The Future of my URL Shortener

Lessn More, my open-source, self-hosted URL shortener, is 7½ years old. I’m not proud of the code underneath it, but I still use it sometimes, and scores of other people still run Lessn More on their own domains, too.

When the project was was young, it had more of a purpose; Twitter used to punish users for each character of a link they shared. (Of course, there are still some reasons to shrink URLs, such as when sharing a long address by dictation or via print media).

Lessn More is not much of a passion project — I just want the thing to keep working. Years go by with no release because it works well enough and I don’t really care. I could re-do it in better technologies, with better code, prettier graphics. I won’t. There are more rewarding things I can do with my time.

However, I don’t plan on fully abandoning the project because I personally believe in fighting linkrot and 404s. My first website is gone forever due to confluence of minor tragedies: Angelfire wantonly deleted it; a Microsoft Windows bug deleted my local copy; and as an 11-year-old, I didn’t have a backup copy. Some of my earliest tweets are now broken because they used the now-dead link shortening service rurl.org or the now-dead image host yFrog. Irresponsible deletions are sad.

I would be a hypocrite to shut down the Lessn More instance that runs on my own domain or to let the Lessn More project rot into obsolescence.

These motivations recently led me to upgrade Lessn More’s security somewhat. I expect to tighten it up a little more soon (but I make no promises!). The world has changed a lot since 2010. They call this the post-Snowden era, and free HTTPS is everywhere. Back then, you would have needed a serious business case and a nice chunk of change to even think about running SSL on your novelty short domain.

Besides security, the only other area where I feel I “owe” something to Lessn More is to allow easy exporting/archiving of shortened URLs. Eventually, most Lessn More instances will go offline, but maybe we can all hand over all our redirections to the Internet Archive first.

Don’t expect much additional feature development for Lessn More out of me. While I surprised myself by building a long-requested feature the other day — Lessn More can now generate completely unguessable short URLs! — this should should be viewed as an exception. Do you want better compatibility with unsupported database systems and servers? Well, I am happy to facilitate the upstreaming of patches into Lessn More, but I won’t be doing that sort of thing myself. It requires too much effort and isn’t a feature I would personally use. That lack of alignment is counter-productive to long-term maintenance, as the creator of the original Lessn discovered.

I plan to release Lessn More 3.0 in the next month and then go back into hibernation mode as a maintainer.

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September 30th, 2017
Alan Hogan (@alanhogan).  Contact · About