URL Forwarding and Masking

Last updated: November 1, 2023
Audience: All UW

The UW Information Technology URL Forwarding and URL Masking Services let you use a customized domain name for your website in order to advertise a short, relevant Web address. You can set up either URL Forwarding or URL Masking for a site. Setting up either service requires approval and a UW funding source/worktags.

About URL Forwarding

URL forwarding lets you advertise an easy-to-remember Web address for your website, either one based on your own custom domain name or one within the washington.edu hierarchy. When visitors use this address to go to your website, they are automatically redirected to your site’s real Web address, which is the address they see in their browser’s location field.

For example, if your website’s URL is: depts.washington.edu/your-department, visitors could enter: your-department.washington.edu into the browser to see your site (the real URL,depts.washington.edu/your-department, would still show in the browser’s address bar).

The following websites all use UW Information Technology’s URL Forwarding Service:

Note: Though rarely a problem, URL forwarding does not work with very old, outdated Web browser software.
Note (2): SSL is not supported on URL Forwarding domains.

About URL Masking

URL masking lets you advertise an easy-to-remember Web address for your website, either one based on your own custom domain name or one within the washington.edu hierarchy. When visitors use this address to go to your website, they are automatically redirected to your site’s real Web address, but they see the easy-to-remember Web address the browser’s location field.

For example, if your website’s URL is: depts.washington.edu/your-department, visitors could enter: your-department.washington.edu into the browser to see your site (the masked URL, your-department.washington.edu, would also show in the browser’s address bar).

Sites Eligible for URL Masking

In general, sites on the following servers are eligible for URL Masking:

  • staff.washington.edu
  • depts.washington.edu
  • courses.washington.edu
  • faculty.washington.edu
  • sites.uw.edu

Implementation Considerations for the URL Masking Service

  • The masking implementation bypasses the central error documents, so site visitors will get both a cryptic Apache error message and an error doc not found error message when site access fails. Site administrators will want to override the central error documents for 404 and 500 errors to provide a better experience for site visitors. Note that the URL given in the error document command needs to be scoped absolutely, so the URL-masked case wouldn’t have /userid at the beginning.
  • To a search engine such as Google, a masked site can appear as two sites with mirrored content, which can cause the search engine to lower the relevance of the site. More information on this is available from Google. Sites should ensure that all references to the long URL are redirected to the masked URL.
  • Masked sites can have a cgi-bin subdirectory, but it cannot contain a script named php. The cgi-bin subdirectory won’t act like other /cgi-bin URIs. Not everything in that directory will be treated as a CGI binary. To ensure that all scripts in the directory are treated as CGI binaries, add the following line to the .htaccess file in that directory: SetHandler cgi-script
  • On a masked site, links coded with respect to the document root (starting with /) will break when the site has been accessed by the masked URL. This is because URL Masking works by changing the document root (the location represented by the /): for URLs like staff.washington.edu/user-name, the document root is logically just above the user-name; with URL Masking, document root is either the user’s Web directory or a subdirectory. See the following example.

    Example links with URL Masking

    If www.example.com uses the URL masking service with a destination URL of staff.washington.edu/user and there is a link in the file staff.washington.edu/user/x.html to:

    • y.html – The link will work if the user accesses the link from either the masked URL or the destination URL.
    • /y.html – The link will work if the user accesses the link from the masked URL, but not from the destination URL.
    • /user/y.html – The link Will work if the user accesses the link from the destination URL, but not from the masked URL.

    Sites using the URL Masking service should have links coded as full URLs (starting with http://) or relatively using dot notation (../../file.html) for links to files not in the same directory as the source file.

Differences Between URL Forwarding and URL Masking

Although both services provide a similar end result, they are different processes. Only one can be used, not both at the same time. There are two main differences between the URL Forwarding and URL Masking services:

Forwarding Masking
Available to All sites All sites
URL that user enters Short Short
URL that user sees Long Short
Implementation considerations None Several

Service Fees

UW Information Technology charges a service fee of $50 per year for each custom domain name added to its URL Forwarding or Masking Services. All charges are submitted to a UW funding source/worktags. The fee schedule is as follows:

  • $50 is billed when service begins
  • $50 is billed again at the start of each fiscal year (i.e., each July)
  • The fee is billed each year until you cancel service
  • The fee is not prorated for any partial year of service
  • The fee is not refundable

Note: The domain name registration process for non-washington.edu domain names requires an additional up-front payment to the DNS registrar. This and any subsequent domain renewal charges are in addition to the yearly $50 fee for the URL forwarding service.

