URL Encoder / Decoder

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About URL Encoder / Decoder

URLs are a pain in many circumstances. Nobody is going to argue with this. In fact, one can go a huge step further, and say that when it comes to a global computer network like the internet, text as a whole is a massive pain. This would be the case even if the entire world spoke a single language and used a single standardized alphabet. The fact that this is absolutely not the case only exacerbates what a pain any kind of text encoding becomes.

This is one of the biggest reasons a tool like a URL encoder decoder can be quite useful. At first glance, such a tool looks like a simple novelty that may have one or two very incidental practical applications. This is an understandable initial impression of what is actually a fairly easy thing to develop (though challenging to develop in an intuitive and flexible way). It requires one to step back and really think about not only the immediate convenience and spam-proofing such a tool can permit, but the various annoying aspects of text encoding which such a tool can honestly help relieve.

First, though, what exactly does a tool like this do? In simple terms, it goes through a URL (or really any string to be honest), seeking a few different general types of characters. The primary characters of interest are forms of punctuation that are also used in structured formats like XML and other text-based data storage formats. A second set of characters looked for are ones not used in standard English. These may be additional symbols (for example, the trademark or copyright symbols) or other letters or characters used by non-English languages.

What does it convert these to, exactly? Deleting them would be less than constructive, after all. Well this is where it can get a little technical, though not terribly so. These encoders basically convert such characters into what are known as “hexadecimal character codes”. The take away from that is that it uses a base-sixteen computer counting method to represent the numerical code of a given character, usually surrounded by percent (%) symbols.
Naturally, the decoding process is simply a reversal of this, converting them back to their original literal characters.

As said before, this is a very direct and straightforward concept for any developer with the appropriate knowledge of text parsing and character code sets. It does, however, take skill to design these in a way that works quickly enough for rapid fire use, and be intuitive to operate. There are a great many online URL encoder decoder programs, there are a number of desktop and mobile apps that can do it, and for those developing proprietary software for a business, there are any number of open source libraries that can facilitate it as well.

There are of course at least two obvious uses for such a tool which should be apparent even to the not so tech-savvy in the business world.
The biggest obvious use of this is to prevent various forms of spam that range from annoying to potentially dangerous. Exactly what sorts of spam might these be, and how does this prevent them precisely?
Anyone who’s used a classifieds website such as Craig’s List is almost certainly familiar with the woes that come from listing an email or phone number visibly in the ad. Nearly without fail, within the following week, unsolicited telemarketer calls, scam emails and spam will flood their inbox and answering machine.

This is because shifty entities lurking online have perfected the design of “bots” – autonomous pieces of code, which can troll the pages of such sites looking for email addresses and phone numbers. It does this by using what is known as a regular expression – a non-strict way of matching lines of text to logical patterns. Once it harvests these, they are sold to marketing firms which then severely annoy the owner of said numbers and addresses.
The real irritating part of this whole ordeal is that in most parts of the free world, this act is completely legal. Unless the calls and emails persist after explicit demands to stop (at which point it becomes harassment), no laws nor civil rights are being violated in most nations.

Unfortunately, when posting such an ad, it’s often necessary to provide this contact information, as many users will ignore any post that doesn’t contain them. What, then, is an individual or business to do in this situation, if tolerating the flood of unwanted solicitations simply isn’t an option (and why would it be)?

This is where a URL encoder decoder tool can be very useful. While it still adds enough of a minor inconvenience that some readers may bypass the ad, it ensures that more will heed it than if there was no contact information whatsoever outside internal email relay. It’s also inconvenient enough that most bots won’t bother logging such strings of text, as it makes their expressions more cumbersome and adds to the processing footprint they require.
This tool can’t really help protect phone numbers in this circumstance, but it’s perfect for email, which is increasingly more common as the go to way to reach people in this digital world anyhow. While there will probably come a time when this isn’t enough of an imposition to slow down these harvester bots, that time is probably quite a way into the future as of yet.

This same logic can be applied to adding extra privacy to SMS messages and emails in which further contact details or sensitive material needs to be transmitted. It’s no secret that email privacy is something that’s both constantly endangered in modernity as well as quite important to ensure by any means necessary. Encoding these in such a manner discourages further, less legal bots from recognizing this information and delivering it to those with calamitous intent.
Of course, as privacy and security go, this alone is a very weak measure that stops only mindless drone programs from such espionage. However, in conjunction with proper encryption and other privacy measures, it can very much augment security and privacy and greatly add to the difficulty of cracking such protection measures.

