I have read more topics and posts about hotlink protection over the years than I can remember anymore. Some people say it’s a good idea, but I am not completely sold on enabling or using it. I have looked into it on a number of occasions, but never committed to using it.
If you use cPanel hosting there is a feature in your hosting account usually found in the Security area titled “HotLink Protection“. If you go there you can enable it and set your preferences. What it basically does is just write rules to your .htaccess file based on what you enter on this page or area.
You can do the same thing by manually entering hotlink protection rules or code in your .htaccess file. I prefer the manual way because I know exactly what and where the code will be entered.
I have seen more variations of hotlink protection code than I can count. All of the ones I have looked at are similar, but not exactly the same. I actually tested several code variations recently and each of them behaved differently. Most of the differences I noticed were related to different browsers, which really don’t make a lot of sense. One hotlink protection code would work in one browser, but not in another. I tried several different varieties of code and none of them worked properly in all of the three browsers (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox) I tested. Again, I have no idea why that would be and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that is what happened.
Hotlink protection is used so someone can’t use your images, pages, or files on another site. If a site adds an image that is being served directly from your website it would be denied. Usually it’s referred to as leeching or bandwidth theft, and it’s fairly common. Here is an older, but excellent post worth reading: Creating the Ultimate htaccess Anti-Hotlinking Strategy.
I know there are websites that use screen shots from my dolphin tutorials. Sometimes they even use them claiming they wrote a tutorial and insert my images so it appears on their website. Not only are they using my bandwidth, but it’s disappointing to see my work copied and used elsewhere.
Enabling hotlink protection that actually worked properly would eliminate most of this, but at the same time I am thinking it will also block things like Google Images from indexing images. Same with readers like Google Reader.
I can create additional rules to allow these kinds of things, but trying to keep up with all of the different sites and services could be overwhelming.
So as much as I wouldn’t mind blocking or preventing some of these things from happening with hotlink protection I don’t know that it is such a good idea.
I was thinking even if a site were using some of my images maybe I would get a backlink out of the deal. In most cases they just linked to the image directly, which doesn’t help much. Others just use the image without linking to it, so no benefit there either. I did find one site that actually linked to my site. It was a nofollow link, but better than nothing.
I guess it’s just one of those things you accept and live with. There is no way to prevent everything. You can’t prevent every bot out there, and you are not going to stop everyone from stealing bandwidth, images, files, etc. At least not without spending more time than it would be worth. I just wish they would upload, store, and use images from their own web hosting account instead of mine.