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How to Recover a Deleted Website's Content

Disclaimer: You should carefully consult the terms of service of the Internet Archive and the TOS and copyright of any site you try this on. I make no promises as to the legality of this for any particular website.

This article is intended for people pretty comfortable with the command line. Should you need help, please email me and I will do what I can to assist.

Data on the internet is often ephemeral. This is what it is. Often you can't find what you were looking for because it's been moved or deleted. Most of the time people should be able to be forgotten, but sometimes there's important reasons why we need to try and save information that people have deleted.

The Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine are invaluable resources that work to save our digital history. By searching the wayback machine you can find all kinds of information that may have been lost for any number of reasons, like hosting lapsing or company existence failure. But you still can't download an entire site. I found a pretty neat tool, the Wayback Machine Downloader, that allows for the fetching of an entire site, so even if the site disappears from the Internet Archive, we will still have a record of it.

To install the downloader, we can just use gem install, or the script can be run directly.

$ git clone
$ cd wayback-machine-downloader
$ ruby bin/wayback_machine_downloader
Usage: wayback_machine_downloader

Download an entire website from the Wayback Machine.

Optional options:
    -d, --directory PATH             Directory to save the downloaded files into
                                     Default is ./websites/ plus the domain name
    -s, --all-timestamps             Download all snapshots/timestamps for a given
    -f, --from TIMESTAMP             Only files on or after timestamp supplied
                                       (ie. 20060716231334)
    -t, --to TIMESTAMP               Only files on or before timestamp supplied
                                       (ie. 20100916231334)
    -e, --exact-url                  Download only the url provied and not the full site
    -o, --only ONLY_FILTER           Restrict downloading to urls that match this filter
                                       (use // notation for the filter to be treated as
                                        a regex)
    -x, --exclude EXCLUDE_FILTER     Skip downloading of urls that match this filter
                                       (use // notation for the filter to be treated
                                        as a regex)
    -a, --all                        Expand downloading to error files (40x and 50x)
                                       and redirections (30x)
    -c, --concurrency NUMBER         Number of multiple files to dowload at a time
                                     Default is one file at a time (ie. 20)
    -p, --maximum-snapshot NUMBER    Maximum snapshot pages to consider (Default is 100)
                                     Count an average of 150,000 snapshots per page
    -l, --list                       Only list file urls in a JSON format with the
                                       archived timestamps, won't download anything
    -v, --version                    Display version

Then it is simple enough to run it using wayback_machine_downloader [site], or if a site has been deleted, we can use the -t option to fetch an older version of the site. For example -t 20200601 to fetch the latest version up to June first of 2020.

Sites can be very very large, they can be compressed using any standard tool like tar and insert compression utility here, or zip, or 7zip, the list goes on. Another way to deal with this is to filter the HTML into other forms like text. Utilities that can do this include the html2text utility. Or this little script that's part of the aerc email program which I also replicate below.

# aerc filter which runs w3m using socksify (from the dante package) to prevent
# any phoning home by rendered emails
export SOCKS_SERVER=""
exec socksify w3m \
	-T text/html \
	-cols $(tput cols) \
	-dump \
	-o display_image=false \
	-o display_link_number=true

I hope this helps us preserve our collective memory of the online spaces we share better so we can not forget what is important to us, even if information may try to hide from us.