Turning URLs Into Meaningful Names Using Clojure

URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) are wonderful to work with because they are structured, human meaningful, globally unique identifiers. But they do have a few thorny edge cases.

The following examples explore the domain name system using Clojure. The goal is to derive meaningful information about a resource owner’s identity from any URL.There is some confusion about the usage of URI (Uniform Resource Identifier), URN (Uniform Resource Name), and URL. The large browser makers (WHATWG - Apple, Google, Mozilla, Microsoft) have a clear opinion on this: “Standardize on the term URL. URI and IRI are just confusing. In practice a single algorithm is used for both so keeping them distinct is not helping anyone.”

For example, the URLs http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Peoria and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peoria look different but they both resolve to the same document and they are both managed by the Wikimedia Foundation. They do not pass the threshold of being meaningfully different.

There is some subjectivity in this analysis. The exploration in this article goes all the way back to 1987 in an effort to automatically determine the unique identity of a domain’s owner. The work primarily relies on two libraries, the Apache Commons Validator API and Java’s Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) reference. The latter is our parser while the former is, unsurprisingly, our validator.

First, create the Clojure namespace with the requisite libraries. Java’s URI library, java.net.URI, comes with Clojure. To use the Apache Commons Validator API, add commons-validator/commons-validator {:mvn/version "1.7"} to the project’s deps.edn file.

(ns domain-names
  (:import [org.apache.commons.validator.routines UrlValidator DomainValidator]
           [java.net URI])
  (:require [clojure.string :as str]
            [clojure.edn :as edn]))

With that out of the way, it’s time for some exploration.

Domain Names Explained


A URLThe URL is technically a URI that includes the network protocol (e.g. HTTP, HTTPS, FTP). Thus a URI is the super-set of the URL. To complete the trifecta, a URI is also a super-set of the URN. The URN is simply the specific naming scheme for an artifact. A book’s ISBN is a common example of a URN: 978-3-16-148410-0. The URN schema is valuable because it encodes information like the country, publisher, and title.

is the addresse of a unique resource on the web. A URL can be validated using the .isValid method. It’s easy to create a custom function in Clojure.

(defn url? [url]
   (-> (UrlValidator.)
       (.isValid url)))

(url? "http://schmud.de")true

eMails won’t pass. Neither will domain names.

(url? "email@example.com")false

(url? "schmud.de")false

What Is a Domain Name?

RFC 1034 laid the foundation for domain names in November 1987. The domain name indicates which server hosts a web resource. Domain names are owned by a person or an organization. Like all proper names, they are a form of identification.

This identification is what we’re after. Who is the owner of this resource? It turns out answering that question is not so simple because subdomains can indicate meaningful distinctions. Consider these subdomains:

  • www.tumblr.com is not meaningfully different from tumblr.com. They are both used to indicate the entity known as Tumblr.
  • schmudde.tumblr.com is meaningfully unique from journalofanobody.tumblr.com. Within the domain of Tumblr, there is only one subdomain named schmudde, which points to a distinct person (myself).
  • https://azure.microsoft.com and https://www.microsoft.com/windows shows how Microsoft thinks about two different products. The www subdomain does not indicate a meaningful distinction while the azure prefix reflect’s Microsoft’s corporate structure; Azure makes up one of Microsoft’s four distinct engineering divisions.

Depending on your purpose, subdomain distinctions may be significant. Some further understainding of domain name is necessary before moving on.

The Root Domain, the Top Level Domain, and the Subdomain

The Root Domain and Subdomains

Subdomains are defined relatively. RFC 1034 uses this example:

A.B.C.D is a subdomain of B.C.D, C.D, D, and " ".

Thus the root domain is the only absolute component of a URL. It is " ". A more concrete example from the RFC may help illustrate:

         |                     |                  |
        MIL                   EDU                ARPA
         |                     |                  |
         |                     |                  |
   +-----+-----+               |     +------+-----+-----+
   |     |     |               |     |      |           |
  BRL  NOSC  DARPA             |  IN-ADDR  SRI-NIC     ACC
   |        |                  |               |        |
  UCI      MIT                 |              UDEL     YALE
            |                 ISI
            |                  |
        +---+---+              |
        |       |              |
       LCS  ACHILLES  +--+-----+-----+--------+
        |             |  |     |     |        |
        XX            A  C   VAXA  VENERA Mockapetris

The RFC explains:

The root domain has three immediate subdomains: MIL, EDU, and ARPA. The LCS.MIT.EDU domain has one immediate subdomain named XX.LCS.MIT.EDU. All of the leaves are also domains.

These days the root domain sometimes refers to the domain name registered with a domain name registrar. For example, I registered netart.today, not www.netart.today. The more precise definition is the domain which all other subdomains branch from.

The Top Level Domain

mil and edu eventually became known as generic Top Level Domains (gTLD) along with other familiar extentions like com and org. The Apache Commons Validator can help identify the Top Level Domains (TLDs) as currently defined and maintained by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

The familiar gTLDs: (.isValidGenericTld (DomainValidator/getInstance) ".edu")true

Country codes as TLDs: (.isValidCountryCodeTld (DomainValidator/getInstance) ".cn")true

TLDs reserved for internet infrastructure: (.isValidInfrastructureTld (DomainValidator/getInstance) ".arpa")true

Now use the DomainValidator’s general .isValid method to see if a gTLD + two subdomains is valid: (.isValid (DomainValidator/getInstance) "www.schmud.de")true

Add a protocol to the subdomains and the gTLD to form a URL: (.isValid (DomainValidator/getInstance) "http://www.schmud.de")false

A URL ≠ a domain name.