Security is only the most immediate and obvious use of such a tool, though. Another one that may be less obvious to those not directly working with data structures is the ability to ensure that URLs and other formatted strings remain compliant with the format in which they’re stored. XML and JSON databases, for example, utilize some of the same punctuation marks that URLs themselves may contain. Without properly formatting these before storing them, it literally breaks the storage format to the point it cannot be read.

This can also help with further security of such formatted storage types. Encrypting these can be difficult if the various lines of code that make up its format and markup clash with the data they’re encapsulating. An extra layer of encoding of such stored data prior, makes the encryption and decryption of these files much less likely to go horribly wrong.

Finally, there do exist times when URLs need to be exchanged between business associates via a third party medium. There are many times when such a medium does not permit the exchange of email addresses for various (and often logical) reasons. The sad fact though is that URLs that don’t contain such contact information exchanges can often still set off the expressions that search for email addresses and/or phone numbers.
This has resulted in some creative if inefficient methods used in such situations, for these URLs to be exchanged, such as deliberate but obvious misspellings and other such amusing but ultimately absurd approaches. A URL encoder decoder can help here, by providing a standard way to exchange such important, permitted information, without the expressions mistaking it for verboten email addresses or other such things.
It is worth noting that in this particular circumstance, both parties should clarify with the intermediary platform that such information is not an intended violation of any terms of service, and to be sure that the data being exchanged is in fact not a forbidden thing.

Of course, another interesting use of a URL encoder decoder system can be in a scenario where information is exchanged between users, that is passed back through the same platform. In cases like this, where copy and paste is forbidden due to security measures and error prevention, characters may come up that are difficult (or impossible) type on a given language keyboard.
While having to type out a lengthy encoded string like this would certainly be a tedious and inconvenient thing, it would ensure that this wouldn’t go horribly wrong in the long run. 
There are of course many similar circumstances, the precise nature of which are impossible to fully predict and quantify ahead of time, in which such an encoder, making storage and management of otherwise difficult text simplified, would be helpful.

In all honesty though, the most important application of these tools will be the previously-discussed security, even if the component alone only deters those automated scripts. The simplicity of implementing such a tool into the existing security and privacy framework in use by a business means that this little added boost to said security is more than worth taking the time to do so.

As time goes on, data storage formats will grow in complexity, data itself will grow in complexity, and of course, these marketing bots will become more prolific and expand their areas of search further and further. All of these mean that a URL encoder decoder module will only become more important alongside these developments.

Now, many business owners and customers will cite the briefly acknowledged inconvenience come implementations of this can bring about. Having to put these through an extra step to encode or decode them, or complicate coded processes in a similar manner. As much of a minor inconvenience as that may well be, the inconveniences of exposing users to unwanted solicitors, compromising their security to interlopers, and severely limiting the data which users may need to store is a far greater, inconvenience.

Truth be told, this negligence would result in worse than inconvenience, it would in fact bring about potential disaster and real harm in the long run. Along with this, while those affected may complain mildly about this inconvenience initially, like anything else, they will in time grow accustomed to it, and hardly notice that aspect of it.

While businesses focus on customer convenience very heavily (an understandable thing), customer security and customer accommodation are far more important. Today’s business climate is one in which customers are growing to appreciate the need for increased security and data integrity at the cost of mild loss of convenience anyhow.

With all this considered, it’s actually surprising how useful and in fact crucial such a simple and seemingly one note tool as a URL encoder decoder can actually be. This is not a unique case as some of the most remarkably helpful new innovations in the software world moving forward have a tendency to be deceptively simple concepts like these.

There will undoubtedly be more and more uses for a URL encoder decoder in the future, especially once the climate has grown accustomed to them being a part of things. New ways to exchange data and communications, independent of what characters may or may not be supported on one device to the next, could come about. This could liberate communications and data exchange, across language barriers in ways not currently predictable. Only time will tell. Either way, as shown, there are already more than enough reasons to go ahead and adopt the use of a URL encoder decoder even when URLs aren’t part of the equation.