Server Logs — Drawbacks

Page Caching by ISP

To improve efficiencies, ISPs keep copies of requested resources on users’ devices. This temporary storage facility, called a cache, stores the served resources for fixed time duration. (Incidentally, this is why users seeking updated content need to perform a hard refresh to clear their browser cache to load the most recent version of a webpage).

While page caching greatly improves the page load speeds, it bypasses the server. Since no request goes to the server, no log entry is created. This loss of information results in the under-reporting of metrics such as count of page requests.

It is estimated that caching accounts for as much as a third of all page views. Not only does this result in the loss of data for web analytics, but it also introduces a bias.

Dynamic IP Address

Web analytics based on server logs assumes a fixed or static IP address. However, this is often not the case for home users. These users are usually assigned dynamic IP addresses, via Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), which can change from time to time. When this occurs, an existing user assigned a new IP address would be captured as new user, which artificially inflates the number of new users and deflates the number of repeat users. Although this occurrence is infrequent, it can cause problems in accurately tracking and analysing user behaviour.

Proxy Servers

Proxy server

Exhibit 27.2   Proxy server (source Wikipedia).

A proxy server, shown in Exhibit 27.2, acts as an intermediary for requests from clients seeking pages from the website’s server. In addition to improving performance, a proxy server also enhances security.

The use of a proxy servers can cause issues for web analytics. Proxy servers maintain copies of results of users’ requests for a fixed time duration, which means no request goes from users to the servers hosting the requested resources. Consequently, no log entries are created at the hosts, which leads to under-reporting of metrics and inaccurate analysis of user behaviour.

How Proxy Servers bypass Filters and Censorship

How Proxy Server bypasses Filters and Censorship

Exhibit 27.3   Proxy server circumvents firewall filter (source Wikipedia).

Proxy servers can be used to bypass filters and censorship. Although only a small percentage of internet users use circumvention tools, proxies are the most common means of bypassing government censorship. By using a proxy, a user can access a server that is restricted using IP-based geolocation.

Exhibit 27.3 illustrates how the circumvention works. In this example, a firewall blocks requests from the destination to the Facebook server. By routing the request via a proxy, the user (i.e., School PC) circumvents the firewall and gains access to pages on Facebook.

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