Friday Question: Should I Let People Hotlink to My Images?


Michael Murphy asks:

I recently had an incoming link from another blog, so of course went to check it out to see who had linked me. No one had, really, but they did find an image I had on my site and post it on their blog – which shows as a linkback (clicking the image takes the user to the image location on my site).

I don’t care about the obvious negative effects of hotlinking at this time. I’ve noticed this happening a few times with images and don’t mind when there is no real additional strain on bandwidth.

My question is…are there any positive benefits for allowing people to hotlink images from your blog? Is there any simple way to drive people viewing the image to the blog homepage?

First things first, what is hotlinking? Also known as inline linking and bandwidth theft, hotlinking refers to the practice of using objects (most of the times images) from one site inside the page of a second site.

While this practice was recognized by the original web architecture, lately people tend to associate it with malicious uses. When you hotlink to the images hosted on another site, for instance, you will end up “stealing” the bandwidth of that website and possibly infringing its copyrights. Should the owner of that site remove the image you will also be left with a broken link.

As you can see, hotlinking to other people’s images is not a smart idea. What about letting other people hotlink to your images, though?

Michael stated that he is not worried about it, because the increased bandwidth consumption is negligible. Personally I also am not too worried if people hotlink to my images, too. The only situation where you should care is when the bandwidth consumed by these external sites is significant, or when you have copyrighted images (e.g., art work) that you don’t want to see around the web without proper attribution.

If you want to block people hotlinking your images you can use the following .htaccess code (check the Preventing Image Bandwidth Theft With .htaccess article for a full explanation on how it works):

SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^" locally_linked=1 SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^$" locally_linked=1 SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^" locally_linked=1 SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^$" locally_linked=1 SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^$" locally_linked=1 Order Allow,Deny Allow from env=locally_linked

Michael also asks if there are any benefits from allowing people to hotlink your images. Yes there are some, provided that the hotlinked image has a link to your website. That will count as a standard backlink, and it might help your search engine rankings. Secondly, if the visitor clicks on the hotlinked image he will be transfered to your site. In reality he will be transfered to the image location, but there is a possibility that he will manually correct the URL to visit your homepage.

Finally, Michael asks if there is any way to redirect people that will end up visiting the image files to your homepage. I am not a .htaccess expert, but I suspect it would be possible to accomplish that with some code. I will ask some friends about it and post the findings shortly. If you know how to create such a redirect with PHP or .htaccess let me know and I will publish your solution.


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