facts surrounding it are 100 percent accurate. However, I feel I must make it clear that the folks at SharePoint Sense did provide me with a free copy of SharePoint ShortUrl. They also promised me a huge check and Internet stardom for writing this review. I anxiously await both. I did write the article without any input or editorial demands from them. They’re good software developers and all-around good people.
Wandering in the Desert
Once I decided that my SharePoint URLs had to go on a diet, I needed to decide which diet was best. First I tried to roll my own. I dusted off my ISO of Visual Studio 2010 and tried, fruitlessly, for several days to cobble together a solution. I even tried wiring something together with query string web parts and bubble gum. No dice. It became clear to me that developing software was complicated work and I should stick to clicking Next a lot and installing SharePoint.
My next attempt was using the IIS Rewrite tool. This tool is a free add-in for IIS 7 and 7.5 that allows for all kinds of great rewriting functionality. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the correct combination of tools, rules, and guesswork to make it behave the way I wanted. It also saves its configuration to the web.config file, which would mean I’d have to configure each web front end individually. My blog, massive as it is, needs only one WFE for now. But my mom and I have big plans for it, and someday it may require two. Having a solution that scales is important when you’ve got big plans like I do.
My last futile attempt at URL shortening was to try some free software I found on CodePlex. As with a lot of CodePlex projects, it had some rough edges. It was also written for SharePoint 2007. I contacted the author, and he said it should work find on SharePoint 2010, but he hadn’t tried it. I played with it a little, but it wasn’t very customizable, and I got cut on the rough edges a couple of times. I found some Band-Aids, dried my eyes, and started thinking about Plan B.
Plan B: Letting the Experts Do It
After trying to create my own SharePoint URL software, two things were very clear to me. First, I will never be able to feed my family by becoming a software developer. Second, finding software to shorten my SharePoint URLs was best left up to the professionals. I did a few searches to see what solutions already existed. SharePoint ShortUrl from SharePoint Sense kept coming up. I decided to give it a shot. I contacted the chaps at SharePoint Sense, and I was able to sweet talk them into giving me a demo license. I think it was my mom’s recommendation that really sold it. It was on that day that my love affair with SharePoint ShortUrl began.
While the installation was not simply a WSP solution file to install, it did use a standard SharePoint installer. The installation was painless, and all I really had to tell it was which web applications I wanted the ShortUrl Feature installed to. After the installation was complete, I activated the Feature and started kicking the tires a bit.
Kicking the Tires
SharePoint ShortUrl has a few ways you can use it for your URL-shortening needs. You can enable the Features that correspond to the functionality you want. In my case, this was for an anonymously accessed blog, and I needed short URLs only for specific blog posts and various other files. I decided to only activate the Features that allowed me to create one-off short URLs. Figure 1 shows the Features that are scoped at the web level of my blog.
Figure 1: Web Scoped Features
You can see that I’ve activated only one of the Features, ShortUrl Activation. Like the description says, this adds the ShortUrl links to the Site Actions menu and all the document menus, and it’s the basis for all the other ShortUrl functions. With that Feature active, I can now go about creating all the short URLs that I’ve been craving. In my case, the goal was to create short URLs to specific blog posts so they could be easily referenced in places like Twitter. To do that, I just needed to navigate to the blog post itself and click the Site Actions menu and then click “ShortUrl this page.” Figure 2 shows the menu options ShortUrl creates.
Figure 2: Shortcuts on the Site Actions menu
After I clicked that menu item, I was taken to the screen in Figure 3. Like any good URL-shortening software, ShortUrl automatically creates a random short URL for the page. It also allows you to replace it with something more meaningful, as I did in Figure 3. You also have the option for assigning an owner of the ShortUrl, and you can make it expire as well. In my case, neither of those made sense, so I left them at their defaults and clicked Save This Url.
