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Xenu's Link Sleuth

One of the less appealing chores associated with having a web site like this is link maintenance. For one reason or another web sites disappear or pages move causing a broken link or a link that jumps to something other than the original page. This site has several hundred links and they have to be checked periodically. Checking each page manually takes a lot of time, which means, in reality, that it doesn't happen.

When I first started this site, I used a tool called WebWatcher, which was free at the time. I could run it on a page and get a report of problems. But the free tool was replaced by a commercial program (I think the company was bought) and after a Windows upgrade, it stopped working, so it was back to checking links manually. I then found NetMechanic, which offered a free service for checking links on web pages. I used this for a while - it had some limitations but was better than nothing. Unfortunately, it's now just a demo for a commercial product and essentially useless for my purpose.

Fortunately, I found a better alternative thanks to a recommendation from a user of this site. It's a free tool called Xenu's Link Sleuth, written by Tilman Hausherr and available for downloading from http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html. Installation is simple; just unzip the file into a directory and run xenu.exe.

Xenu set up to check the links on only the Internet Resources for Technical Communicators part of my site

Xenu is straightforward to use. Enter the URL of a web page, select the "Check external links" check box and click OK. It's very fast - to check all of the links in technical my site (about 440 links) took about two minutes. The program does sometimes does seem to bog down when it hits the last link few links - in this case it's sitting on link 437 of 441 after about 6 minutes. However, you can still view the results and produce a report if this happens. (I'm not sure if it's a problem with the program or my site; it doesn't always happen, and in any case it's a minor issue).

By default, Xenu checks all links, internal and external. In my case, I'm only interested in external links. Fortunately, you can tell it not to include internal links by specifying the base URL of your site. You can also tell it to treat other links as internal.

Results are displayed in a tabular format with broken links appearing in red. You can tell Xenu to display only broken links.

Xenu's report of broken links. (Looks like I have some work to do!)

Links that show up as broken aren't always bad - it may be that the connection was down at the time the link was checked or that the timeout (set by the PC's TCP/IP settings and not controllable by the program) was too short. You can rerun the link check on the broken links only to as a further verification or double click on a link to open it in your browser. It's been my experience that connection problems are quite common and you may need to check a link over a period of days to be sure it really is gone.

As well as the tabular display of information, Xenu can produce a report listing broken and redirected links, sorted by page. I have only one problem with this report; it lists the URL but not the title of the page, which can sometimes make it hard to figure out exactly which link on a page is bad - to get that information you have to go back to the tabular display.

There are other alternatives but Xenu's Link Sleuth fits my needs. It's small, it's fast, and it's free; what more could you want?


Keith Soltys -- ksoltys@home.com,