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How to identify real download links and buttons

Ads are how online content is ‘paid’ for. The content might be a useful article, or it might be a hosted file that you can download. In either case, ads keep the lights on and allow you to consume the content you need for free. Sure, the ads are annoying but they’re necessary. That said, not all ads are the same. A good, reasonable ad shouldn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. It should look like an ad, and act like an ad. Unfortunately, when it comes to software repositories, you often get ads disguised as download buttons. Users are highly likely to click on these ads thinking they’re the real thing and end up with countless pop ups opening. Here’s a simple way to identify real download links and buttons.

Identify real download links and buttons

This trick works in practically all browsers and doesn’t require that you install any add-ons or extensions. What it does require is that you do not compulsively click items on a web page. Navigate to a web page with a download button or link. It may have several of them, or just the one. The point is to find out if the one you see is real or not.

Hover the mouse cursor over a link or button and you will see a small bar appear at the bottom of the window. This bar is part of your browser’s UI and it reveals the link that you’re about to click. Look at the URL and the domain that it links to will reveal it.

In the screenshot below, the download button is on MediaFire and the link that’s revealed also shows that it links to MediaFire.  The name of the file is also part of the URL. All this indicates that the download button is real and clicking it will start the download.

If the link were an ad, the URL would contain the name of an ad related service or domain. For example, if the ad being shown is powered by Google, the domain name will show Googleadservices. Likewise, there are plenty of other ad services that are used and they can all be identified by looking at the URL.

The same trick works for links and for buttons. Once you’ve identified which is the correct link, you can click it and download the file. Some downloads are hidden behind ads i.e., you have to click the ad and view it for a certain period of time before you’re taken to the actual download page. In such a case, this method is of no use because the real download button/link simply won’t appear until you interact with the ad first.

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