Imagine you’ve posted a gorgeous photo on your website. Suddenly, you see it embedded on another website, but they haven’t bothered to save the image to their server. Instead, they’ve linked directly to your image file. This is hotlinking. The other website is freeloading off your bandwidth, using your resources to display the image on their page.

Why is Hotlinking a Problem?

There are a few reasons why hotlinking can be a pain:

  • Bandwidth Theft: As mentioned earlier, hotlinking consumes your website’s bandwidth. If you have a lot of hotlinked content, it can slow down your site for legitimate visitors.
  • Increased Costs: Depending on your hosting plan, excessive bandwidth usage might lead to additional charges.
  • Lack of Control: You have no control over how the hotlinked content is being displayed or used on the other website. It could be placed in a bad context, harming your reputation.

Hotlink protection is a set of techniques that prevent other websites from directly linking to your files. There are two main methods:

1. Editing .htaccess File

You can prevent hotlinking by adding a few lines of code to your website’s .htaccess file. This file acts as a configuration file specifically for Apache web servers. By editing it, you can control how your server handles various aspects, including hotlinking. Adding specific code allows you to block hotlinking for certain file types, like images, while still permitting access to others, such as HTML files.

RewriteEngine on

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?*$ [NC]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^https://(www\.)?*$ [NC]

RewriteRule \.(gif|jpg|jpeg|mp3|png|pdf|zip)$ - [F]

Before you use the code, make sure to customize it for your website. Complete the following items to ensure the code will work with your website:

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  • Replace in the above code with your site’s URL.
  • Remove RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$ if you want to block blank referers. See the How the Code Works section for more information about blank referers.
  • Add or remove the file types in the last line. Separate file types with a |

2. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

Services like Cloudflare offer hotlink protection as part of their security features. They can block unauthorized access to your files at the network level.

Important Considerations

  • Whitelisting Allowed Sites: You may want to whitelist specific websites that you allow to hotlink to your content. For instance, you might give permission to a forum where you’re a regular contributor.
  • False Positives: Be aware that hotlink protection can sometimes block legitimate links. Test your implementation thoroughly to avoid unintended consequences.

Hotlink protection is a valuable tool for website owners who want to safeguard their bandwidth and maintain control over their content. By understanding how hotlinking works and implementing the right protection measures, you can ensure your website runs smoothly and efficiently.