What is Hotlinking?

You hear people with websites complaining about hotlinking all the time. It has a number of names besides hotlinking, such as leeching, direct linking and bandwidth stealing. The problem is, the majority of offenders don't realise what they're doing, or that it's stealing at all.

In fact, when I made my first website, I did it myself. I found a great background image on a free graphics site, so linked to it directly in my HTML. About a week later I found, to my horror, that my lovely background image had been replaced with a notice that said something along the lines of "This person is an evil bandwidth theif!" How could this happen?! Bandwidth theif? What is that? What have I done to deserve this awful fate? Oh no.. I've been hacked!!

But of course I hadn't been hacked, what had happened was this: By linking directly to someone else's image, and pulling it off their server instead of my own, I was using up their "bandwidth" instead of my own. So the site owner simply renamed the background image, and replaced it with the bandwidth notification, so that my site pulled that image instead.

So what is bandwidth, and why is using someone else's bandwidth wrong?
Bandwidth is actually a misused term referring to data transfer. Data transfer is just that, the transfer of data between a website host and a websurfer's computer. When you download a webpage or an image to view on your browser, you are using up that websites data transfer, which can get very expensive. Data transfer is actually the most expensive aspect of having a website, so having it used up by direct linkers can be very frustrating.

So how can you tell if you're hotlinking?
Take a look at your HTML code. If the code for your image looks like this:
<img src="http://www.xentrik.net/image.gif">
Then you are hotlinking to an image on http://www.xentrik.net, and using up that siteowner's data transfer, which is wrong.

So how do I stop direct linking?
When you find an image you like, and that you're allowed to use, right-click on it and select Save As. Store it somewhere on your hard drive, where you'll be able to find it later, for the moment. Then upload the image to your web-server, and call it using the following code:
<img src="image.gif">
Now you're linking to an image on your own server, using your own bandwidth, rather than stealing someone else's! Doesn't it feel good?