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Last updated: 13 Sep 2023

publishing-api: Link Expansion



Link expansion is a concept in the Publishing API which describes the process of converting the stored links of an edition into a JSON representation containing the details of these links. It is used in the Publishing API during the process of sending an edition downstream to the Content Store.

The process involves determining which editions should and can be linked to, the versions of them that are linked, and the fields that will be included in the representation. It replaces a process in the Content Store which was used to determine and expand links at the point of request.

A closely related process to this is dependency-resolution. This is something of a reversal in link expansion and has the role of determining which editions will need re-presenting to the content store as a result of an update to a document.

Example Output

Below is an abridged example of an edition represented as JSON after link expansion has occurred.

  "base_path": "/government/organisations/department-for-transport/about/welsh-language-scheme",
  "content_id": "5f54d009-7631-11e4-a3cb-005056011aef",
  "links": {
    "organisations": [{
      "analytics_identifier": "D9",
      "api_path": "/api/content/government/organisations/department-for-transport",
      "base_path": "/government/organisations/department-for-transport",
      "content_id": "4c717efc-f47b-478e-a76d-ce1ae0af1946",
      "description": null,
      "document_type": "organisation",
      "locale": "en",
      "public_updated_at": "2015-06-03T13:12:51Z",
      "schema_name": "organisation",
      "title": "Department for Transport",
      "details": {
        "brand": "department-for-transport",
        "logo": {
          "formatted_title": "Department\u003cbr/\u003efor Transport",
          "crest": "single-identity"
      "links": {}
    "available_translations": [{
      "analytics_identifier": null,
      "api_url": "",
      "base_path": "/government/organisations/department-for-transport/about/welsh-language-scheme",
      "content_id": "5f54d009-7631-11e4-a3cb-005056011aef",
      "description": "When conducting public business in Wales, English and Welsh languages are treated equally.",
      "document_type": "welsh_language_scheme",
      "locale": "en",
      "public_updated_at": "2013-06-21T13:22:34Z",
      "schema_name": "corporate_information_page",
      "title": "Welsh language scheme",
      "links": {}
    }, {
      "analytics_identifier": null,
      "api_url": "",
      "base_path": "/government/organisations/department-for-transport/about/",
      "content_id": "5f54d009-7631-11e4-a3cb-005056011aef",
      "description": "Wrth gynnal busnes cyhoeddus yng Nghymru, ieithoedd Cymraeg a Saesneg yn cael eu trin yn gyfartal.",
      "document_type": "welsh_language_scheme",
      "locale": "cy",
      "public_updated_at": "2013-06-21T13:22:34Z",
      "schema_name": "corporate_information_page",
      "title": "Cynllun iaith Gymraeg",
      "links": {}

Within a links JSON object there are keys which indicate the type of link (link_type), and at the value of those keys is an array of all links of that type. In the above example there are two types of link: organisations and available_translations which contain 1 and 2 links respectively.

When it occurs

Link expansion occurs at the point an edition is represented to the Content Store - which is normally the result of a Sidekiq worker process such as DownstreamDraftWorker or DownstreamLiveWorker.

There are two ways that links can be added for a document: link set links and edition links. These are added by different endpoints.

These links are added via the patch-link-set endpoint. They are associated with a content_id, which therefore associates them with all the locales of a document.

They are typically used for taxonomy based links and aren't related to the specific content of an edition.

They do not follow a draft/published workflow, once added they will apply to editions of a document on both draft and live content stores.

These links are added via the put-content endpoint. They are associated with a particular edition of a document and no other editions.

These are used for links that are associated with the content of an edition.

In cases when there are edition links and link set links which have the same link_type, the edition links will take precedence during link expansion.

Available translations

A document can be available in multiple translations. This will be determined by documents sharing the same content_id and having different locale values.

The links for an edition will automatically include the available translations of editions of documents matching the same content_id, including the current locale.


For item E which exists in English ("en") and Welsh ("cy") the available translations links include a link to the "en" and "cy" variations of the document.

These are the links which have been added via patch-link-set and put-content for a respective content_id or edition. They are presented with the link_type provided when creating the link.

These links may be recursive depending on their link_type.

Certain link_types are considered reverse. When they are added for a content_id or edition they are also presented as part of their target.

A reverse link corresponds with a direct link and has a reverse name. For instance parent has a reverse name of children.


For item A which has a link to B which is a reverse link_type of parent. A will be presented with a link to B of type parent, whereas B will be presented with a link to A of type children.

A quirk of reverse links is that they are presented with their corresponding link. For example when presenting a collection of links with a type of children, each one of those links will have a link of type parent which links to the original content.

These links may be recursive dependant on their link_type, they are defined in LinkExpansion::Rules.

Some link types are considered recursive which is used to present a tree structure of links of specific types. As with many things recursive, these link types are frequently a source of confusion.

These are used in cases where multiple levels of links are needed to render content. A common use case for this is breadcrumbs, where we may want to know the hierarchy from the root / page to the page we are in. These are represented by using a recursive parent link type.


