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What is a favicon and why do you need one?

Anyone who uses Firefox or Opera or any of the newer versions of Internet Explorer would have noticed that some web pages they viewed showed a small image in the address bar just to the left of the page address. Also, if they had multiple tabs in their browser open, they would see this same image appearing to the left of the page title in the tab.

The introduction of multiple tabs for Internet Explorer 7 and above convinced Microsoft to somewhat belatedly join the pack and use favicons to help the user distinguish between one tab and another.

So what, I hear the silent majority muttering. A favicon can catch a visitor's eye and does help differentiate one browser tab from another. Many browsers also include the favicon in the list of Bookmarks or Favourites. These benefits are still possible even when the image is not particularly crisp or the connection to the website is not immediately apparent. Why give your competitors a potential advantage, however trivial?

But there is another reason for having a favicon, and this is purely for your benefit. As indicated above, just about all recent browsers look for and use a favicon. Even if you don't declare a favicon on the page, browsers will still look for the favicon, by default in the root directory. This means if you don't have a favicon a lot of Http 404 (page not found) entries will appear in your visitor logs. There is a good possibility that a "real" http 404 will be missed in all the "noise" generated by browsers looking for a favicon. See Yahoo's view regarding the favicon Yahoo Performance Rules.

That should be it, but of course there is always another angle which needs to be considered. When a favicon is created, some designers cheat and simply create an image (bmp , gif, jpg or png) with small dimensions and rename it to favicon.ico. Some browsers, once the favicon has been retrieved, will detect that the favicon is actually another file type and adjust processing in order to display it as intended. This works well for the lazy designer, but potentially has an impact on the bandwidth used by your website and may also slow down the browser processing.

Generally an .ico file is around 1K in size whereas most other image types are often around 20K for the same appearance. This means that every visitor to your website will use 19K of extra bandwidth. Multiply this by the number of visitors to your website and you can start seeing the numbers becoming quite large. This may also be important if you are getting close to your hosting bandwidth limit.

All is not lost. Getting your designer to create an icon file for your site will be the best option, but if they are unable or unwilling to convert an image to the icon format, it is possible to convert the files online. Try one of the following online conversion sites:

As ever, if you require any clarification, please contact us with questions or comments.

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