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Want a Crash-Proof Site? A Paint-by-Numbers Guide to Using (and Surviving) Amazon S3

Posted By Darren Rowse 5th of September 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

By Mary Jaksch from GoodlifeZen.

Do you dream of creating a post or Ebook that goes viral? If you do, you might run into a problem. People flock to your site. You’re ecstatic about the spike in your visitor numbers. And then your site crashes.

The problem is that your site can buckle or crash under the strain of using too much bandwidth. So in order to safeguard your site, it’s important to use as little bandwidth as possible. But how can you do that if you want to use images, audio, or even video on your site? Luckily, there is a nifty solution. And it’s dirt cheap!

The solution is Amazon S3.

What is Amazon S3? I’m not a geek, so I’ll give a simple explanation:

Imagine for a moment that you’ve got a storage problem in your home. One way to deal with this, is to rent space in a storage facility. This is exactly what Amazon S3 is: it’s an online storage facility.

You know Amazon.com, right? That’s the big online store that sells books and other stuff. I’m sure you can imagine that they have a huge server capacity because they’ve got so much stuff on their site. Amazon S3 is a system that rents out some of their spare capacity. For cents, not dollars.


  • Amazon S3 is super cheap.
    There are no setup fees or minimum costs. You only pay for what you use, even if it’s just a couple of cents a month. We are literally talking cents, not dollars here!
  • It works.
    All your images look just like usual and you can control the size and placement just as before.
  • It’s easy to use – eventually.
    With the help of WordPress plugin Amazon S3, you can upload images through Amazon S3 automatically. If you’re not on WordPress, or if you’re uploading videos or audio, you can upload manually.


  • The setup is complex and glitch-rich.
    Setting up on Amazon S3, the Firefox S3 Organizer, and the WP Amazon S3 takes time and can be frustrating.
  • Amazon S3 only works with Firefox.
    In order to upload manually, you need to use the (free) Firefox extension S3Fox Organizer
  • There are plenty of pitfalls.
    Uploading manually with Firefox S3 Organizer is fraught with possible errors. (People have been known to punch their computer in frustration!)

Set up Amazon S3 in three (reasonably easy) steps

Step #1: Set up your account on Amazon S3
Go to the home of Amazon S3 and set up your account. This video will help you. Just follow the steps.

Step #2: Install and set up the Firefox extension Amazon S3
Go to s3fox.net to install the Firefox Extension. Once you have installed it, you can access it by clicking on ‘Tools’ on the Firefox navigation bar. Once you’ve installed the extension, set up at least one ‘bucket’. (This is what storage folders are called.)

Take a look at the video I suggested above. In the second half it tells you how to upload files, using the Firefox S3 Organizer. Make sure you take note of how to set ACL permissions.These permissions say whether only you can read the file you’ve uploaded, or whether it will be available to the general public.

The way to change the ACL permissions is to highlight a file you’ve uploaded, then click on the pencil icon in the bar above it. Make sure the file has three green ticks, i.e., set it to ‘read’ for everyone.

Step #3: Set up WordPress plugin Amazon S3
There is a nifty WordPress plugin called Amazon S3. Download the plugin and unzip the file. To install it, use an FTP client (that’s software to get stuff onto your site), and upload the unzipped file into your Plugin folder. Then go to your WordPress Dashboard and click on Plugins.

Activate the plugin. It will ask you for the “AWS Access ID” and your Secret Key. If you’re not sure what they are, have another look at the video above. It’s explained how to find them. Once you’ve inserted your ID and Secret Key, the plugin is ready to roll.

Pitfalls nobody tells you about.

