Shorten your own dang URLs

In my last Project Reclaim post, I talked about using WordPress as a Twitpic-like personal mobile photo service. When the ultimate goal of the photoblog is to send a tweet, it’s almost always necessary to use a URL shortener. But trusting your URL shortening to a free service is a dangerous move. If that service goes out of business, or if they decide to take down the database for some reason or other, the links in those tweets will break. (This problem is delightfully called “linkrot”.)

So, while URL shorteners are sometimes necessary, they’re also an obvious instance for reclaiming your data. Moving to your own URL shortener means that you control the domain, you control the content, you can back up the database however you’d like, etc.

I went with a piece of software called YOURLS. It’s written by Ozh Richard, a WordPress developer, and there’s a slick WP plugin that makes it a great choice for use with my WP photoblog. Here’s a short walkthrough of how I set it up.


  • Get a domain. Something short is nice, obviously. I just started typing two- and three-letter domains into my domain registrar’s search box (I use Dynadot), which showed me the top-level domains available, until I found one that was easy to look at and remember ( Make sure you do whatever setup your registrar requires to get the domain working – probably as simple as setting the nameservers to your host’s NS addresses.
  • Install YOURLS. The instructions provided at the YOURLS site are pretty concise, but here’s the gist: upload the software to the server, create a new database, copy the sample configuration file to user/config.php, and fill in the configuration file with the proper database info, etc. You can get more YOURLS config info here.
  • Configure an Apache virtual host, if necessary. If your hosting provider doesn’t have cPanel or some other tool that easily lets you point your new short domain to a subdirectory, you’ll need to do it manually by creating a new Apache virtual host file and activating that site. This website has a pretty good explanation. But essentially, just copy the default configuration in sites-available (likely at /etc/apache2/sites-available) and change the info in the VirtualHost section.
  • Install the WordPress plugin. The YOURLS: WordPress to Twitter plugin is easy to install and set up. Once the plugin’s installed, go to Dashboard > Settings > YOURLS and fill in the necessary information. Setting up the Twitter bit is a pain, thanks to Twitter’s requirement that you get a developer’s key, but it’s easy to do. Just follow the on-screen instructions.

At this point, everything should be set up. Send a test post or two to try it out.

Bonus! Use me with Tweetdeck

YOURLS has a REST API that can be used with a bunch of applications. For instance, I’ve configured my TweetDeck installation to do its URL auto-shortening with Go to Settings > Services and choose Other from the URL shortener dropdown. Your endpoint will look something like You’ll have to replace with your own URL, of course, and the XXXXXXX signature with a custom YOURLS signature password. You can get it from the YOURLS admin screen ( > Secure passwordless API call)

Here’s the great thing. There’s no reason why a couple people can’t share a single YOURLS installation. In fact, I’ll put my money where my mouth is, and start my own URL shortening co-op. I’ll give usernames/passwords to to the first couple friends who want in. Send an email to boonebgorges at gmail if (1) you are my friend, (2) you want in on, and (3) you promise to actually use it and break the habit.