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Does anyone know why MediaWiki puts little padlock icons next to HTTPS links? For example, if I put this link in a wiki article: https://twitter.com/harry_wood it would get a little yellow padlock by it.

Here is an example actually on the site:

enter image description here

I'm sure the answer is "security" but why? What's this actually guarding against? HTTPS used to be a rare thing, but more and more websites these days are switching to be entirely HTTPS (e.g. Twitter), so we're starting to see a lot of padlocks.

It doesn't seem like a particularly significant thing that the user must be aware of when clicking the link. I know there's a security thing around unexpectedly leaving a secure website, but... Would I be right in suggesting that this padlock decoration is a bit unnecessary these days?

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It is a fairly standard icon for HTTPS; Chrome, IE and Firefox all show a lock icon to show HTTPS. –  Ben Brocka Nov 12 '12 at 16:26

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up vote 25 down vote accepted

From a historical viewpoint, I suspect the reason is simply "because someone thought it would be a good idea".

In fact, I did a little bit of digging. The padlock icon for HTTPS links was first introduced to MediaWiki in 2004 as part of the then-new MonoBook skin by Gabriel Wicke. Specifically, it first appears (along with a generic link icon and special icons for FTP, mailto and IRC links) in this commit from March 23, 2004; with the CSS referencing them introduce in another commit made earlier the same day.

As the comments in the CSS file indicate, the original MonoBook skin was heavily based on Plone 2.0. This includes the link icons, which were simply copied from Plone. Digging further back in Plone's codebase finally turned up this commit from 2003 by Alex Limi, which adds a CSS rule to show a padlock icon for HTTPS links to Plone; the commit message simply says:

"Added HTTPS links for the links script. They're so darn cute! :D"

(The padlock icon itself was introduced into Plone earlier, somewhere between 1.0 and 1.0.5, but appears to have originally served a different purpose; specifically, it first appears in this commit, which is described as "added lock icon to content that is locked via WEBDAV".)

By the way, you're apparently not the first to find the yellow padlock icon too obtrusive. The issue was discussed on Wikipedia back in 2009, and as a result the padlock was changed to a blue version that looks more like the ordinary link icon. Alas, the change was made after the new Vector skin was forked from MonoBook, but before it was made the default, and apparently no-one ever got around to recoloring Vector's slightly different padlock icon in a similar way.

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Good digging! +1 --- (pure speculation) from the 2003 plone commit it looks like the style sheet design supported different icons - a solid decision. When https link support was introduced, it got it's own icon in a mild case of "because the feature is there, I have to come up with an icon". –  peterchen Nov 12 '12 at 11:03
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Good digging indeed! So the short answer is... "because they're so dam cute!" ha! By the way I asked the same question on mediawiki.org: bit.ly/ZiIxlZ a while ago, but nobody answered. –  Harry Wood Nov 13 '12 at 2:13

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