  • Pitfall #1 You haven’t set up a ‘bucket’
    If you have more than one website, chose one bucket per website. (A bucket is like a storage room for files). You could also have a bucket each for images, audio files, PDF’s and so on. Setting up a bucket is an essential part of the process if you want to use the WP Amazon S3 plugin. The plugin won’t work without at least one bucket!
  • Pitfall #2 You cant find the correct upload URL
    In order to put the stuff on your website, you need to know what the correct address is. Unfortunately, the S3 Organizer fails to point out this small but crucial detail! Here is an example from my GoodlifeZEN website: http://goodlifezen.s3.amazonaws.com/welcome-GLZ-5.flv -it’s the actual address of my ‘welcome’ video.
    The ‘bucket’ or S3 folder I’ve set up is called goodlifezen, and the file name is welcome-GLZ-5.flv. When formatting the file address, use your bucket name, then s3.amazonaws.com/ followed by the file name.
  • Pitfall #3 You just can’t get the darn thing to work.
    You’ve done everything right, but when you click on the link, you get error message or the plugin refuses to work. Frustrating! Take a deeeep breath and don’t throw your toys out of the cot just yet. Consult the following troubleshooting section first.


  • Problem: You’ve installed the S3 Plugin and it comes up with an error message – even though you’ve put in your ID and Secret Key correctly.
    Solution: Did you cut and past the keys? If so, try to type in the ID and key number.
  • Problem: You’ve managed to install everything correctly but when you try to access the file on the Net, you get the message ‘Access Denied’.
    Solution: Check the ‘read’ permissions and make sure you have three green ticks.
    (See above to read about ACL permissions).
  • Problem: You’ve set permissions correctly, but still get the ‘Access Denied’ message.
    Solution: Check whether the file you’re trying to upload is located in a folder. If so, change the address to include the folder. Here’s an example: Let’s pretend that the file I mentioned above was uploaded within a folder called video. The correct address for the file would then be: http://goodlifezen.s3.amazonaws.com/video/welcome-GLZ-5.flv. As you can see, the folder name is now included in the pathway to the file.
  • Problem: You try to access the uploaded file but get an error message, saying: ‘File not found’. This can mean that the the link address isn’t configured correctly.
    Solution: Check and correct the link address. The quickest way to check is to put the address in your browser window.
  • Problem: You’ve configured everything correctly, and you still get ‘Access denied’ message and are just about to throw your computer out of the window.
    Solution: Go back to the Firefox S3 Organizer and check that the filename you chose is in lower case. If not, rename the file and upload it again.
  • Problem: Your S3 plugin isn’t working. Solution: check whether your site running on PHP 5. (This is the scripting language your site is using). Ask your hosting company what PHP your site is running on and how to change it. It’s usually just a one-click change. This plugin will only run on PHP 5.
  • Problem: Your S3 plugin still isn’t working.
    Solution: Make sure you’ve created a bucket in your Firefox S3 Organizer. The plugin won’t work without creating a bucket first.
  • Problem: You’ve tried it all but it still doesn’t work.
    Solution: Shoot your computer, forget about Amazon S3, or leave a rude comment.

You’ve set up Amazon S3. Now what?

If you are not a WordPress user:
You can manually upload any file through the Firefox S3 Organizer. Then link to the uploaded file using the address formatted as explained above.

WordPress users:
Once you’ve installed the plugin, everything is automatic – at least where images are concerned. Upload your images as usual and the plugin will automatically upload the image to your Amazon S3 bucket and create a link to it. It’s easy! You can also upload PDF or other text files with ease.

Audio and video
Putting up audios is relatively easy. I use a WP plugin called Audio Player for the podcasts. I manually upload the audio files through the Firefox S3 Organizer and then link to them on site, using the correct plugin configuration.

Putting videos on your site is more complex. I use a JV FLV Player and upload with Amazon S3.


Setting up Amazon S3 is complex but not difficult. Allow about 20 minutes to get everything set up. Once you’ve got it set up, you will love it! You won’t have any more problems with bandwidth and you can store your files there for mere cents.

I’d like to acknowledge Dave Kaminski of the Video University Blog. Without his ever-patient support I would never have overcome all the obstacles to using Amazon S3.

You can read more by Mary Jaksch on her blog GoodlifeZen or on Write to Done where she is the Editor. Join Mary on Twitter.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Super helpful post! I’m not sure if I want to host my images using Amazon S3, but PDF files and videos? Definitely.

