Wandering Thoughts archives


A fundamental problem with the trackback protocol

In vague theory one answer to my problem with the modern web hiding discussions is for the modern web to support the Trackback protocol. Except that the Trackback protocol is (as far as I can tell) basically dead at this point, killed by any number of things including a lot of spam.

When I was thinking about this recently, I realized a fundamental problem with the whole Trackback protocol (besides this issue) and why it was almost immediately abused. To put it simply, the problem with trackbacks is that they are not a means for telling you when someone's linked to your web page; we already have a perfectly good mechanism for that in the form of Referer headers. Instead trackbacks were in practice a protocol for causing links to appear on people's web pages. As the latter, they were always destined to be basically an engraved invitation to spammers.

(Some people will say that Referer only works if readers actually follow the links from the other page to yours. The simple answer is for the blog software or the author to deliberately do that (perhaps several times and/or with a specific User-Agent) simply to get the information into your logs.)

Now I will go flying off on wild speculation. As I understand it, not all web hosting firms give you easy access to things like Referer logs (I have vague memories that cheap low-end web hosts are especially bad about this). In the face of such a hosting environment, it's probably an easier hack to add an entire protocol (which can be implemented in your PHP code by you) than to try to argue your host into giving you log access. And it's more likely to work reliably in that if your site is working at all (and allows you to actually write stuff), it's probably going to be recording trackbacks.

(This line of thought makes me wonder if anything else has been created to get around the limitations of cheap web hosting. Arguably PHP itself caught on because it was easy to host.)

web/TrackbackProblem written at 00:57:20; Add Comment

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