New Domain Name Approval

Use of University of Washington DNS servers to provide name service for personal or commercial domains is strictly prohibited. Indeed, use of any UW resources, including the network, for any personal or commercial use is strictly prohibited.

All new domain names hosted by UW Information Technology’s URL Forwarding Service must be approved by all of the following people:

  • Chair or Head of sponsoring department
  • Dean or Vice President of sponsoring department
  • Vice President of UW Information Technology

Do not worry about obtaining the approvals yourself; UW Information Technology will do all the legwork to obtain them. Although the process of securing the necessary approvals can take some time, please be patient and assured that you will be notified as soon as all approvals are received.

Once your new domain name is approved, UW Information Technology can help you register a non-washington.edu domain with an external registrar. The initial registration payment and renewals are charged to your funding source, but UW Information Technology is responsible for the setup and management of the account with the name registrar.

Guidelines for Selecting a Domain Name

Prefix is required

Domain names used in conjunction with URL forwarding must begin with a www prefix. For example, www.subdomain.org or www.subdomain.washington.edu.

General guidelines for domain names

You can confirm before making your request that the desired domain is currently not registered to another party before making your request.

  • Using the www.whois.net web site, you can do a WHOIS lookup for your potential domain. If the search returns “No match found” the domain is most likely available.
  • Alternatively, you can check from a UNIX command line by typing:whois -h rs.internic.net aaa.org where aaa.org is the desired domain.If the query returns “No match for aaa.org“, then the domain is probably available for registration.

When selecting your domain name, remember that domain names:

  • Are not case sensitive
  • Cannot include spaces
  • Cannot contain characters except letters, numbers, or dashes (“-“)
  • Cannot begin or end with a dash
  • Cannot be longer than 26 characters

washington.edu Domain Names

Domain names under washington.edu are usually derived from academic or administrative department names. These are typically abbreviations, such as “phys” for Physics or “geog” for Geography, or they are acronyms, such as “cfr” for the College of Forest Resources. Two-letter subdomain names should be avoided because they may conflict with two-letter country codes.

Because the registration process for these names is handled entirely within the University, there is no additional fee or renewal process for a washington.edu domain name.

Non-washington.edu Domain Names

UW Information Technology coordinates with an external DNS registrar such as Network Solutions to create new non-“washington.edu” domain names. UW Information Technology makes the necessary arrangements to create the new name, and remains the domain contact for the registrar. UW Information Technology passes on renewal notices to the appropriate individuals in the requesting department according to the information submitted with the domain request. Registration fees are charged to the worktags submitted with the request.

Domains ending in .edu are registered through a single organization, Educause, and subject to considerably more rigorous consideration. You should review the EDUCAUSE eligibility requirements if you intend to request such a domain. Other extensions such as .com, .net, or .org are not subject to the same restrictions.

Request a new UW or non-UW subdomain from UW Information Technology

Requesting a New Subdomain

How to Request URL Forwarding or Masking

To apply for URL forwarding or masking, please complete the URL Forwarding/Masking Request Form.

With the information from the forms, UW Information Technology staff will contact you and:

  • Help you through the domain name approval and registration processes
  • Coordinate the process of activating URL forwarding or masking for your website
  • Verify billing information

If you have any questions regarding UW Information Technology’s URL Forwarding or Masking Services or the request process contact help@uw.edu.

Removing URL Forwarding or Masking

The forwarding or masking portion of the service can be stopped at any time. If you set up a washington.edu domain, the domain service can also be cancelled at any time. You can request the cancellation by sending a request to help@uw.edu. Domains that are purchased through a domain registrar (i.e. non-washington.edu domains) are purchased for a fixed length of time, with payment up front. We recommend continuing to use the domain until it expires as refunds on these domains are not available.