What is a Link Really?

Ed Clark, LinkTek COO

Most people think of a “link” as a word or phrase, such as “click here”, that opens a web page. There are two errors in this idea. One of these errors is probably obvious, but the other may not be so obvious.

First, the opening of a new page is only one type of function that can be performed by a link. Links can do thousands of things.

Not all links are the kind that involves the end-user clicking on something.

Links are used all the time by businesses and other organizations to bring in data from another file and place it in the file you are looking at. This can be a photograph, for example; but in the business world, it’s more commonly something like financial data, a bill of materials, a chart, a graph or some important figures. In these cases, the link operates entirely in the background to display something in the end-user’s file. The end-user never sees anything except the final result.

For example, Joe opens Spreadsheet A and sees a column of numbers. To Joe, who is not the creator of Spreadsheet A, that column of numbers looks like any other column of numbers, when, in fact, those numbers are being fetched from Spreadsheet B and then displayed in Spreadsheet A. All this work is being accomplished, unseen to Joe, via a link.

The second error in what most people think of as a “link” is thinking that words like “Click here” are a link. They aren’t. Words, such as those in bright blue text, are nothing more than a representation of a link. There is a term for these words. Clickable words are called “anchor text”. The anchor text is not the link.

Calling a phrase like “click here” a link would be like saying that the sign on a company’s office building is the company. (If you don’t think this has any important implications, read on.)

The link itself is hidden from “public” view. Links are usually a long string of characters containing a bunch of stuff that, to those not familiar with it, would look like gobbledygook.

“Click Here” is easier on the eye than “https://www.LinkTek.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/LFA.jpg”.

Just to be clear, even in cases where you see all the gobbledygook, even that is just anchor text.

In such cases, the anchor text just happens to match the content of the actual link. You could change all that gobbledygook into “Click here” (or “hello world” or whatever you like) and the link itself would be unaffected. In other words, unless you are looking at the source data (the internal stuff) of a file, the things you see are merely a representation that shows the end user where to put his mouse pointer to click. If it’s an icon you are clicking on, it’s still just the anchor, not the link. The actual link is something that you don’t see in the normal view of your Word document or your Excel spreadsheet or your whatever.

By the way, something like “https://www.LinkTek.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/LFA.jpg”, if that were an actual link, would be a very simple link. In fact, you probably recognize that this link consists of a file path. That’s actually the minimum requirement for a link — a file path.

If all a certain link is going to do is open a file (like a web page, for example), such a link could consist of just a file path.

But some links contain all kinds of additional instructions and data. Here’s an example:

Images/reticle.eps …@file 126742562020000000 298575 …
@EPS. . . @file 126742562020000000 298575 …”
(The ellipses are there because this thing keeps on going.)

So I think you can see why it’s much nicer, more aesthetic and easier on the average user to cover all that up with something simple like “click here” or a nice icon. The only problem is that this gives most folks the wrong idea about links.

Perhaps you already knew (or mostly so) what a link really is. But keep in mind that the vast majority of your end-users do not. And they have no idea what kinds of trouble they can cause for you, the IT pro, because of their misunderstanding. These facts actually have significant ramifications that you may not yet be fully aware of. (Most IT pros aren’t.)

But to keep this article from getting too long, we’ll take up all that in the next installment of this series.

We will also cover how you can get yourself into all kinds of trouble if you don’t know certain things about file links.

Look for the next edition of this newsletter.

Do you have questions regarding this article? Let us know in the comments below or e-mail us at: [email protected]

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