Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Hot Topic: Hotlinking

I've been meaning to post this for months, and now that I've started posting pics again on my blog, I figured it was time. E. Spat posted the other day about how she had to move a lot of her pics because people were hotlinking them. While I'm no html expert, I think a lot of bloggers aren't even aware of what hotlinking is or what it does. Time for clarification. The lesson will be broken down into 2 parts: (1)What is hotlinking and (2) why is it bad.

(1). What is hotlinking?
Hotlinking is when someone links to a picture by just using an html address that already exists instead of saving the picture and uploading it to your own site. This is usually done by viewing properties of the pic on another website, and then inserting that address into your own to make the picture appear on your site. For instance, all my John Cusack pics were taken from that site, but instead of just using their html addresses, I saved them to my own computer and then uploaded them to a friend's server. [She allows me to host pics on her account so that I can use them here.]

(2). Why is it bad?
There is something in internet usage called bandwidth. When someone owns an account, they have bandwidth limitations per day or per month, depending on their account. For instance, my friend pays a certain amount and is given X units of bandwidth per month. Every time a picture loads, it uses a certain amount of bandwidth. If she puts a pic on her site, every time someone visits her site and the pic loads, it uses her bandwidth. If I put the same pic on my site, everytime someone visits my site, her bandwidth is used. So if the pic appears on both our sites, it doubles the bandwidth usage (and thus decreases the amount she has available for the month).

What happens when people hotlink to images, is that they are basically stealing bandwidth. My friend pays for X units of bandwidth, and when her bandwidth amounts run out for the month, she is no longer able to use her account. A few months ago, we had a particular person hotlinking to almost all of our pictures, and her bandwidth was used up within the first few days of the month. And for the rest of the month, she was not able to host anything on her account. Which isn't fair to her.

So the moral of this long [and likely confusing] post: Don't be a hotlinker. People pay money to be able to host their own pics and use them on their blogs. While it might seem innocent to just link to their pics, if multiple people are doing it, it's seriously decreasing their ability to use their own account. While hotlinking doesn't hurt web conglomerates like cnn or nbc, it really impacts smaller independent sites. There are free ways to host pics or make them appear on your blog, and if those don't work for you, maybe you can consider opening your own account to host them. (Or finding a friend who has an account and is willing to share it with you.)

Update: An Example
After reading comments, I decided to give an example. What follows is 2 identical pictures:

They look exactly the same. The one on the left I saved and uploaded to my host and is linked via it. The one on the right is hotlinked from CNN. When they load, the one on the left uses my bandwidth, and the one on the right uses CNNs, even though they are both on my page. Comprende?

And now, retiring from the soap box.

Disclaimer: This post isn't aimed at anyone in particular. I know several people who hotlink on their blogs, and I believe it's done because they don't know what hotlinking really does. I just wanted to post an educational topic to inform because some people are not very nice when they find out their are being hotlinked. In fact, some people have resorted to using graphic images that appear when someone tries to hotlink on their page. Just don't want anyone to end up with a naked butt shot with "bandwidth theif" plastered on it on their blog. [Trust me, I have seen said shot and it's not pretty.]