Google Docs URL Exploring
Posted by Evan at 1:55 pm on May 10th, 2009
At the end of this past semester there was the normal flurry of activity in preparing for finals: digging out forgotten textbooks, seeking out "misplaced" assignments, working feverishly to complete late assignments, and perhaps even studying for the finals themselves! (Note that I only took part in studying for the finals themselves, this description is from observation of my fellow classmates.) :) Over the past several semesters I have seen a steady rise in the use of Google Docs as a way for the class to collaborate on creating a review sheet for the course, and this semester three of my five classes had Google Doc review sheets: the highest percentage yet.
When I was invited to participate on one of the first review sheets for this semester to be placed on Google Docs, however, I ran into technical difficulties. The email was sent to my @letu.edu address, and this caused the invite link sent to me to include in the URL the string /a/letu.edu. What this little string means is that the system expects authentication to take place through Google Apps for Your Domain (in this case for letu.edu) instead of the standard Google account login. This would be fine if LeTourneau were actually managing the Google Apps for letu.edu, but they aren't (they're working on it). In other words the system might allow you to login (I was able to login during the previous semester) but if you can't get in (as happened to me this time) you're out of luck. Or so I thought.
I contacted James, the person who invited me, and he told me about this nifty trick where you simply remove the /a/letu.edu string from the URL. Since the URL does not signal Google's servers to authenticate through Google Apps for Your Domain it just asks for your standard Google account credentials. I tried it and it worked! Hooray! Amusingly, shortly after learning about this trick from James I ended up helping a number of other students and professors do the same thing: thanks James!
In exploring this trick I found something else rather interesting: you can find out if a domain has Google Docs enabled on it. Just change the /a/[domain] string in the URL to something like /a/unguku.com and try accessing it. In this case (unguku.com) the document will appear and ask you to login if you want to edit it. But since I don't have Google Docs for unguku.com enabled it will just bring you back to the document. If, on the other hand, you change the string to something like /a/google.com you will be asked to enter your credentials by a standard Google Apps for Your Domain login page, which in this case is for Google's own Domain Apps (which is different from the traditional Google Docs).
This isn't a security threat, as far as I can tell, but it is a fun way to see which domains have the Docs component of Google Apps enabled. To see if the domain has any Google Apps enabled at all, use this URL: https://www.google.com/a/[domain]/. For example, https://www.google.com/a/unguku.com/ will ask you to login because I do have at least some parts of Google Apps enabled on the domain. https://www.google.com/a/microsoft.com/ returns an error, however, because no Google Apps are enabled on that domain.