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Google's go link culture

12/8/2019Time to read: 2 min

Googlers use go-links extensively. Those are shorten URLs that start with "go", for example go/this-is-an-example. Google internally has a URL shortener, similar to bit.ly except that it's intended to make the shorten URL memorable, so Googler will usually specify a short name instead of using the generated hash.

Almost all internal services at Google have memorable go links that direct to them. Some important sections of pages even have additional go-deep-links. At Noogler orientation, we were bombarded with tons of useful go links to help us get set up. If that's not too much, there are also pages summarizing some useful go links. And as you guess it, those pages also have their go links.

Googlers are free to create go links and claim the short names in a first come first serve fashion. Googlers will create go links for their design docs hosted in shared Google docs, often even before they start writing the design docs. Sometimes they create go links for external sites to make them memorable, such as open-source documentations.

The way go-links work is very simple. http://go by itself is an invalid URL. Inside Google, it maps to an externally accessible website URL goto.google.com (in fact, all Google's infrastructure is accessible through public DNS). If you navigate to the site externally, you will see that it requires you to login with a @google.com email. All the go links are accessible through goto.google.com/<shortname>. URL shortener services are usually implemented using a database of short name and real URL pair and HTTP redirects. The implementation of it is a common system design interview question.

However, it is interesting how Google aliases go with goto.google.com. When we type a URL into the browser address bar, the browser sends out a request to DNS servers to resolve a canonical URL, such as "google.com" into IP addresses, such as 172.217.6.46. On corporate desktops running inside Google's network, I believe the alias is resolved through internal DNS that are accessible through Google's network. What's amazing is that Googlers are also able to access go-links in company laptops on any wifi network. All of Googlers' Google accounts (xxx@google.com) are managed by the company. They came preinstalled a BeyondCorp chrome plugin. When using chrome outside of the company wifi, this plugin facilitates the redirection and authentication.

Xooglers(ex-Googlers) moving to other companies brought the concept of the internal short link to many places. That probably proves its popularity. Comparing to other infrastructures at Google, go-link might be a niche improvement, but it is a big part of Google's culture that encourages the sharing of knowledge.

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