Pretty URLs, aka vanity URLs, aka tiny URLs, are great for improving SEO and the UX. They’re shorter versions of a domain, making them useful for copy-pasting and printing. There are already plenty of domain shortening services out there. But with Jekyll and Netlify I can configure pretty URLs all by my lonesome!

What I want to achieve is as follows.

Every article on this website has a number in its Front Matter. I want to use these sequence numbers to redirect to the main post. Using numbers as pretty URLs will make it easier for users to type it into the address bar.

The plan

My article on Getting started with ArgoCD is article 94. So I want https://<my-pretty-domain>/94 to redirect to the full article. Any other link for https://<my-pretty-domain> which doesn’t contain a valid article number should redirect to the primary domain, ayushsharma.in.

By breaking down the plan into individual tasks, I get the following list:

  1. Register pretty domain and point it to Netlify.
  2. Redirect pretty URLs for articles to full URL.
  3. Redirect all other pretty URLs to primary domain, ayushsharma.in.

Register pretty domain and point it to Netlify

The first tasks is to get a pretty domain.

I’ve registered ayush.to as my pretty URL and pointed it to Netlify. There are several options on how to point a domain to Netlify’s load balancers. I’m pointing ayush.to’s A record to Netlify which you can verify with nslookup.

> nslookup ayush.to

Server:		10.1.0.1
Address:	10.1.0.1#53

Non-authoritative answer:
Name:	ayush.to
Address: 75.2.60.5

Additionally, I’ve also added ayush.to as a domain alias so Netlify can issue the SSL certs.

Redirect pretty URLs for articles to correct URL.

Netlify offers two ways of handling redirections for static websites: _redirects file and Netlify.toml. Both options use a different syntax for the redirection and provide different features.

Both options also have a specific order of processing. Netlify processes the _redirects file before Netlify.toml. So my plan is to use _redirects for the actual redirects and Netlify.toml for the catch-all.

To create the _redirects file I’ll use the following code:


---
---
{% assign posts = site.posts | sort: 'number' %}
{% for post in posts %}{{ post.number | prepend: "https://ayush.to/" }}    {{ post.url | prepend: site.baseurl | prepend: site.url }}
{% endfor %}

Jekyll ignores files beginning with an underscore (_) by default. So we’ll need to include it in the _config.yml.

include:
  - _redirects

After the build process completes, the _redirects file in the destination folder looks like this:

https://ayush.to/0    https://www.ayushsharma.in/2016/08/hello-world
https://ayush.to/1    https://www.ayushsharma.in/2016/08/douglas-noel-adams
https://ayush.to/2    https://www.ayushsharma.in/2021/08/introduction-to-ansible
https://ayush.to/3    https://www.ayushsharma.in/2016/08/json-web-tokens
https://ayush.to/4    https://www.ayushsharma.in/2016/08/nano-keyboard-shortcuts
https://ayush.to/5    https://www.ayushsharma.in/2016/08/introduction-to-fluentd
...

If there were no syntax errors in the _redirects file, Netlify should confirm this by telling you the number of redirect rules it processed.

Netlify logs showing the total number of redirect rules processed.
Enlarge Netlify logs showing the total number of redirect rules processed.

I’m almost there! I’ve generated the _redirects file. Now to handle the catch-all.

Redirect all other pretty URLs to primary domain

My _redirects file can handle specific redirections. But I also need to set a catch-all.

This is where Netlify.toml comes in. In Netlify.toml, I’m going to tell Netlify to redirect everything to my primary domain. Netlify.toml comes after _redirects in the order of processing. Meaning my catch-all only kicks in if no specific redirection rules matched. Nice!

My Netlify.toml now contains the following code:

## ayush.to
[[redirects]]
  from = "https://ayush.to/*"
  to = "https://www.ayushsharma.in"
  status = 301
  force = true
  [redirects.headers]
    X-From = "Netlify"

[[redirects]]
  from = "https://www.ayush.to/*"
  to = "https://www.ayushsharma.in"
  status = 301
  force = true
  [redirects.headers]
    X-From = "Netlify"

The test drive!

Now let’s see if this whole thing even works.

I’ve pushed the above code to Netlify and the robots have completed their task.

So. If I go to ayush.to/94 I should see the article on “Getting started with ArgoCD”.

And…

> curl https://ayush.to/94

Redirecting to https://www.ayushsharma.in/2021/07/getting-started-with-argocd

… it works!

Conclusion

Pretty URLs are a powerful feature in a tiny package. And I was able to set it up neatly and quickly thanks to Jekyll and Netlify.

The ability to configure Netlify’s robots using simple scripts is why I love the service so much. There are of course plenty of improvements we can make. We could improve handling of www and non-www versions of domains. Instead of using numbers as in this example, we could also use smaller slugs or post tags and categories. We can set one-off redirects for special occassions like sales or book launches. The list goes on and on.

I hope the wheels in your head have begun turning. Let me know if you come up with a crazy new use for the Netlify redirection robots. Good luck, and happy coding :)