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How To Tell If Someone Is Directly Linking (Hotlinking) To Your Files

To find out what files are being accessed by what sites, you can check this in your site logs on your web server.

  1. Use your FTP program to access your web server directory, and then go into the logs/W3SVC### directory (where ## may be any set of numbers).

  2. Download and/or view the a few of the most recent log files. Each log file is named according to date, such as exYYMMDD.log where YY is the last two digits of the year, MM is the month and DD is the day.

  3. Take a closer look when you see several lines that reference the same image on your site. Look in the line to see if the URL is from another site that is not on your domain or from a known search engine. Typically, any URL that has forum in it is a good indication of possible hotlinking. There may be other web sites that may be doing this as well. The lines are long so you will need to scroll horizontally to see all the data, or you can turn on word wrap in your text editor.

  4. Below is an exmaple of a line from a log file. W3SVC### represents the directory where your raw log files are kept. represents IP numbers, and represents your actual domain name. The URL in red is the suspected hotlinking site.

    2004-07-27 10:47:03 W3SVC### AWHWS2 GET /avatars/an_avatar.gif - 80 - HTTP/1.1 Mozilla/4.0+(compatible;+MSIE+6.0;+Windows+98) - 404 0 3 4288 313 625

    The above information shows that
    is hotlinking to the /avatars/an_avatar.gif image on

    By visiting the site you may find your image there, and can contact the offending party asking them to stop.

What can I do to stop hotlinking?

There are no real answers to this question. Sometimes people will still steal images even though they aren't supposed to. There are some precautions you can take to reduce the possibility of your images being hotlinked.

  • If you have images on your site available for download such as buddy icons or avatars, you may want to put a collection of them into a .zip file and let users download the package. In this way, people can't link directly to your image and use it on forums. Some forums allow users to link to an off-site image for an avatar, which is what may happen if you provide avatar images as-is on your site.

  • Change your files around every so often, move the location of the file or change their filenames. This will then cause the hotlinker's image to show up as a red "x" in their visitor's browser and cause the hotlinking to that image to stop. DO NOT change the images to an adult, erotic, porn or other objectionable content and use the same image filename! This does not solve the problem, and can get your domain taken offline due to violation of Active Web Hosting's Terms.

  • Put your web site URL in your images online so that people know where the image is coming from and so that you'll always get credit as the creator even if it does happen to get hotlinked.

  • If you have someone persistantly hotlinking to your images or files, use the steps above to find the site that is doing the hotlinking and contact the site owner or the user that is hotlinking your image, and ask them to stop.

  • See our FAQ on How To Prevent Hotlinking From Your Site to learn how to stop people from hotlinking. Note that this FAQ is not for those not familiar with HTML and the CGI server.


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