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Since launching the Finch beta at the start of April we’ve been hard at work on a wide range of fixes, improvements and brand new features, all aiming to make Finch the tool we want it to be before launching paid plans later this year. One of the many things which ended up on the beta cutting room floor was a blog section; this post serves both as a belated ‘hello world’ as well as an overview of what’s changed in the two and a half months since beta launch.

Saved sites

One of the things I’ve personally been most excited about rolling out—and one of the most requested features we’ve had—is the ability for users to add saved sites to their account, which we launched in early June. Saved sites allow users to configure a subdomain of usefinch.com to point at one of their local websites and set some other preferences which otherwise aren’t available such as authentication and whether to rewrite HTML links (more on that later). But the real attraction of saved sites is that whichever subdomain you choose is yours forever—until you delete the site at least—giving you a reliable, predictable URL to use when forwarding the same site over and over again. This is a huge timesaver for everyone; URLs are less tedious to type on mobile devices, clients can bookmark them, and they’re generally shorter and more memorable.

Add site form

Saved sites are unlikely to be included as part of the free plan for launch but during the beta you may request permission to add some; simply get in touch and we’ll make it happen.

Live connection details

When we launched the beta there was no way to actually sign in to the meetfinch.com website, let alone view any interesting account information! One of the first updates we rolled out was a logged-in area and the ability to view information about currently active connections. These pages allow users to track in real time the number of requests being made through each of their active sites, as well as exactly how much of their monthly quota they’re currently using. For a short while these pages were informational only, until we introduced…

Connection modifiers

That’s not a very snappy way of putting it, but connection modifiers simply allow users to tweak certain settings which affect how sites are forwarded. Most users never have to touch them but in certain circumstances giving Finch a helping hand can rectify issues with more awkward development environments. Although there are currently only two user-editable configuration options—with more on the way—we’re particularly excited about the option to rewrite HTML links. Before diving into exactly what this means, let’s look at what happens when I forward an out-of-the-box installation of the ever popular WordPress on my local development machine:

Wordpress image

Oh dear! That’s not right at all. First of all no styles are being rendered, and secondly Chrome is flagging that something in the page is loading insecure content (the page itself is loaded over SSL—a feature of all plans to ensure your data is encrypted as it flies across the internet). Let’s have a look at the source for the site to see what light it sheds on the situation:

Wordpress source

There’s the problem: WordPress is hardcoding an absolute URL into every link pointing at my local server, which instructs my browser to fetch a URL which only exists on that particular computer (in this case http://localhost/nick/wp-test). Changing this link either requires installation of a plugin or making a change to WordPress’ database configuration—out of the question for most users, especially as the link generated by Finch changes each time (unless you’re using a saved site). Let’s enable HTML link rewriting and refresh our WordPress site:

HTML link rewriting Wordpress image

Success! Finch knows my local URL (because I told it when I ran finch forward) and my publicly accessible one and simply replaces any links with the former with those pointing to the latter, ensuring all asset links are correct and secure. It’s important to note from a privacy point of view that this option will always be opt-in only, and even when enabled does nothing more than blindly look for a known pattern and replace it with another one. Speaking of which…

Updated Privacy Policy

We launched with a dreadful privacy policy which did absolutely nothing to really explain what we do with your data when forwarding sites through Finch. We got found out on this one fair and square when Finch found itself atop Hacker News one Sunday afternoon in May, and as such scrapped and completely rewrote our privacy policy. It’s still by no means perfect and we’ll look to flesh it out over the coming months, but hopefully it goes some way to alleviating the more common concerns users have voiced since launch. We take privacy extremely seriously and genuinely welcome any thoughts or concerns on the matter; please do get in touch at privacy@meetfinch.com.

Updated Plans & Pricing

We’ve mulled over various ideas during the beta period and are honing in on our initial paid plans and their pricing points. Perhaps the biggest shift in this area since launch is that there now will be a completely free plan even after the beta period has finished. We believe this by far the best and fairest way for users to evaluate Finch, and while we hope the paid plans offer enough of an incentive to upgrade we don’t want to put people off by not offering any form of long-term free option. We’re also delighted to announce that paid plans will be available in three currencies at launch: USD, EUR and GBP, and that completely custom plans will also be available on request.

Static site support

Last but by no means least, the most recent release of the Finch app includes an exciting addition: the ability to forward static content as well content served via a web server. Static sites are very much still a part of the modern web development workflow, particularly with the wide range of static site generators such as Jekyll and Middleman and the former’s integration with Github Pages. While generators usually provide the ability to spin up a development server which can in turn be forwarded through Finch, the ability to forward static content directly smooths out the workflow dramatically and makes the process completely seamless for users who just want to view some static content over the web. If you haven’t already now is a great time to grab the latest version of the app and check out the updated documentation.

Forward static directories

Towards full launch

We’ve still got loads of cool new stuff we’ll be unveiling over the coming months and are on track to launch fully later this year; we’ll post any relevant updates as and when they’re available. In the meantime you can always follow us on twitter to keep up to date and until next time, happy forwarding!

Finch helps web designers and developers test their development sites on multiple devices without the need for lengthy deployments or public staging servers. Registration is free & fast.