Of all the bad practices I see on the web this ranks as very bad and I believe it’s not mentioned enough. It’ll easily make it to my personal top 5.
I go to a web site, like example.com, and I immediately get redirected to an ugly URL beast, like example.com/news/today?date=2009-06-30&GUID=5584839592719193765662.Wha? Why? First, the site broke any chance I had of making a bookmark of it with just one click. I don’t want to bookmark yesterday’s news (look at the URL, it has a date), and what’s that GUID? Oh well, I go and make the bookmark, pointing to example.com, by hand, because I have no other way.
Even if it only redirected me to example.com/news/today it’d be pretty bad. That URL may not work tomorrow due to changing software. Or what can be even worse: the software and the content get revamped, the URLs changed and everything is cool again, and since the developers are smart people they leave old URLs working. So my bookmark works, but shows obsolete information.
With my crazy browsing habits (open a trillion tabs, fast, fast, faster) I go to a page, leave it loading, and when I go back and see a weird URL I end up wondering whether I accidentally clicked on something or something weird happened. I have to go back and check.
It gets even worse when the URL is rather obscure. My e-banking site has this issue. I go to the bank home page where I can find the e-banking link. I click it and it opens the e-banking page, which sells you the service and in a small corner has a link to the real e-banking application where you can log in and see the big red numbers. I’d say they have a deeper problem than redirecting. They see the bank as a company with its useless propaganda home page and e-banking as a product with its useless propaganda home page and then, the actual e-banking site, somewhere else. They should just have the log in on their home page, like any other on-line service. But I digress.
Back to redirecting. I click log in and it opens, in another window, a web site with a URL that is measured in meters. Long, ugly and scary. I never even thought of bookmarking that because I’m sure it won’t work the second time. So my bookmark is to the previous page. Just today, after a year of using it, I discovered that there’s a nice short well-formed URL for the log in page, something like: bank.com/ebanking/login which immediately redirects to the ugly one. Thanks to the amazing speeds of Switzerland internet connection and today’s browsers I never noticed.
If the bank had just been serving the content through that URL, they would have saved more time over a year than it took me to write this post. Literally. I can’t understand why they don’t do it properly. If they are passing session information, they should use session state on the server side and a cookie. If they have a modular structure where the app is located elsewhere, instead of redirecting you they should use a reverse proxy. It takes a day to configure Apache for such a thing if you don’t know what you are doing.
I’ve been using it for ages to serve Plone sites that are in a subdirectory in a Zope web server which runs in an alternate port, yet the front end is Apache and you are never redirected anywhere. You go to example.com which hits my Apache server and inside makes a request to zope.example.com:8080/example.com and serves you the result, you never leave example.com. Even if you go to the secure version, the SSL part is handled by Apache since Zope is not that good (or wasn’t) at it.
There are cases to redirect someone on a web site. When the content is no longer available or temporarily unavailable. When the user just submitted a form, you redirect if the form was successfully processed to another page that shows the result of the form (the record created or whatever). There are many reasons to do that but that’s for another post.
There’s no reason to redirect on load. Please, don’t do it.