Build your own URL shortener under 10 minutes

3 mins |

January 08, 2021

Shortened URLs are easier to remember, which enables you to share them with anyone without having to look at your notes or your bookmarks.

They generally solve two main problems. One, you will not have to remember long URLs when you want to share. Other is to reduce the length of your URLs while sending marketing messages.

Suppose I want to share my Twitter profile, would go to Let’s say in the future if I decided not to use Twitter I can redirect to, explaining why I stopped using Twitter.

It would also help in reducing the length of the URLs, where every character in the message is charged.

Also, the links would look much cleaner. e.g., than Having your custom domain would improve credibility when you share URLs

I was inspired by Kent’s video on creating shortener using Netlify.

Let’s see how we can build custom URL shortener. You would need

  1. GitHub Account
  2. Netlify Account
  3. Custom Domain (optional)

Netlify provides a simple way to define your redirects, called Netlify redirects.

All you would need to get started is a repo with a file called _redirects. This file would have the map between your short URL and actual URL.

We can start by creating a new repo in your GitHub account. I have named it netlify-redirects. Lets create a file _redirects with some config.


The left-hand side would be a short link and the right-hand side would be the full link.

Let’s deploy this repo in netlify. You can do that by going to Netlify. In the site section, add new site by clicking New site from Git. If you haven’t authorized netlify before, give netlify the permission to access your repo. As soon as access is granted, your work is nearly done.

Once deployed (will not take more than a few seconds ⚡️), you can go back to Netlify. Under the site section, you would find a site with <random-text>

Your “shortener” is working, can test it by going to <random-text> or <random-text> or any other custom links you provided.

Now this isn’t as short as we wanted, Netlify allows us to edit the subdomain name, so you can do that by going to Domain Settings -> Options(under <radom-text>) -> Edit Site Name. I had changed mine from <random-text> to You will not be able to use the same, but you can pick something that makes sense to you. Maybe, something like that.

Now we have even shorter domain and takes us to desired page.

To make the domain name even shorter, we will have to buy a custom domain. I got mine from iwantmyname, you can get it from netlify or anywhere you can find the domain name you are looking.

Once you have bought the domain, you have to change the domain name server to what netlify would provide in Domain Settings -> Add custom domain.

You would have to copy the name servers from Netlify to the domain name provider.

NOTE: It might take few hours for the name servers to get updated

So you might want to wait for a couple of hours if your custom domain doesn’t work.

To make things easier to add new URLs to your repo, Kent has created a package netlify-shortener. It has util to add shortener from your terminal.

1npm run shorten # simply formats your _redirects file
2npm run shorten # generates a short code and adds it for you
3npm run shorten gh # adds gh as a short URL for you

From the original documentation of netlify-shortener.

There are few shortcomings with this approach of building a custom URL shortener. If you want the same URL for all the users you are good to go. e.g., should go to But what if you require a unique one for each user? e.g., You want users’ to be able to share their profile. Let’s see the actual URL would look like<user-id>. We will not be able to generate unique URLs for each user. But we can forward URL params to the actual URL. We use splats or placeholders from netlify.


We have prefixed all URLs that have to go to profile to p. So now should take to

Analytics is one of USP for most of the URL shorteners, we won’t be able to do that here, but you can add analytics to your webserver that should handle most of your use cases.

Yup, that’s all. We have our custom domain URL shortener. 🕺

Got a Question? Bala might have the answer. Get them answered on #AskBala

Edit on Github

Subscribe Now! Letters from Bala

Subscribe to my newsletter to receive letters about some interesting patterns and views in programming, frontend, Javascript, React, testing and many more. Be the first one to know when I publish a blog.

No spam, just some good stuff! Unsubscribe at any time

Written by Balavishnu V J. Follow him on Twitter to know what he is working on. Also, his opinions, thoughts and solutions in Web Dev.