CakePHP URL Shortener Service Tutorial

CakePHP URL Shortener Service Tutorial

Now we’re about to get our database table set up. But before I show you the SQL code to run against your database, let me first explain how the logic of the site is going to play out:

  1. First a user arrives on our awesome webpage
  2. They next enter a website url into the url input field, they submit the form
  3. Our system first checks if the url exists within the system
  4. If the url exists, then the already shortened code is displayed back to the user on the following page
  5. If the url doesn’t exist, then a random set of 6 characters is generated to be its shortened url code. Also something else happens, the original url is stored, so as to redirect to the correct page, but the url is also md5 encoded, to represent a unique identifier for that url. We’ve indexed this unique identifier column, to reduce the stress on our cringing database.
  6. The user gets redirected to the url if the shortened code is navigated to.

So what does this mean? Well, we need some columns! A place to store the real URL, a md5 of the url and a randomly generated unique string for the url. Below is the SQL we’ll be using to get our url table sorted:

CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS <code>urls</code> (
  <code>id</code> int(11) unsigned NOT NULL auto_increment,
  <code>url</code> text NOT NULL,
  <code>shortcode</code> varchar(16) NOT NULL,
  <code>unique</code> varchar(32) NOT NULL,
  <code>created</code> datetime NOT NULL,
  <code>modified</code> datetime NOT NULL,
  PRIMARY KEY  (<code>id</code>),
  KEY <code>unique</code> (<code>unique</code>)

Get this table sorted, either use the mysql shell or phpmyadmin. Why are we md5-ing the url you might be wondering? Well we don’t want to insert the same url more than once, why should we? It’s the same url, it’d just be taking up a unique code and space on the poor database servers hard drive. We md5 to the url to create a unique reference to the url, because searching through on the field of type text on what could easily be a massive database is very costly to performance! So why don’t I just make the field a varchar of 255? as you might normally. Well URL’s can be quite big, in-fact apache and alot of browsers will go up to a URL length of 4000 characters. Using a varchar field of 4000 is extremely inefficient!

Anyhow, now I hope you understand what’s going on behind the scenes here, let’s get going with making things happen! With the database table set up, go back and refresh your page. Didn’t change anything right? That’s because we did a naughty, and we didn’t follow the conventions of CakePHP! Rebels! The convention should of been to have a table set up called shortens. Or a table called urls and a controller called url_controller.php. Because I like neither of these options, i’ve decided to go rebel.

But it’s all good, we just need to create a model, and to tell it to use the urls table! Models are used for representing table associations, data validation and data handling logic. They are the data droid files if you will. In fact a website and its operations can be regarded as so data centric, that is it probably best to develop functions within the models and called within the controllers, as a way to modularise and reuse code! So this is where fat-assed models and skinny-weeny controllers comes into play.

Let’s make a fat-assed model now. Create a file within the models directory called shorten.php and let’s tell the model which table in the database we wish to associate it with. The key to it is on line 5:

	class Shorten extends AppModel {
    var $name = 'Shorten';
    var $useTable = 'urls';

Awesome! Go and refresh the page again. Argh! Another error! All good! We’re still setting up! This time its telling us that we don’t have a view set up for this action. Which is true, we don’t but as soon as we do, you won’t be seeing anymore errors, only what your final front page should look like. Promised. Before we flip the page, notice anything different in the debugging? You see it’s communicating with our database:


Posted by voidet

Categorised under CakePHP
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  1. i have never seen such a comprehensive tutortial on this , good on yah, i’ll buy you a paypal beer any day 🙂

    August 26, 2009 @ 3:07 pm
  2. hendrik

    great work, thank you!

    August 31, 2009 @ 5:39 am
  3. Awesome tutorial man! Thanks allot

    December 16, 2009 @ 4:25 am
  4. nice post..what about stat a.k.a link tracking? it will be great if u include it.
    i bake mine at for learning purpose.

    April 30, 2010 @ 7:43 am
    • VoiDeT

      That would be quite easy, just depends how much information you would like to store.
      For example you could simply increment a count field in the row for that entry.
      Or you could make a completely new table in the database that would log each view/click and the according information, like IP, datetime etc.

      April 30, 2010 @ 9:00 am
  5. The demo file not work, url not found

    May 23, 2010 @ 3:30 am
  6. Hi, i don like very much the function getFilename. Why dont you try using a function the transform the id of the link into a string with numbers and letters?

    pseudocode for add a link;
    // find link, if not in database insert new link
    // link_shorted= base_convert($link_id, 10, 36);
    // return link_shorted

    pseudocode for get a encoded link;
    // link_id= base_convert($link_code, 36,10);
    // search link by id
    // redirect

    if you want even shorter link you could use this functions;

    function any2dec( $num) {
    $index = substr( “0123456789abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ”, 0, $base );

    $out = 0;
    $len = strlen( $num ) – 1;
    for ( $t = 0; $t = 0; $t– ) {
    $a = floor( $num / pow( $base, $t ) );
    $out = $out . substr( $index, $a, 1 );
    $num = $num – ( $a * pow( $base, $t ) );
    return $out;

    July 3, 2010 @ 4:11 pm
    • VoiDeT

      Exactly right. This is why at the beginning I said it wasn’t the best way to do it. But for the sake of this intermediate tutorial i thought using those baseencodes would be far beyond the scope of the tutorial. I did find similar functions on that would be used to encode/decode ids or unique identifiers. But thanks for your observant comments!

      July 3, 2010 @ 4:14 pm
      • If I load the website in chrome it doesn’t show all images,also when I click on those images they redirect me somewhere else please can you check it.

        And is there any option to post a file with code inside of it that is perfect.

        November 26, 2015 @ 10:37 pm
  7. >>Exactly right. This is why at the beginning I said it wasn’t the best way to do it.

    upss, i didnt read anything i just read the code, my bad!

    July 3, 2010 @ 4:19 pm
    • VoiDeT

      No problem at all! Thanks for your input 🙂

      July 3, 2010 @ 4:21 pm
  8. Hi all!

    Thanks for that great tutorials. the thing that make me a bit uncomfortable is what will the effect of making url shortened on the site in the term of speed. and talking about dynamic links how will you get shortcode will model association useful in that case. one more question in the routes.php you have write

    Router::connect(‘/:shortcode’, array(‘controller’ => ‘shorten’, ‘action’ => ‘redirectUrl’), array(‘pass’=>array(‘shortcode’)));

    it will redirect whenever you write anything after ‘/’ for rss feed and xml link will it don’t cause problem?

    March 21, 2011 @ 10:02 pm
  9. Hey man … everytime when i am going to open your page my virus protection pops up and displays an exploit : Blackhole Exploit Kit (type 2170) which comes from

    and second one from

    more information on:


    June 5, 2012 @ 6:27 pm
  10. VoiDeT

    @kapil – Sorry the first part I do not understand your english. The second question is true. It will capture all urls with /url. But if you don’t want that, put your urls above that and use shortcode as the last catchall.

    June 5, 2012 @ 7:03 pm
  11. Hi there, I read your blog on a regular basis. Your humoristic style is witty,
    keep up the good work!

    January 4, 2013 @ 12:54 am

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