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RidgeStar

Manual: Operations-User-Agent

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Background

A User-Agent (for the purposes of the RidgeStar world) is simply a program that is operating in a computer somewhere that requests information from a RidgeStar server. The RidgeStar server interprets the request for information and responds, as appropriate, to properly encoded requests. Most Visitors to a RidgeStar site utilize a User-Agent known as a Browser (e.g. IE, FireFox, Opera, Chrome, etc.) that operates within a System (e.g. Windows, iOS, Linux, etc.) on some Hardware Device (computer, cellular phone, etc.).

A more generalized description of a User-Agent is available from Wikipedia->

HTTP_USER_AGENT

When the User-Agent sends a request to a Server, it also provides what is known as the HTTP_USER_AGENT, which is intended to be a character string that identifies the User-Agent in use. For a variety of reasons, the HTTP_USER_AGENT string has some "reliability problems" (for a chuckle, have a look at WebAIM's History of the browser user-agent string->).

If a more concrete example of the User-Agent's string helps, here's what your Browser has reported:

CCBot/2.0 (http://commoncrawl.org/faq/)

However, even with all these issues, the HTTP_USER_AGENT offers us (RidgeStar and the Webmaster for each Client Site), one of the few ways to identify and generally categorize the type of characteristics the Visitor to the site has. Keep in mind that the User Agent is not reliable as a result of it's heritage, but...it is what it is and for most website access it offers a basic way to look at the types of visits that are occurring.

In an effort to interpret what is there (even if it may not be particularly accurate), each request from a User-Agent is recorded in what is known as the RidgeStar "Activity" table (a table in a RidgeStar database). When this recording occurs, we also record information that is extracted from the User-Agent (if we can).

Device, System, and Browser

The extraction of identifying information is (as discussed above) is a very imprecise science. Beginning with the Version 5.3 systems, RidgeStar began using a set of code originally contributed by the OpenSource community that parses the User Agent (thank you to the original author and continuing contributors). This routine has been extended by RidgeStar for use with the RidgeStar sites

When a connection is made with a RidgeStar website (a "Session"), the HTTP_USER_AGENT is parsed by the UserAgent code and, when it can, the various characteristics from the User-Agent are identified. RidgeStar then records this information in the Activity table as a combination of up to three elements:

Device
Identifies the type of general Type of Device that is associated with the User-Agent. Values you may find are: Desktop, Mobile, Robot, App, Script, Downloader. This grouping should not be taken literally, but provides a reasonable way to summarize the sorts of traffic a site is experiencing.
System
Identifies the operational code that is in control of the Device. Examples are Windows, iOS, Linux, etc. Where available, we also record the numeric release levels of the specific System (Windows 10, Mac OSX 10.11, etc.). When Device=Robot, we make efforts to identify the specific robot (e.g. GoogleBot) and the associated Version of same, if available.
Browser
Identifies the operational program designed to retrieve and display HTML (if a Browser is identifiable in the UserAgent). Examples are Firefox, IE, Chrome, etc. Where available, we also record the major numeric release levels of the specific Browser (Firefox 25, IE 11, Chrome 67).

It is important to note that, as documented, the User-Agent is under no obligation to report or inform the Server about the "truth" and, in fact, some User-Agent's even permit the end user to pick and choose which User-Agent they would like to pretend to be. Thus, while the basic information being reported can be useful to identify general trends and usage levels, the smart webmaster will realize that the Device, System, and Browser are simply informational in nature.

RIdgeStar (as the technicians behind the sites) goes to great pains to avoid using the information from the User-Agent to prepare HTML for transmission to the User-Agent so that the resulting HTML will be acceptable to the widest range of User-Agents possible.

Conclusion

While the information available in the Operations area of most RidgeStar sites (e.g. Administrator: Operations), can be beneficial generally, DO be careful about reading too much into the accuracy of the data. Trends can certainly be accepted about which sorts of Hardware and Software is probably being used, but....be very careful about assuming that the information you see is absolutely true.

Perhaps (hopefully???), the web will eventually figure out how to make all this work more reliably and with a higher degree of accuracy. But, until then, use what you see wisely and we'll be fine.