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Question: What Is Hotlinking, and why is it bad?

I got an email from a webmaster, complaining because I was "hotlinking". What does that mean? Is it a big deal? Because this guy seemed pretty upset about it.


As for what it means, hotlinking (also known as direct linking) is when you add an image file or a video file to your own website - only instead of uploading the image to your server, you just link it in from another website.

Here's an example. On my website The Problem Site there is a Hangman game. This game (obviously) has "gallows" images.

Interestingly, if you go to google image search and type "hangman", my image is currently the number three result. This means that when any webmaster or blogger out there decides he wants an image of a gallows on his blog (you'd be amazed how often that happens!), he uses my image. Except...he doesn't copy the image and upload it to his own server, he just links it in from my server. This mean that every visitor to his website is using my bandwidth.

That's just plain irritating. And potentially expensive.

So, that's what it is, and why it's considered very rude to do it.

Now, there's another reason not to hotlink images. Since the image is on MY server, I control what it looks like. So, I can always duplicate the image, change my website to point to the new image, and then modify the old one. This results in you having an image you didn't intend on your website.

In fact, this is exactly what I do. After the hangman image had been around for a couple years, and was very well linked from all over the place, I just changed it to an advertisement for my website.

The day I make that change, I always end up with a significant amount of new traffic to the site, as people see the ad for my site, and wonder what's so great about the site that their friend is advertising it!

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