Leechers.
You really, really shouldn't do it...

So what's leeching then? Well in the olden days it would probably involve removal of the trousers and attachment of several black wormy things to the bottom area that would, er, suck the bad blood out of you. But nowadays it has a whole new meaning. In Interweb terms it generally means a user who takes more than they give. For instance if you're using a file-sharing program and you only leave it running when you need some files but don't leave it on for others to grab your files. But when you have a website, the term leecher takes on a new meaning, one that puts you in mind of those blood-sucking parasites of olden days.

A quick explanation of leeching for the hard-of-understanding:

When you view a webpage, all of the elements; text, images, sound, flash animation and more, can come from any number of different sources. For instance, just because you see an image on a page under google.com, doesn't mean that image itself is actually ON google.com. In the HTML (that's the code that makes up a webpage), when an image is displayed, its address is specified. Now, in the example above, if the address specified was, "images/picture.gif" then the web server (the computer giving you the data from the website you are viewing) would display the file called "picture.gif" in a nearby folder called "images", if it existed. Alternatively, the address could be specified as something like "http://www.google.com/images/picture.gif". This would have the pretty much the same effect. Now, there's nothing to stop the owner of the site from specifying an image on somebody else's site. Say, "http://www.2atoms.com/images/picture.gif". In this case, the page on the website would look the same, but would now involve 2 different web servers: the one hosting google.com and the one hosting 2atoms.com.

So why do this leeching then?

Answer 1: Laziness.

The owner of the leeching site can't be bothered to copy the image, publish on his own site and point to that. Or doesn't have the space for it on his web server. Or doesn't have ANY webspace. This is usually the case for forum users that know how to cut and paste web addresses but can't be bothered to use the free webspace they get with their ISP.

Answer 2: Bandwidth.

Even in this, the so-called Internet age, where men wear silver spacesuits and fly to work in hovercars *, there are limitations to how much data can be shoved down your telephone line at one time. There are also limits on the total amount of data you can receive via your ISP, though most users will not need concern themselves with this. There are also limits on how much data a web server can "serve" in any given time period. Website owners who use more than their prescribed quota of data, "bandwidth" face having their sites close down, having to pay a large extra bandwidth bill at the end of the month or both. Pointing image addresses to another person's website means that visitors to your website get to see the image and you don't have to pay for the bandwidth. Which is why owners of sites that get leeched from get angry. Or get even. Or both, in my case. Of course the average image doesn't take that much bandwidth. But some of the images that get leeched from 2atoms.com are 300-400KB in size. That's large for an image. And if some jerkoff uses it as a background for his webpage, then our web server has to spend 1/3 MB of bandwidth to some stranger somewhere who isn't even visiting our site and probably never will. Our daily bandwidth allowance at the moment, here on 2atoms is about 660 MB averaged out over the course of a month. So as you can see, with the larger files there is the potential for us to exceed our bandwidth allowance due to leeching. Worse still, if more than a few people leech at the same time, then those genuine visitors to our site lose out as their viewing experience slows to a crawl.

So what can we do against leeching. Ignore it? Yes, to a degree that works. A few hits on small files won't harm us. In fact if people can see that the file has come from 2atoms.com it may even prompt a visit to the site. Some small files I'm happy to stamp "Hosted by 2atoms" onto and allow to be leeched. But when it comes to larger files, I just won't (and can't) allow it. Video files and audio files I will simply rename or remove, but images, well there's something extra special I can do with images.

You see, because the address of the image on THEIR webpage points to a file MY web server, I can effectively change the image on their webpage. So, that's exactly what I've been doing. And the results will be published here for all to see as a lesson for would-be leechers. Except that leechers NEVER understand these things until it is too late...

July 18th 2004

http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=belmakor (warning, unless he's wised up there will be some pornography at the linked page).

Was using a 211KB image hosted on 2atoms.com as a background for his wonderful free Xanga website. Oh how I love those Xanga free webpages, I really do...

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