I recently acquired a short domain name, otto42.com (the otto.com domain is owned by a German company, and I use Otto42 as my alias a lot on sites as “Otto” is usually already taken). So I decided to use it to make my own URL shortener.
I looked at various methods for this, including simply writing my own (honestly, it ain’t that hard), but I wanted to see what was already available first.
First thing I looked at was the shortlinks system built into Google Apps. I’ve used it before, and it’s fairly nifty. They even have an API available for interfacing it to other things. And hey, the redirections would be served up by Google’s servers, which you can’t beat for reliability. Sadly, after screwing around with this for a while, and trying out some example code, I was totally unable to get their API to work. The whole thing is written in Python, which I have an intense dislike of (whitespace my ass!), and when trying to access the thing via direct calls, it gave me nothing but errors and annoyances.
So I searched around a bit more, and was relegated to building my own, when a tweet by @ozh mentioned that he’d put a blog up on yourls.org. This looked promising, as I know Ozh is active in WordPress, and so of course it would have a plugin. After investigating, I went with it. It works pretty well, actually.
How to do it
First thing I did was to point my short domain at a directory on my hosting account. If it’s going to run code, it needs to have a place to do it from. So I made a yourls directory and pointed the domain to it using my hosting control panel.
Next, I grabbed a copy of the yourls code and installed it there. 300+ files to FTP? Yikes. Complex. A quick bit of reading told me that it needed a database and a config file. Very similar to WordPress in this respect, except the config file resides in the includes subdirectory for some reason. Not so obvious, but whatever.
I toyed with the idea of using the same database for yourls that I already use for WordPress, but ended up creating another one for it. I’m now thinking that it might be worth merging them though, as that way, VaultPress would probably back up the yourls tables too.
After some hosting weirdness, the thing was up and running.
Installing the WordPress plugin is a snap. Just find it in the Add New Plugin interface and hit install. After Network Activating it for all my sites, I went to configure it. I had to configure it on each site separately, but no big deal.
Configuration is fairly straightforward. Tell it URL of the API interface, give it my username and password, and voila. Worked first try.
There’s a bunch of Twitter stuff there as well which I only set up to make it stop bothering me about it. I don’t want this plugin to send out my tweets on new posts, as I already use my own Simple Twitter Connect for that. Still, it bugs you with an error message if you don’t set it up, so I did. Thankfully, there’s checkboxes to turn the autotweeting on and off, so I just leave these turned off. Honestly, I think this whole Twitter thing should be removed from the plugin, but I can understand the “easy” factor here for new users. Making them totally optional would be a nice enhancement though.
At first, I was confused because when I turned it on, I saw no way to make it back-populate my old posts into the shortener. Turns out I didn’t need to, it started doing it all by itself shortly afterwards. I think it actually does shortening on an on-demand basis, creating a shortlink whenever there isn’t one already there for a post.
The plugin also hooks into the Shortlink API, meaning that my Twitter plugin will automagically use the new shortlink. You can see that the shortlink box below this post has the otto42.com shortlink in it. I had to make zero changes to make that work. Isn’t interoperability fun?
One other thing I did have to do was to turn off the old wp.me shortlinks I used. These are provided by the WordPress.com Stats plugin, and there’s a checkbox in its options page to turn them off. No big deal.
So yeah, if you have a short domain and want to make your own shortlinks, then YOURLS is a pretty good choice. I haven’t played with the stats gathering part of it yet, for the simple reason that I only just turned it on and thus have no stats to view. Still very easy to do, on the whole. Of course, if it could be entirely a WordPress plugin, then I might think it much cooler.
Update: There is a minor problem in the way the YOURLS plugin handles the WP Shortlink API. I’ve reported it upstream, hopefully it can be fixed soon. Still, it’s a minor issue. The workaround for now is to call wp_get_shortlink(get_the_ID()) when you want to get the shortlink for a post inside the Loop.