What's So Special About A "Permalink?"

Frequently, while reading blogs – or sites such as tamingemail.com – I come across links called “permalinks.” I figure this must be some sort of special link to which other bloggers can refer that won’t “break.” But what puts the “perma” in the permalink? Why is it different from any other link?

That stumped me too, when I first entered the world of blogging. I mean, a link’s a link, right?

Well, yes, and no. But mostly yes.

Among other things, it’s a helpful reminder of what you might want to link to, if you want that link to be meaningful a month or a year from now.

The nature of Web logs, or “blogs” is that the home page contains some number of recent entries in reverse-chronological order. When a new entry is posted on the blog, the oldest one on the home page “falls off” the bottom.

While that model’s not exclusive to blogs, and actually pre-dates modern blogging software, it’s become the pseudo-standard behavior for blogs; so much so that many people might consider it part of the definition of a blog.

Recently blogging software has also come in to common use to build sites that aren’t actually Web logs, including Ask Leo! and Taming Email, among many, many others. But the model is the same – articles (or article excerpts) are on the home page, until they scroll off the bottom.

The problem is that when someone sees an article on a Web site’s home page that they like or want to send to someone else, emailing the link to the home page only works for a while. Eventually the article of interest scrolls off the page.

Hence the permanent link, or permalink.

Even for sites that publish the full content of each article on the home page, such as Taming Email does, each article is also published on its own page, with a link that is permanent. As I write this, Taming Email has an article entitled “The Most Under-Used Key on Your Keyboard” on the home page. When that article scrolls off the home page, it will remain available on its own page:

“http://www.tamingemail.com/the_most_underused_key_on_your_keyboard.html” – its permalink.

Thus a “permalink” is simply the pointer to that page. When linking to an article on a blog or blog-like site, it’s the permalink you’ll want to use, not the link to the site’s home page.

Other than that… yes, it’s really just a link like any other. 🙂