Web continuity means not getting a 'page not found' error message when you click on a web link on a government website, even if the information linked to has been removed, or moved.

It is important because the majority of interaction between the government and the public now happens online, and an increasing amount of information is only published online.

Broken links can therefore be a real barrier to service delivery and accessible, accountable government.

The National Archives' Web Continuity service

The National Archives' solution to preventing broken web links is both simple and innovative. Our Web Continuity service includes:

  • comprehensively archiving government websites. We now archive central government sites three times a year, including all departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).
  • automatically redirecting people using government departments' websites to the pages captured in our web archive, if they click on a link that is no longer active on the live site.

Implementing web continuity means that users should no longer get an 'error page not found' message. We're redesigning pages in the Web Archive too, by adding in a banner, so that it is really clear to users that they have now left the live site.

Since we launched the service, the genuine traffic to the web archive has shot up from 0.8 million in January 2009 to nine million hits in October 2009. That's nine million people who would not have had access to the information they needed without web continuity.

Web continuity guidance for webmasters

If you're responsible for managing a government website, we've produced web continuity guidance to help you. Our guidance was published on the Cabinet Office website as official web standards guidance on how to ensure your website can be archived properly - it is now available in the web archive.

  • Cabinet Office Web Standard TG105: Web archiving guidance, providing a step-by-step guide, and best practice advice.
  • Cabinet Office Web Standard TG122: Sitemap guidance, including the use of sitemap generation software. Using XML sitemaps can assist search engine optimisation and the comprehensive capture of website content in the archive.

We've also developed the UK Government Website Database, which tells you which sites are being archived. This database provides the definitive record of all necessary administrative and technical details; what, where, when, how often, how much and how long. Webmasters in government departments can log on to the database to access the information they need about when their website will be archived. To access the database please contact webarchive@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk.

 

Using redirection software to keep links live

We've sourced web redirection software components which you can install to make sure that links persist over time. The components run on Apache and Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Server) web servers. They have been independently tested by a validation facility approved by AKAS (the UK Accreditation Scheme) under ISO/IEC 17025:2005.

Our guidance that tells you where to find the software components and how to install them:

Government Web Archive: Redirection Technical Guidance for Government Departments (PDF, 0.42Mb)

Apache Accreditation Documentation (PDF, 0.10Mb)

Ionics ISAPI Accreditation Documentation (PDF, 0.10Mb)

The Web Continuity team can provide additional advice and guidance if required, contact: webcontinuity@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk.

The Web Continuity project

The Web Continuity project devised and delivered the web continuity service that is now part of The National Archives' 'business as usual', acting on recommendations made by the Archiving Digital Assets and Link Management working group. This group was established in 2007 to address concerns raised by Jack Straw, then leader of the House of Commons, about broken links in Hansard. Membership included The National Archives, the British Library, the Parliamentary Libraries, the Central Office of Information (COI), and website managers from several government departments.

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