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How do I get an older version of a webpage?

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How would I get an earlier version of a webpage? For example: I wanted a certain musical selection and I clicked on the bookmarked entrée. Another version of the song came up – it was nowhere as good as the version that I bookmarked. How would I get that earlier version?

In general, you cannot.

Particularly when it comes to media files (like music or video), if a web page changes its contents, whatever was there before is removed from public access.

However, there are a couple of things to try.

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Archive.org

The Internet Archive at archive.org has something they call the “Wayback Machine”, which lets you access archived copies of web sites from the past.

The problem with the Wayback Machine, however, is that not all sites are archived, and not all archives are updated frequently. Depending on the site you want to look at, you may or may not find a copy of the site as of the date you care to see.

An additional problem is that quite often, media – audios, videos, images, and the like – are not archived, for a variety of reasons.

And, of course, website owners can “opt out”, meaning that they instruct archive.org to never archive their site.

As an example, here’s Ask Leo! as of October 2003, courtesy of the WayBack Machine.

Ask Leo! 2003

Most, but not all, of the links on the archived page even work.

As I write this, snapshots of Ask Leo! home page (at the old ask-leo.com url) have been archived 762 times since October of 2003.

Archive.org might be a place for you to start.

Search Engines

Many search engines – Google being the most notable –  make available a “cached” copy of web pages they return in search results.

Ask Leo! in Search Results

The problem here, however, is that cached copies are usually only the copy as of the most recent visit by the search engine indexer. Depending on the site, that could be anything as recent as a few hours, a few weeks, or more. If they haven’t updated their cache since whatever you were looking for was there, you might be able to find it. As an example, a cached copy of the Ask Leo! home page was one day old.

But once again, the cache focuses on web pages, typically does not include media such as audio or video, and can be discouraged by the web site owners.

The web is both permanent and ephemeral

We often say that once something is posted on the internet, it’s there forever. This certainly seems to apply to embarrassing photos, misstatements of truth, captioned cat pictures, and pretty much anything else that we might wish would go away.

On the other hand, it seems that situations such as yours are common as well: things we remember finding on the web disappear.

Either way, what remains on the web – permanently or briefly – remains out of our control.

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7 comments on “How do I get an older version of a webpage?”

  1. The Wayback Machine is an initiative of the Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Other projects include Open Library & archive-it.org. I just retrieved a site I deleted 20 years ago.

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  2. The wayback machine is amazing. If you know the url of a site that no longer even exists, it can frequently been found there.

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  3. If you use Firefox, you can install the MAFF (Mozilla Archive File Format) add-on that will allow you to save web pages in a compressed file format (MAFF or MHTML) on your computer so you can view them later. The web pages are stored in a single compressed file which you can open later with ctrl-o, then selecting the file.

    I use this frequently to save web pages I am interested in, or have not had time to finish reading. I save them immediately.
    Doesn’t this sound familiar? Like backing up? Don’t trust someone else to do it. Make your own web archives.

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  4. I used to use internet explorer and set the cache to keep data for 999 days. If something from the past is needed I can open it from the cache. Sometimes some editing is needed. The Firefox cache is compressed, I have not figured out how to circumvent that.

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  5. “We often say that once something is posted on the internet, it’s there forever. This certainly seems to apply to embarrassing photos, misstatements of truth, captioned cat pictures, and pretty much anything else that we might wish would go away.”

    That’s because the Internet or more specifically the Web is subject to the basic laws of the universe, Murphy’s Law being the law most applicable. “Any thing that can go wrong will go wrong.” That’s why everything old you want to find on the web is gone and anything you wish would go away (compromising or embarrassing photos, for example) will stay forever. πŸ™‚

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