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Web Design Master Series Article

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Master Series

When a Browser Refuses to Provide Referrer Information

By William Bontrager

The referrer is the URL of the web page containing the link or submit button that was clicked to arrive at the current web page.

There are several reasons a browser might not provide referrer information.

1. If the URL of a web page is typed into a browser address bar, or a bookmark is used, then there is no referrer.

2. When an email link is clicked from an email program that launches a browser, it has the same effect as if the URL was typed into the address bar. Again, there is no referrer.

3. Some browsers' preferences are set so strict by the user, such as anti-logging and privacy settings, that the browser is not allowed to provide referrer information. So it won't.

4. Some personal firewall programs can have similar anti-logging and privacy preferences, again preventing the browser from providing referrer information.

Referrer information is especially useful (required in some cases) for form information processing programs -- scripts.

It's useful to know which form was used. In some cases, the information may be processed only if the form was submitted from a certain domain name.

When it is a form submitting information to a program for processing, the form itself can submit the information.

The form can have the current URL in a hidden field. When the form is submitted, the hidden field is submitted also. What was the current URL is now in fact the referrer.

Here is an example that would work in both Master Feedback and Master Form V3:

<input type="hidden" name="x_referrer" value="http://example.com/page.html">

With Master Feedback, the hidden field's name must begin with the two characters "x_". With Master Form V3, the hidden form field can have any name you wish so long as it's not a reserved word (see the user's manual).

When the form is submitted, http://example.com/page.html is sent along as the referrer.

If it's not feasible to manually insert the correct URL into each of your forms (when the form is inserted with SSI into various pages, for example), then JavaScript may be used to insert the URL.

Browsers that won't provide referrer information usually allow JavaScript to use the URL of the current web page.

Here is a JavaScript version of the above example:

<script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript"><!--
document.write('<input\
document.write(' type="hidden"\
document.write(' name="x_referrer"\
document.write(' value="' + document.URL + '">\
//--></script>

The JavaScript variable

document.URL

holds the URL of the current web page. The above JavaScript code inserts that URL into the hidden form field.

I know of no way to force the browser to reveal referrer information when user settings prevent it. But, at least in the case of forms, the information can be obtained earlier, before the URL is considered to be a referrer, and sent along to form processing programs.

Will Bontrager

About the Author:

Copyright 2003 Bontrager Connection, LLC
William Bontrager Programmer/Publisher, "WillMaster Possibilities" ezine mailto:possibilities@willmaster.com

Are you looking for top quality scripts? Visit Willmaster and check out his highly acclaimed Master Series scripts. Some free, some for a fee.

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