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Enter the name of an image from Commons on any MediaWiki installation ...
... and the image is fetched from Commons and embedded into the page

InstantCommons is a feature of MediaWiki to allow the usage of any uploaded media file from the Wikimedia Commons in any MediaWiki installation world-wide.


As of November 2023, Wikimedia Commons, the central media repository hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, contains over 100 million files. Each of these files is available under a free content license or in the public domain; there are no other restrictions of use beyond those relating to use of official insignia or trademarks. Licenses which limit commercial use are considered non-free.

As awareness of the Commons grows, so does the desire of external parties to use content included therein, and to contribute new material. It is currently technically possible to load images directly from Wikimedia's servers in the context of any webpage. Such hotlinking is allowed, but it is problematic for multiple reasons:

  • It does not respect the license terms of the image, and does not allow for other metadata to be reliably transported
  • Besides failing to properly credit the author of the media file, it also does not give credit to Wikimedia
  • It consumes Wikimedia bandwidth on every pageview (unless the image has been cached on the client side or through a proxy; this functionality is currently disabled by default)
  • It does not facilitate useful image operations such as thumbnail generation and captioning and is difficult to use in the context of a wiki, particularly for standard layout operations
  • It is tied to URLs as resource identifiers, which complicates mirroring
  • It creates an untrackable external usage web, where any change on Wikimedia's side necessarily affects these external users
  • It does not permit offline viewing, which is crucial in countries which have only intermittent network access.

InstantCommons seeks to address all this by providing an easy method for (cached) loading of images and metadata from Wikimedia's servers. Although caching functionality is part of the objective, it has been disabled since MediaWiki 1.27.2/1.28.1. InstantCommons was first implemented within MediaWiki, allowing for all MediaWiki image operations (thumbnailing, captioning, galleries, etc.) to be performed transparently. Other wiki engines can implement InstantCommons-like functionality using the API operations described below.

Basic feature set

During the installation, the site administrator can choose whether to enable InstantCommons. Ideally, however, the feature should be enabled by default (provided a writable upload directory is specified) to allow the largest possible number of users to use Wikimedia Commons content.

If the feature is enabled, the wiki behaves like a Wikimedia project, that is, if an image or other media file is referred to which exists on Commons, it can be included in a wiki page like a locally uploaded file by specifying its name. Local filenames take precedence over Commons filenames.


Default method: $wgUseInstantCommons

For enabling InstantCommons in MediaWiki version 1.16 or later, it is sufficient to add this line to your LocalSettings.php (see $wgUseInstantCommons for details):

$wgUseInstantCommons = true;

For enabling in MediaWiki versions 1.13-1.15, see Manual:$wgForeignFileRepos#Using files from Wikimedia Commons : ForeignAPIRepo .

This feature should work immediately. If it's not, check if the PHP function curl_exec() is disabled in your web server. A HTTP Proxy is configured for cURL with $wgHTTPProxy .

Classic InstantCommons with local thumb caching

Default InstantCommons as enabled through $wgUseInstantCommons uses thumb images hotlinked from Wikimedia.[1] This may be slow and may also interfere with file caching (broken links). If you would like to generate and use thumbs on your local server, do not use $wgUseInstantCommons. Instead, insert this code into LocalSettings.php as described here: Manual:$wgForeignFileRepos#Usage.

$wgForeignFileRepos[] = [
	'class' => ForeignAPIRepo::class,
	'name' => 'commonswiki', // Must be a distinct name
	'apibase' => 'https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/api.php',
	'hashLevels' => 2,
	'fetchDescription' => true, // Optional
	'descriptionCacheExpiry' => 43200, // 12 hours, optional (values are seconds)
	'apiThumbCacheExpiry' => 86400, // 24 hours, optional, but required for local thumb caching


Starting June 2015, Wikimedia Commons can only be accessed using HTTPS. Some installs may be missing their root certificate store which prevents MediaWiki from contacting Commons over HTTPS. If InstantCommons stopped working, try:

  • Installing the php curl extension. (It is generally more reliable, and more likely to have proper certificates already installed.) On Debian/Ubuntu: sudo apt-get install php-curl
  • Verify you have an up-to-date certificate store. If you have the php curl extension installed, follow the instructions webaware or Talk:InstantCommons#Stop_working.


If your server OS implements SElinux, please take a look at the dedicated section on the SELinux settings page, and make sure HTTPD scripts and modules can access the network successfully. If SElinux prevents HTTPD scripts and modules from connecting to WikiMedia Commons repository, the InstantCommons feature will simply not work.

Behind a firewall

If the server on which the wiki runs is behind a firewall, the wiki server must be granted outgoing http/https requests to commons.wikimedia.org and upload.wikimedia.org, for Instant Commons to work. The IP address ranges are found at wikitech:IP addresses.

Using files via InstantCommons

With InstantCommons enabled, you can choose any image from Wikimedia Commons (e.g. this one), click the "Use this file" button (the button with the wiki icon next to) and paste the markup in your wiki. In our example, pasting

[[File:Wikipedia-Marker-commons.svg|thumb|A picture from Wikimedia Commons embedded in this Wiki]]
A picture from Wikimedia Commons embedded in this Wiki

will render the thumbnail (as can be seen on the right side of this page).

Note that when using files in this way you will still need to respect any licensing and other file use legal requirements - see Commons:Reusing content outside Wikimedia.

Scalability considerations

Because the InstantCommons feature allows a wiki user to download resources from the Wikimedia servers, it is crucial that there is no possibility of a Denial of Service attack against either the using wiki, or the Wikimedia Commons, for example, by pasting 30K of links to the largest files on Wikimedia Commons into a wiki page and pressing "preview". Therefore, every successful InstantCommons request will have to be logged by the InstantCommons-enabled wiki together with the originating user or IP address and the time of the request. If an individual user overrides a generous internal bandwidth limitation (could be as high as 1 GB by default, but should be user-configurable), future images will not be downloaded within a 24 hour period. This limitation should not exist for wiki administrators (if a wiki admin wants to conduct a denial of service attack against their own wiki, they do not need to be stopped from doing so; if they want to conduct an attack against Wikimedia, they cannot be stopped from doing so except on Wikimedia's end). In addition to the per-user bandwidth limit, there could be a limit on the size of files which should be downloaded transparently. This would primarily be because files above a certain size would delay pageviews significantly and might even cause the page request to time out. It might be desirable to use an external application for the purpose of downloading these files, so that it can be done in the background without causing the page request to continue. Finally, there could be a total maximum size for the InstantCommons cache; if this size is exceeded, no further files would be downloaded.

While it is unlikely that individual wikis using the InstantCommons feature would cause a significant increase in cost for the Wikimedia Foundation (since every file only has to be downloaded once, and there are per-user bandwidth limitations), it would nevertheless be fair and reasonable for projects using the feature to include a notice on InstantCommons description pages such as: "This file comes from Wikimedia Commons, a media archive hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation. If you would like to support the Wikimedia Foundation, you can donate here ..."

Future potential

In the future, it may be desirable to offer a publisher/subscribe model of changes, which will require wiki-to-wiki authentication and a database of images which are used in subscribing wikis. This would also open up the threat of cross-wiki vandalism, which could be addressed using a delay phase of 24 hours or more for changes to take effect. Two-way functionality is another possibility, that is, to allow uploading free media directly to Commons from any wiki installation. However, this will require federated authentication as a minimum. It may also necessitate cross-wiki communication facilities to notify users from other wikis about Commons policies, which could be part of a larger project like LiquidThreads .

See also