Abbreviating URLs

By Jonathan Wood on 12/1/2010 (Updated on 12/12/2010)
Language: C#
Technology: .NET
Platform: Windows
License: CPOL
Views: 12,023
General Programming » Text Handling » HTML & URLs » Abbreviating URLs

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Recently, I had a case where an ASP.NET page displayed the user's website address in a side column. This worked fine except that some users had very long URLs, which were too wide for the column.

Thinking about it, I decided I wanted to simply truncate the visible URL, while still keeping the underlying link intact. However, when I truncated the URL by trimming excess characters, I realized it could be done more intelligently.

For example, consider the URL http://www.domain.com/here/is/one/long/url/page.apsx. If I wanted to keep it within 40 characters, I could trim it to http://www.domain.com/here/is/one/long/u. The problem is that this abbreviation could be more informative. For example, is it a directory or a page? And, if it's a page, what kind? And what exactly does the "u" at the end stand for?

Wouldn't it be a little better if I instead abbreviated this URL to http://www.domain.com/.../url/page.aspx? We've lost a few character places from the three dots used to indicate that information is missing. But we can still see the domain, and the page name and type.

A Smart Function to Abbreviate a URL

The code in Listing 1 abbreviates a URL is this way. The UrlHelper class contains just a single, static method, LimitLength(). This method takes a URL string and maximum length arguments, and attempts to abbreviate the URL so that it will fit within the specified number of characters as described above.

Listing 1: UrlHelper class

public class UrlHelper
  public static char[] Delimiters = { '/', '\\' };

  /// <summary>
  /// Attempts to intelligently short the length of a URL. No attempt is
  /// made to shorten less than 5 characters.
  /// </summary>
  /// <param name="url">The URL to be tested</param>
  /// <param name="maxLength">The maximum length of the result string</param>
  /// <returns></returns>
  public static string LimitLength(string url, int maxLength)
    if (maxLength < 5)
      maxLength = 5;

    if (url.Length > maxLength)
      // Remove protocol
      int i = url.IndexOfAny(new char[] { ':', '.' });
      if (i >= 0 && url[i] == ':')
        url = url.Remove(0, i + 1);

      // Remove leading delimiters
      i = 0;
      while (url.Length > 0 && (url[i] == Delimiters[0] || url[0] == Delimiters[1]))
      if (i > 0)
        url = url.Remove(0, i);

      // Remove trailing delimiter
      if (url.Length > maxLength && (url.EndsWith("/") || url.EndsWith("\\")))
        url = url.Remove(url.Length - 1);

      // Remove path segments until url is short enough or no more segments:
      // domain.com/abc/def/ghi/jkl.htm
      // domain.com/.../def/ghi/jkl.htm
      // domain.com/.../ghi/jkl.htm
      // domain.com/.../jkl.htm
      if (url.Length > maxLength)
        i = url.IndexOfAny(Delimiters);

        if (i >= 0)
          string first = url.Substring(0, i + 1);
          string last = url.Substring(i);
          bool trimmed = false;

            i = last.IndexOfAny(Delimiters, 1);
            if (i < 0 || i >= (last.Length - 1))
            last = last.Substring(i);
            trimmed = true;
          } while ((first.Length + 3 + last.Length) > maxLength);

          if (trimmed)
            url = String.Format("{0}...{1}", first, last);
    return url;

If the specified maximum length is less than five, LimitLength() simply changes it to five as there is no point in attempting to shorten a URL to less than the length of the protocol (http://).


That's all there is to it. I hope some of you find this code helpful.

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Author Information

Jonathan Wood

I'm a software/website developer working out of the greater Salt Lake City area in Utah. I've developed many websites including Black Belt Coder, Insider Articles, and others.