How MIME Types Benefit the Web and Your Site
A lot goes on behind the scenes that allow visitors to surf the web and view the contents of your site. Short for Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, MIME represents a technology that plays an integral role in the process. MIME types specify the type of content in an email, web application or content delivered by a web server. Their intention is to aid the web browser in how content will be processed and presented to the end-user. Some of the most common examples of MIME types are text/html which represents typical web pages, application/x-java-applet for Java and application/pdf for PDF documents.
Understanding MIME Types
When a user requests a page, the web browser informs the server on which media types it is able to process. The server responds to the browser with a MIME type representing the content that was returned. This interaction between a web browser and server that determines how content will be served is vital to the structure of the web. In fact, HTTP specification calls for a web browser to respect the MIME types delivered by a server. If a server or web application reports an invalid MIME type for any given content, the browser has no way of knowing if the author intended for the content to displayed in any manner other than what was reported.
Web browsers such as Internet Explorer are notoriously known for allowing mis-configured applications and servers to report content by guessing MIME types. Although it allows your visitors to view content, this practice shields webmasters from their mistakes and can present a number of problems. A browser trying to guess a MIME type is bad for two major reasons: loss of control and security.
When a web browser ignores the MIME type as reported, you essentially have no control over how your content will be processed. For example, you may want to send an HTML document as text/html so that it can be displayed as HTML or the source code. If the browser automatically takes a guess at the MIME type, this option will longer be available. In regard to security, the guessing of MIME types has resulted in numerous Internet Explorer breaches. By guessing instead of validating, the browser has allowed malicious MIME types to be executed on end-user computers, resulting in immediate infection.
What MIME Types Mean to You
Barring you are not trying to ruin anyone’s computer, using MIME types can have many advantages for your web content. Web hosts such as LunarPages and HostMonster offer MIME types that allow you to control how your content will be processed and displayed in the browsers of your visitors. From the control panel interface, you can easily create, alter and manage a variety of custom MIME types for your site. This is the perfect solution for keeping your visitors up to date with the latest technology. When competitors don’t have the proper extensions configured on their servers, you can set up your own MIME types and begin serving new pages immediately.
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