What is the Facebook external hit user agent?

You may observe requests with a user agent containing the facebookexternalhit substring in your log and wonder if they are all linked to Facebook/Meta. These requests don’t always originate from Facebook. They may also come from the iMessage link preview feature or from an attacker that spoofed its user agent. In this article, we provide more information to distinguish between these different situations.

Is the Facebook external hit substring always linked to Facebook/Meta?

NO, not all requests whose user-agent contains the facebookexternalhit substring are linked to Meta. Only the requests whose user agents match the following and whose IP addresses belong to AS32934 (Facebook, Inc.) come from Facebook/Meta:
  • facebookexternalhit/1.1 (+http://www.facebook.com/externalhit_uatext.php)
  • facebookexternalhit/1.1
  • facebookcatalog/1.0

Why does Facebook/Meta make requests with facebookexternalhit to my website?

Facebookexternalhit is the Facebook crawler. It is used to retrieve information about websites or applications that are shared on Facebook. For example, when you copy a link in messenger/facebook, it makes a request with the following user-agent: facebookexternalhit/1.1 (+http://www.facebook.com/externalhit_uatext.php)

The request comes from a Facebook IP address, in the case of my experiment, which belongs to AS32934 (Facebook, Inc.).

Facebookexternalhit is also linked to iMessage (iPhone message) link preview feature

In your logs you may also see requests with a user agent that look as follows: Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_11_1) AppleWebKit/601.2.4 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/9.0.1 Safari/601.2.4 facebookexternalhit/1.1 Facebot Twitterbot/1.0

User agents that contain both the facebookexternalhit and Twitterbot substrings are linked to the Apple iMessage application. Whenever you receive a link in a conversation, iMessage triggers a request with the previous user agent to retrieve information such as the title, a short description, and the favicon of the site.

Contrary to requests made by the Facebook crawler, these requests come from the end-user IP address. Thus, the IP addresses you observe in the logs will be linked to different (mobile) ISPs such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast but are not linked to Facebook or Twitter (X).

How can I verify if a facebook external hit request comes from Facebook?

Facebook provides a procedure to authenticate its crawlers. As always, you should never rely solely on the user-agent to authenticate a good bot as this HTTP header can be easily spoofed by an attacker. Thus, you should:
  1. Verify that the request user agent has the following pattern facebookexternalhit/1.1 (+http://www.facebook.com/externalhit_uatext.php), facebookexternalhit/1.1 or facebookcatalog/1.0
  2. And verify that the requests originates from AS32934 (Facebook, Inc.). To do that, you can either use the command whois command below that returns the list of IP ranges linked to this ASes, or you can use IP-related APIs such as IP Info.

The whois command to retrieve AS32934 (Facebook, Inc.) IP ranges: whois -h whois.radb.net -- '-i origin AS32934' | grep ^route

It returns different IP ranges (CIDRs) linked to the AS32934:



Requests with a user agent that contains the facebookexternalhit substring are either linked to the Facebook crawler or the iMessage link preview feature. The requests that come from iMessage look as follows: Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_11_1) AppleWebKit/601.2.4 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/9.0.1 Safari/601.2.4 facebookexternalhit/1.1 Facebot Twitterbot/1.0. They contain both facebookexternalhit and Twitterbot in their user agent.

To verify if a request that contain facebookexternalhit actually comes from Facebook, you should not rely solely on the user-agent. You should also verify that the IP address is linked to the AS32934 (Facebook, Inc.)