    Here’s hoping the setup goes well.

    Bookmarked the post. Thanks again!

  2. You are right Mary, Amazon S3 is complex but not difficult to set up.

    Great info – Thanks for sharing Mary.

  3. I always enjoy learning what other people think about Amazon Web Services and how they use them. Check out my very own tool CloudBerry Explorer that helps to
    manage S3 on Windows . It is a freeware. http://cloudberrylab.com/

  4. I’ve been using AS3 for some months and I’m very pleased. It reduces my server load a lot.

    But I stopped adding images because I couldn’t find a way to check referrers logs to stop the hotlinking of my images.

    Judging for my account numbers, nothing is happening, but there should be an easy (or complex, at least) way of having a referrer log.

    I must admit that I made a research to find a solution for that some months ago with no luck, but since then I didn’t checked if there is something new. Maybe it has been solved.

    Any suggestions? Anything I missed?


  5. I am so appreciative. I have been trying to set it up without any success. I almost gave up trying. Thanks for the video

  6. That looks pretty neat. If I ever have a problem with bandwidth, it looks like a great tool to use. Thanks Mary.

  7. I’ve doing the same thing but with CacheFly vice Amazon. While it has helped, it will by no means make your site crashproof.

    For most sites, the single point of failure is mySQL rather than bandwidth allocation. I’m on a professionally managed dedicated server and still have crashes from time-to-time, despite offloading images and using various caching tools.

  8. Not sure if I am ready to host all my images and video on another server, but when I am I will definitely think about using Amazon’s service.

  9. Sounds interesting. It would be nice to see some examples of pages though.

  10. Great post.

    I’ve been using S3 at work for about a year now and its worked out great. We store ec2 images and backup snapshots there, and have been doing development using it in a distributed filesystem for MySQL and our federated search engine software used as the backend on several high profile Gov sites.

    S3 has worked out great for us, I had not thought of using it to host images and other files for a blog though, good idea.

    Amazon’s Cloud ec2 stuff, on the other hand, has been very unstable. Underlying hardware failures and instance crashes. Even our own site, ScienceResearch.com, that they interviewed us for and was featured in the Amazon Web Services Blog has gone down once from hardware failures. I need to build in more fault tolerance for anything we deploy there. But the S3 storage is great.

  11. I will just hold on for another not so complex system to use, anything that take so much time the the extent that Darren is not even able to finish the setup without headache is definitely not for me ;).

  12. I will just hold on for another not so complex system to use, anything that takes so much time to the extent that Darren was not even able to finish the setup without headache is definitely not for me ;).

  13. Note that you can also tweak your blog to load any non-dynamic content via content delivery network (CDN) like Amazon S3. So css and javascript can be put there too, not just images and other uploaded content.

    With that, saving the bandwidth is not the only reason to use such a system as equally important factor is that using it will SPEED your site, and it’ll speed it up a lot.

    CDN like Amazon S3 streams the content from a server as close (and fast) as possible to a visitor, it might cut loading times a lot, especially for visitors on the other side from the host.

  14. I was wondering just this week how to use Amazon S3. This was wery helpful. Thank you.

  15. @ Dayo
    If I can set up Amazon S3, honestly – anyone can!
    I only started blogging 20 months ago and started with a knowledge base that was below zero – I didn’t even know what a blog was! 8-0

    It’s like learning to drive a car. At first you’re baffled by all the funny levers and my find that the car lurches into the car parked behind, instead of serenely moving forward. But after a short time, it becomes easy.

    Working with Amazon S3 is super easy once it’s set up and you know how to use it. Even for me ;-)

  16. Lexi Rodrigo says: 09/05/2009 at 5:45 am

    You can use Amazon S3 without these wordpress and Firefox plugins, if you have a good FTP software that works with Amazon S3.

    I use Transmit and it allows me to upload files to my AS3 buckets just like I would to my web server via FTP. Very easy and well worth the small cost.

  17. @Mary

    20 months experience from blogging is not a joke, but I agree with you that pratice makes perfect. but I think people must flock to your site before thinking of amazon S3. I still have a unique between 1k – 10k. So I will remain patience.

