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Hot Linking and Bandwidth stealing December 08, 2005 4:01 PM

There are rules of etiquette everyone on the Internet must follow. Give credit for information and sources, or images that are on your sites, flaming is not looked upon kindly but most of all, hotlinking, leeching, bandwidth stealers, these are the villains of the Internet. Most beginners do not understand the trouble hotlinking someone's content can bring, but it is still wrong to do.

Section I. What is Hotlinking?
Section II. Why do people hotlink?
Section III. How do you tell that someone is hotlinking you?
Section IV. Why is Hotlinking a Problem?
Section V. How do you prevent Hotlinking?
Section VI. Alternatives to Hotlinking

i. What is Hotlinking?

Bandwidth theft or "hotlinking" is direct linking to a website's files (images, video, etc.). An example would be using an <IMG> tag to display a JPEG image you found on someone else's web page so it will appear on your own site, journal, weblog, forum posting, etc.

Bandwidth refers to the amount of data transferred from a website to a user's computer. When you view a webpage, you are using that site's data transfer to display the files. Since web hosts charge based on the amount of data transferred, bandwidth is an issue. If a site is over it's monthly bandwidth, it's billed for the extra data or taken offline.

This is what a relative linking path looks like:

[http://../../file.htm]

This is what a hotlinked image looks like:

[http://www.thisisnotyourwebsitesowhyareyouhotlinking.com/file.htm]

Every time the page is loaded, the outside server has to use it's bandwidth to display the image. To avoid this problem, don't link to files on servers that don't belong to you. To share images and files on your own web page, upload them to your own server or to one of the many free website providers. However, you should always ask the webmasters permission first for use of their files.

ii. Why do people hotlink?

The biggest reason newbie webmasters hotlinking is because they don't understand that hotlinking is a serious problem. They don't realize that they are stealing someone else's bandwidth, or space. Because newbies are beginners at making websites, they don't know all the rules (the difference between standard linking and what is deep linking).

Because some web host allow hotlinking, the newbie begin to think that hotlinking is okay and accepted, and don't consider if they are hurting anyone. Those that do know that they are hotlinking may be in denial that they are doing something wrong.

iii. How can you tell that someone is hotlinking you?

There are several things that you can do if you suspect that someone is hotlinking you. You should regularly check your bandwidth stats. If they suddenly go up with no explanation, most likely someone is hotlinking you. If you do not have access to due to do so, ask your host to check for you. Make use of Google's image search: "image:yourdomain.com" If your images pop up in a google search with your domain on someone else's website, you know that you have your hotlinker caught red handed.

iv. Why is Hotlinking a Problem?

Most of the time, the site you are hotlinking, either belongs to the webmaster themselves or they are being hosted by someone else. If the website you are hotlinking a domain, the webmaster will loose bandwidth [which they are paying for]...in other words, you're making them pay extra money for stealing their bandwidth. If you are hotlinking a site hosted on a domain, well, that's an equally big problem because being hosted is PRIVELAGE, like being able to use the car for the weekend.

Most hosts automatically reset bandwidth, but some one do not so all the used bandwidth adds up. If you knowingly hotlink, just know that you will be found out, reported and possibly loose hosting for your site.

v. How do you prevent Hotlinking?

This is very easy actually. You create a .htaccess file. What you do is open up notepad, and copy and paste the below coding into notepad, and save the ending .htaccess . Now, where it says yourdomain.com - you will have to replace this with your url and also the images that you want blocked. Ftp the file to your images directory, and your images should now be safely blocked.

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www.)?yourdomain.com/.*$ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www.)?yourdomain.com.*$ [NC]
RewriteRule .(gif|jpg)$ http://www.yourdomain.com/evil.gif [R,L]

Another fun and cruel thing to do to hotlinkers is replace the image that they are hotlinking with an image of your own, telling to stop hotlinking.  [ send green star]

 
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