Getting the Domain Name

Parsing URLs

Getting the domain name from a URL means we need to parse the URL string. Parsing URLs in Clojure and Java can be done with java.net.URI. The URI object is parsed into these components: [scheme:][//authority][path][?query][#fragment].

The Authority

The Authority is the component that will hold the domain name (aka host name) in java.net.URI objects. It can also hold an authentication section (username and password) and an optional port number precededby a :. But I don’t want those. To exclusively get the host, use .getHost.

Here’s a URL with a port number, scheme, and path to demonstrate:

(-> (java.net.URI/create "https://schmud.de:443/books.html")


The java.net.URI/create method expects strings that it can parse as a URI object. If you just give it a domain name, it will not fail but it also will not parse the host.

(-> (java.net.URI/create "schmud.de")


But it will fail if you give it something that it cannot parse.

  (-> (java.net.URI/create "://schmud.de/books.html")
  (catch Exception e e))


The best solution probably includes validation. The code won’t even try to parse bad input.

(#(when-let [valid-url (when (url? %) %)]
    (-> valid-url
        .getHost)) "http://schmud.de/books.html")


(#(when-let [valid-url (when (url? %) %)]
    (-> valid-url
        .getHost)) "://schmud.de/books.html")


The URL Validator also guards against TLDs that do not exist. In this case, the fictitious .ded TLD.

(#(when-let [valid-url (when (url? %) %)]
    (-> valid-url
        .getHost)) "http://schmud.ded")


The .getHost method itself suffers one drawback: it can trip up when interpreting URL schemes that include alphabetic characters outside the Latin alphabet (essentially URL schemes after RFC 2396). Consider the difference:

(.getHost (java.net.URI/create "http://köpönyeg.hu"))nil

(.getRawAuthority (java.net.URI/create "http://köpönyeg.hu"))"köpönyeg.hu"

.getRawAuthority returns the value without interpreting any escaped octets. The strings returned by these methods may contain both escaped octets and other characters, and will not contain any illegal characters.

Parsing Subdomains

It’s important to remember the goal when deciding how to deal with subdomains. I’m looking for any meaningfully unique identity. azure.microsoft.com and schmudde.tumblr.com are meaningfully unique in a way that en.wikipedia.org and www.schmud.de are not.

A more strict solution may consider all known public suffixes and only accept a top level domain + one subdomain.

My implementation takes the opposite approach. It removes common subdomains compiled by SecLists. Most of the 5000+ common subdomains on the list do not provide meaningful identity differentiation, such as www., en., m., shop., and www.news.

(def common-subdomains
  "Slurp and sort then drop the first 200 longest names because
   they seem especially esoteric."
  (->> (slurp "resources/subdomains-top1million-5000.txt")
                            (sort-by count)
                            (drop 200)))

(defn remove-subdomain-prefix
  "In: Domain name (string)
   Out: Host without a prefix.

   has-more-than-one-subdomain? ensures that shop.google.com -> google.com and shop.com -> shop.com"
  (let [has-more-than-one-subdomain? (when (not= (str/index-of domain-name ".")
                                                 (str/last-index-of domain-name "."))
        matching-prefix (-> (partial str/starts-with? domain-name)
                            (filter common-subdomains)
    (if (and has-more-than-one-subdomain? matching-prefix)
      (str/replace-first domain-name matching-prefix "")

Common subdomains:

(remove-subdomain-prefix "www.company.com")"company.com"

(remove-subdomain-prefix "news.company.com")"company.com"

Common subdomain compounds are also caught. remove-subdomain-prefix sorts the list of common subdomain prefixes from longest to shortest. Therefore the function removes www.news. (longer) rather than just www. or news..

(remove-subdomain-prefix "www.news.company.com")"company.com"

Common subdomain prefixes do not get confused with the primary subdomain:

(remove-subdomain-prefix "shop.google.com")"google.com"

(remove-subdomain-prefix "shop.com")"shop.com"

Significant subdomains are retained:

(remove-subdomain-prefix "www.news.chevrolet.gm.com")"chevrolet.gm.com"

Getting a Meaningful Identifier

Put it all together to get meaningful domain names from any URL.

(defn get-host [x]
  (if (url? x)
    (-> (java.net.URI/create x)
   (str "`" x "` is not a valid url. Expecting [scheme:][//authority][path][?query][#fragment]")))

(get-host "http://m.google.com/community")"google.com"

(get-host "ttp://m.google.com/community")"ttp://m.google.com/community is not a valid url. Expecting [scheme:][//authority][path][?query][#fragment]"

(get-host "http://schmudde.tumblr.com/")"schmudde.tumblr.com"

I believe that the get-host function makes the right trade offs when considering the stated goals. The next step could be to turn these domain name rules into reusable Clojure specs. Check out Conan Cook’s A spec for URLs in Clojure and associated generators for a good introduction.