  18. Mary, thank you so much.

    People had recommended that I use Amazon S3 but I was extremely put off because it seemed so complex. :-) I’m now able to refer to this article when I run into the boo boos that I know will happen.

    I’m so grateful for this post and thank you Darren for publishing it.

    – Jade

  19. @Dave
    I don’t think we need to wait until our blogs are mega size.

    What triggered my desire to learn how to use Amazon S3 is because I want to use more and more multimedia.

    I’ve just completed the first A-List Blogging Bootcamp together with Leo Babauta and we produced about 26 podcasts for the course.

    I tell you what, Dave – I was so happy I learned how to use Amazon S3 when I put that load of podcasts onto our site!

  20. I also use Amazon S3 for my online course Author 2.0 which has videos and audio which all take up a lot of bandwidth. I wanted a fast, secure, scalable solution with differing levels of billing depending on usage. This is what I have with Amazon S3 so I highly recommend it!
    I use BucketExplorer with it – and also have archived personal documents etc there as well.

    Thanks, Joanna

  21. Is there any money required for setting up an account in Amazon?
    If it exists,Is it affordable?

  22. This was wery helpful. Thank you.

  23. Mary Jaksch, Why not just use apture?

  24. Great article. You have given a lot of details on using Amazon 3S for word press. But to the best of my knowledge it is always better to host everything in out own server. A lot of websites and blog invest money on quality hosting and bandwidth but you article throws a blessing light on those bloggers who want to play the game in safe.

    Keep Writing…

    And Darren : – Best of luck for your upcoming community. Today, I will like to take the opportunity to share something.

    After reading some of the inspiring articles from you blog I have achieved a good amout of traffic to my blog.

    Within just 3 months and 4 days, now I am getting more than 120,000 pages view for month. You blog is really praiseworthy. Keep blogging

    Have a Great day…bye

  25. Interesting post. Can you use Amazon S3 as a hosting server or is it only for files?

  26. @Young
    Hey thanks for pointing out Apture. I’ve just installed it and it looks great.

    Apture seems a great solution for including ready-made multimedia on one’s blog. It seems like a linking service where Apture links in one’s blog posts bring up windows with the relevant videos, or other media files.

    I’m going to give it a try on Goodlife Zen.

    However, my goal is to produce multimedia in the form of my own videos and podcasts and then to showcase the these on my blog. I can’t see a way of using Apture for that, or am I missing something?

  27. @ We fly spitfires
    I’ve heard that some people use Amazon S3 to host their blogs but I don’t have any information on that.

  28. @Everyone
    I’ve just been alerted to another really good system of managing Amazon S3 files. This is instead of using the Firefox Extension S3:
    Check out Cloudberry Lab
    It’s a free tool for Windows

  29. @ We fly spitfires you can host only static content on Amazon S3. You can probably run a dynamic website on Amazon EC2 but it is not very cost effective.
    I am a little surprised nobody mentioned Amazon CloudFront service. This Amazon’s CDN works closely with S3 and serves files up to 34 times faster than S3 itself.

  30. Nice thing about your post is you have defined from scratch and do not left us in the middle. You finished till the last word and make sure that we understand each and everything smoothly with easy language.

    Now I am fond of your writing skill as well.

    Really nice one … and 5 stars to you.

  31. Interesting, looks like that thing will really help us with bandwidth problems.. checking it now.

  32. I tried to install Amazon S3 but gave up in despair. I may try again, but it is discouraging that the installation is so complex. I do not have much multi-media on my site so maybe it’s not necessary. I use WP Automated Backup and WP Automated Online Backup.

  33. I don’t know too much about amazon and never tried it.
    But may be i can now think about amazon.

  34. Excellent step by step on using Amazon S3…I recently found a very easy service to manage Amazon S3 and it’s great for video marketing, ebook marketing & online backup EZS3 http://ow.ly/oc4l

  35. Is this a kind of affiliate marketing that goes on video? I just want to know that so I can use it on my blog.

  36. @Piedmont Repairs

    There’s no cost involved in setting up an Amazon S3 account. You only pay according to usage.

