Dead URLs — let’s go wayback

Does this scenario sound familiar? You read an interesting article. You’re perusing the list of references to discover further reading suggestions. You find an awesome prospect with a ‘retrieved from’ URL.  You follow the URL only to be presented with that persnickety message….“The page cannot be found”.  


What to do? Turn that frown upside down and head over to the ‘Wayback Machine’, a tool brought to you by the Internet Archive.

The Wayback Machine “is a service that allows people to visit archived versions of Web sites.” Your friends at the Internet Archive have been diligently archiving webpage content for decades which makes it possible for you to view, browse, and surf older versions of URLs.

Why is this good news for you?  This tool can allow you to follow that great ‘retrieved from’ URL so you can actually see the content instead of the irritating ‘page not found’ message.  Hooray for no dead ends!


How does it work?

Step 1: Connect to the Wayback Machine at this URL:

Step 2: Copy and paste the dead URL into the search box at the top of the page, like so:

Screenshot of wayback webapge.

Click image to enlarge.

Step 3: Press ‘Browse History’.  When you do so, the results screen will indicate any dates on which the contents of this specific URL were saved by the archive.  You can use the graph at the top of the screen to select a particular year, then click on an individual date to actually see what the page looked like at the time:


Click image to enlarge.

Step 4: Explore the archived site.  If you went to a very specific URL (like in this example) you may only be able to view one page.  If you followed a general URL (see our older post about the Wayback Machine to see it used on Fielding’s own website) you will be able to click on links and ‘surf’ the site.

Here’s a screenshot of what you see following the example above:


Click image to enlarge.

Notice with delight that this allows you to read the full article that used to be posted at this URL!

Even though the URL currently leads to a dead-end, the Wayback Machine allows you to see what used to be there.

Next time you run into a dead-end scenario, try plugging the URL in here to see if you can still access the past content.  While the Internet Archive, of course, cannot index every webpage ever created, it does store A TON of content.

Happy Searching!

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