Robots.txt Explained – What Does it Do and How Does it Work?

If you own or manage a website, you may have heard of robots.txt — but do you know what it is and how it works? A robots.txt file is an important tool which tells search engines which parts of your website they can and cannot crawl, helping to keep your content secure and improve your website’s overall performance

What is a robots.txt file?

A “robots.txt” file is a text file used by websites to communicate with web robots (also known as web crawlers) about which pages or sections of the site should not be processed or scanned. It is placed in the root directory of a website and specifies which pages should not be crawled by search engine robots, such as Googlebot. The file uses a simple syntax to indicate which pages or sections of the site should not be crawled. However, it is important to note that the “robots.txt” file is only a suggestion and not all web robots will respect its instructions.

How does a robots.txt file look?

A “robots.txt” file typically consists of one or more “User-agent” lines followed by one or more “Disallow” lines. The “User-agent” line specifies which web robots the rules apply to, and the “Disallow” line specifies the pages or sections of the site that should not be crawled. Here is an example of a basic robots.txt file:

robots.txt example
User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /private/

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

In this example, the first line specifies that the rules apply to the Googlebot web robot, and the second line disallows access to the “/private/” directory. The third and fourth lines specify that all other web robots should not crawl the entire site. The “*” symbol is a wildcard that represents all web robots.

How to find your robots.txt file

To find a website’s “robots.txt” file, you can simply add “/robots.txt” to the end of the URL in your web browser. For example, if you wanted to see the “robots.txt” file for “www.example.com”, you would visit “https://www.example.com/robots.txt”.

If the website has a “robots.txt” file, it will be displayed in your web browser. If you do not see the file, it may not exist for that website. Some websites choose not to use a “robots.txt” file, or it may have been inadvertently deleted. In either case, web robots will continue to crawl the entire site by default.

It is also possible to find a website’s “robots.txt” file using search engine tools or online services that display the file for a given URL. Simply enter the URL of the website in question, and the tool will show you the contents of the “robots.txt” file, if it exists.

Robots.txt syntax

The “robots.txt” file uses a simple syntax to indicate which pages or sections of a website should not be crawled by web robots. Here are the basic elements of the “robots.txt” syntax:

  1. User-agent: The “User-agent” line specifies which web robots the rules apply to. For example, to specify rules for the Googlebot web robot, you would use the following line:
  2. Disallow: The “Disallow” line specifies the pages or sections of the site that should not be crawled. For example, to disallow access to the “/private/” directory, you would use the following line:
  3. Comments: Comments can be added to the “robots.txt” file by starting the line with a “#” symbol. For example:

How to create robots.txt file

Creating a “robots.txt” file is a simple process and can be done using a text editor such as Notepad, Sublime Text, or TextEdit. Here are the steps to create a “robots.txt” file:

  1. Open a text editor: Open a plain text editor such as Notepad, Sublime Text, or TextEdit. Do not use a word processor such as Microsoft Word, as it may add formatting that can interfere with the proper functioning of the “robots.txt” file.
  2. Write the rules: Write the rules for the web robots in the following format:
    User-agent: [robot name]
    Disallow: [directory or file path]

    Replace [robot name] with the name of the web robot, such as “Googlebot” or “*” (a wildcard that represents all web robots). Replace [directory or file path] with the directory or file path that you want to block.

  3. Save the file: Save the file as “robots.txt” and make sure to save it as a plain text file (not a rich text file).
  4. Upload the file: Upload the “robots.txt” file to the root directory of your website. This is the directory that contains the main page of your website (e.g., “index.html”).

Once you have created and uploaded the “robots.txt” file, you can test it by visiting “https://www.example.com/robots.txt” (replacing “example.com” with your own website’s URL). If the file is working correctly, you should see the rules you have specified for the web robots.

Things to Remember When Handling Your Robots Control Files.

When configuring your robots control files, it’s important to remember that the instructions you provide must be clear and precise. If you want certain sections of your website to remain linked to search engines, be sure to specifically allow access for all appropriate user agents in the ‘Allow’ field. Similarly, it is important to consider who will be accessing each page so that your security settings don’t accidentally prevent legitimate users from viewing content on your website.

 

Praveen Kumar

I am a fullstack web developer with a passion for SEO, creating stunning websites, and organic marketing. I am a perfectionist.

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