    @ Martin
    I had a look at EZS3. It looks a very useful application. But $20 per month is quite a steep price.

    An application with similar capacity is http://cloudberrylab.com/ and you can use their free version.

  37. 2 comments. First of all Ditto Mary’s endorsement of Dave Kaminskis web membership. If anyone needs to know ANYTHING about doing video online, hes’ the guy and I never had anyone answer questions so quickly on his forum.

    Also in reference to not knowing the address of the files, all you have to do is right click on file and then copy url to clipboard and then wherever you paste, it will paste the full url

  38. You can use S3 Browser to manage your Amzon S3 Buckets and files – it’s free and easy to use!

  39. @ Faige – thanks for the tip about finding the file URL by right-clicking the file . That’s one problem solved!

    @S3 Browser Team
    Thanks for sharing this info. Unfortunately both the S3 Browser and the CloudBerry Lab application are for Windows only. I’m a Mac person, so they don’t work for me.

  40. Amazon S3 has been a life saver for me for years. Especially when I’m broadcasting a video to my newsletter subscribers – didn’t know there was a plugin though for WordPress. Thanks for that!

  41. @ Mary

    I took a look at CloudBerryLab and it looks to only be an ftp type service for S3. EZS3 http://ow.ly/oc4l is much more than just an easy ftp program it allows you to creates custom players for FLV, SWF, MP3 audio, Camtasia studio, Quicktime movies, Windows media video, PDFs, create image galleries and video widgets.

    It allows you to create custom video widgets that you can place on any site with a ton of great features like allowing your visitors to add comments, social bookmarks, download links, ad banners, ratings and more.

    It also has video, audio and download statistics so you can see how often people view or download your videos, audios or files. You can add watermarks for branding and you can add clickable links within your videos. It also allows you to lock your players to a specific URL so no one can steal your videos.

    I teach internet marketing courses online and my webinars are all about 1 hour long so the files are huge. EZS3 allows me to very quickly upload & create video players and easily post them to my member’s site and track all the views. $20 per month for all of these features for my coaching business is well worth it.

    Certainly if you just need an FTP client for Amazon S3 EZS3 is probably more than you need. But if you do a lot of video and audio then EZS3 is an amazing service that will save you a lot of time and gives you great features.

  42. As a Newbie, I am always searching online for articles that can help me. Thank you

  43. Great post on Amazon S3. I will definetly use those tips in the future.

  44. @Martin
    Thanks so much for taking the trouble to write your informative comment. I can see from what you write that EZS3 has much more capability than it seemed.

    (I’ll be emailing you shortly to ask you some questions about your webinar setups etc.)

  45. sounds great, but isn’t there free file storage, and free web hosting companies already out there?

  46. If you want to host video on S3 I would like to recommend http://www.flvmate.com/ it is one time purchase of $39 and it works on Windows and Mac.
    I prefer it over EZS3 because I don’t have to pay every month.

    @Martin I wish you didn’t use you affiliate link. It gives little credibility to your pitch.
    if you expand bit.ly link you will get the following:

  47. Been using S3 to host audio files for a while now and it really is cheap. One thing: I tried the Firefox S3 extension and found it rather annoying to use. I’m on a Mac and will highly recommend Cyberduck instead – it’s free and very easy to use once set up (I also use it to manage my WP plugins etc). Get it here:


  48. alwayslovely says: 09/08/2009 at 3:09 am

    mary, thank you so much for providing a simple guide on the service. I have noticed renowned bloggers using the service but never really find out more until reading your post.
    Once again, thanks for the overview!

  49. Darren

    Perhaps you should give some guidance on using the JW player and the €49 license required to use it on a commercial site – eg a site which has adverts on it


  50. This is perfect. I literally JUST switched to a dedicated server because our site had grown too big for our shared hosting account. This will probably help even more if I can use it to reduce bandwidth usage.

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