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Demystifying Favicon.ico

How to make your own custom icon appear when visitors bookmark your site

If you look at the Page Not Found (or 404 Error) report from your Web site statistics, you may find that a file named favicon.ico tops the list, or at least appears prominently. In fact it often tops Page Not Found reports, to the bewilderment of many a Webmaster. But its presence is really good news; it means people are bookmarking pages on the site so they can return to them later.

The page (or file) not found error is a natural part of the process Microsoft Internet Explorer follows when add a site to the favorites list. Whenever a visitor using Microsoft's Internet Explorer (MSIE) 5.0 or higher bookmarks a Web page, the page is added to the visitor's favorites. A tiny image, called an icon, is placed alongside the name of the site, like this:

That tiny image is called a favorites icon. To determine what to display in this spot, MSIE asks your server for a file named favicon.ico. If the file is returned, then the image in that file is used. If not (often the case), MSIE adds the site to the visitor's bookmark list with the default IE logo beside it. At the same time, your Web server takes note that a file that does not exist (favicon.ico) was requested, and records that in your server logs as a "not found" error. But the savvy Webmaster knows this is not really an error, and no error message is ever seen by the visitor. Every call for favicon.ico means someone has bookmarked a page on the site.

Webmasters who understand how MSIE works can cause a custom icon appear instead of the default IE logo - as the CheapWebTricks site does in the above illustration. All you have to do is create an icon in the proper format, name it favicon.ico, and place it on the Web server in the root directory of your site. When MSIE looks for favicon.ico, it will find your file, and use the icon it contains instead of the default.

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