Consider the page Apprenticeship Standards which has breadcrumbs of "Home > Further education and skills > Apprenticeships"

  • "Apprenticeship Standards" would have a link to "Apprenticeships" of type parent.
  • "Apprenticeships" would have a link to "Further education and skills" of type parent.
  • "Further education and skills" could have a link to "Home" of type parent.

As parent is a recursive link type each link would include a link to it's subsequent parent forming a graph of:

"Apprenticeship Standards" -parent-> "Apprenticeships" -parent-> "Further education and skills" -parent-> "Home"

From which breadcrumbs can be generated.

Recursive links can be defined as a path of link types, which means that only a structure of links that matches the defined path will be included in link expansion.

An example of this is the path of ordered_related_items, mainstream_browse_pages and parent. Only a tree of links that match this path would be included in link expansion.

This path would be included in the links representation for an item A:

"Item A" -ordered_related_items-> "Item B" -mainstream_browse_pages-> "Item C" -parent-> "Item D"

However this path would not be:

"Item A" -mainstream_browse_pages-> "Item B" -ordered_related_items-> "Item C" -parent-> "Item D"

An item in a path of link types can be marked as recurring. This means that there can be many items of this type in the path.

For the path ordered_related_items, mainstream_browse_pages and parent.recurring there be any number of parent items, and only 1 instance of ordered_related_items and mainstream_browse_pages.

This is a valid path for ordered_related_items, mainstream_browse_pages and parent:

"Item A" -ordered_related_items-> "Item B" -mainstream_browse_pages-> "Item C" -parent-> "Item D" -parent-> "Item E" -parent-> "Item F"

Yet this is invalid:

"Item A" -ordered_related_items-> "Item B" -mainstream_browse_pages-> "Item C" -mainstream_browse_pages-> "Item D" -parent-> "Item E" -parent-> "Item F"

The rules for recursive link types are defined in LinkExpansion::Rules.

Which states are linked

Whether an item is linked to depends on whether an edition of a document being linked to exists in a particular state. The states that are applicable are determined by the state of the content item that link expansion is performed for.

Edition has a state of published or unpublished

Links are included when an editions exists in a published state. Editions that are in an unpublished state with type withdrawn are linked to depending on their link_type. Editions that are unpublished and are not of type withdrawn are not linked.

The link_types that define whether a withdrawn edition is linked is defined in LinkExpansion.

Edition has a state of draft

Editions follow the same rules as those for published or unpublished however draft items are also included for all link types.

Links are presented as a JSON object where the keys of the object are the link types and for each link type there is an array of links.

The ordering of links is determined by the order in which the links were added via patch-link-set. Automatic links do not have a specific ordering.


By default links contain the following fields:

  • analytics_identifier - Used to track a content item in analytics software
  • api_path - The path to the JSON representation of this item
  • base_path - The public path to this item
  • content_id - A UUID to represents the document
  • description - A short description of the content
  • document_type - This describes a type of document used on GOV.UK and allowed by the schema
  • locale - The language this document is written in
  • public_updated_at - The date/time that this document was last changed
  • schema_name - The GOV.UK content schema that this edition conforms to
  • title - The title of the edition
  • links - Any recursive links that are presented with a link representation of an edition

The fields can and are customised in some cases. This can be done on a link_type basis. These customisations can be performed in LinkExpansion::Rules.

Developer gotchas

Link expansion is complicated and thus can be challenging for developers to understand. This section attempts to cover some of the common questions, we're always welcome for suggestions to simplify link expansion.

To understand why a link is presented the following things should be considered:

  • If the link is in the available_translations it will be a translation of the document;
  • The link could be a direct link from the Edition or LinkSet;
  • The link could be a link defined on a different Edition or LinkSet and be a reverse link and represented reciprocally;
  • If the link is defined inside a different link it will be either be a recursive link or be the automatic link added back as part of a reverse link.

A link that you expect to appear might not be appearing due to the following reasons:

  • The item to be linked to might not be available in a linkable state;
  • There could be Edition or LinkSet links that are defined with the same link_type which means the edition links will take precedence.
  • If a recursive link is expected it may not be following a valid recursive link path.

Links for a specific link_type can be defined to return different fields as part of link expansion. These are defined in LinkExpansion::Rules.


You can explore link expansion in the rails console by creating a LinkExpansion instance.

> link_expansion = LinkExpansion.by_content_id(content_id, locale: :en, with_drafts: true)

You can then print the link_graph of the link expansion to view the links.

> link_expansion.link_graph.to_h
=> {:organisations=>
  [{:content_id=>"2e7868a8-38f5-4ff6-b62f-9a15d1c22d28", :links=>{}},
   {:content_id=>"b548a09f-8b35-4104-89f4-f1a40bf3136d", :links=>{}},
   {:content_id=>"de4e9dc6-cca4-43af-a594-682023b84d6c", :links=>{}},
   {:content_id=>"e8fae147-6232-4163-a3f1-1c15b755a8a4", :links=>{}}],
 :related=>[{:content_id=>"78cedbfe-d3aa-41c3-b8c0-aeb5d9035d6a", :links=>{}}]}

You can navigate through the link_graph object for further debugging information.