Figure 3: Creating the ShortUrl
The folks at SharePoint Sense know that creating the ShortUrl is only part of the battle. In order for the ShortUrl to do anyone any good, you have to be able to share it. That’s where the screen in Figure 4 comes into play. After the ShortUrl is created, you have some options to get out the good word. You can copy the ShortUrl to your clipboard or email it to someone. If you have ShortUrler’s Remorse, you can also delete it, but who would want to do that? To get past this page, you have to click Cancel, which seems odd. Clicking a button that says OK seems like it would make more sense. Clicking Cancel makes you wonder if you aren’t canceling the whole process. I assure you, it doesn’t.
Figure 4: Sharing the ShortUrl
After you click Cancel, you’re taken back to the page you ShortUrled. In my case, that was a blog post. That’s all there was to it. At that point, I leaned back, put my feet up on my desk, and basked in the afterglow of the victory of finally successfully shrinking a SharePoint URL.
As we’ve seen, creating ShortUrls for blog pages is a pretty simple task. Creating ShortUrls for documents or list items is just as simple. Figure 5 shows the how the item drop-down menu includes new links for the ShortUrl software. Clicking them walks you through the same pages we saw in the figures earlier.
Figure 5: ShortUrls are for documents, too.
I was impressed with many aspects of ShortUrl. One of those aspects is that SharePoint ShortUrl is written as SharePoint software, and it stores all the ShortUrls as items in a SharePoint list. When the ShortUrl Feature is activated at the Web Application scope, a list named “shorturl” is created at the root of the web application. That list stores all the ShortUrls and allows some management of them. Figure 6 shows the shorturl list from my website. Not only does this list give you the obvious information about the ShortUrl, like the ShortUrl and where it points, but it also adds a HitCount column, as well as a link to open the URL. If you want to delete a ShortUrl, you can simply delete it from this list, like you would any other SharePoint list item. Backing up SharePoint also backs up all your ShortUrls, so there’s nothing new to add there.
Figure 6: The shorturl list
It’s a sad fact, but software isn’t perfect. OSs have exploits that need to be patched, browsers have security holes to close, and for some reason my MP3 player refuses to play Barry Manilow songs. While it would be great if software didn’t have bugs, that expectation isn’t realistic. With that in mind, when I’m evaluating software, or hardware for that matter, I always try to get an idea what the service on that software will be. SharePoint Sense exceeded my expectations in this regard. When I was testing their software, I noticed a bug. When an anonymous user clicked a ShortUrl, they were prompted for authentication. After some testing, it turned out this was because of how ShortUrl updated the Hit Count for the ShortUrl. ShortUrl was not written for anonymous sites in mind. It was written with internal users in mind, I was trying to use the software in a way it wasn’t necessarily intended. I reported that to the SharePoint Sense folks and thanked them for allowing me to test their software, but unfortunately it wasn’t a good fit. About a week later I got an email back from them; they had fixed the bug and wanted me to take another look at the software. I was amazed by this. Not only was my use case not what the software was designed for, but even if I loved the software, they had given me a free license, so there was no money in it for them. The only thing they stood to gain was my undying gratitude and admiration. The fact that they followed up on it makes me think they’ll attack any other bugs they find with the tenacity of a British bulldog.
I’m a big fan of the ShortUrl software. It does exactly what I want, and it does it easily and without any negative side effects that I’ve discovered. Now the URLs for my blog that I put on slides at conferences or on Twitter are smaller, look better, and are easier to remember. As a SharePoint consultant, I routinely recommend ShortUrl software for customers who are looking to give SharePoint a more professional appearance.
Read more about SharePoint ShortUrl at the web site http://sharepointshorturl.com/
Disclaimer: This article is a product review and the vendor has paid to have this article originally published in SharePoint Magazine. The author may have received compensation for writing this article, and SharePoint Magazine has received compensation for publishing it. However, payment for having an article published will not interfere with our strict publishing guidelines and the article has gone through the same or stricter editing processes to ensure accuracy and avoid unduly favorable content.