That One Time Hacker News Killed My Website

And how I fixed it


vercel DevOps project:astrid-tech

Hey, remember how I used to blog regularly? Remember how used to get a new post every few weeks? Remember when the last post wasn’t over a year ago? Remember that Blink Mini reverse-engineering series I did 2 years ago that I never ended up finishing? I thought I would milk a post out of my own technical ineptitude during that era.

Please note that I would have placed more images in this post, but the fact that it’s been over a year means that most of the data has gone out of retention. EDIT: i found the screenshots!!!

Day of the incident

It’s 2022, the day right before Thanksgiving. I’m with my partner’s family, and I open my phone. I find a Discord message from a friend:

Did your website go down

I blink. No way it could have gone down. It’s dead simple and I hadn’t written a post in a while.

I went to my site, and I was presented with a Vercel error page.

This deployment has been disabled. 402 Payment Required

Oh no.

I checked my Vercel dashboard. They say that they’ve blocked my website because it’s exceeded the quota. “Nonsense,” I said. “There’s no way my website could exceed my quota. Nobody reads it!”

But the graphs said otherwise. They said that my quota was very, very, very exceeded. In fact, I was 3.13 times above the quota, at 313G of egress when I should have had a max of 100G of egress!

egress graphs showing 313% over thee limit

Spying on my users and selling their data

So I consulted the good ol’ trusty Google Analytics, and they said that all the referrers for that page came from I don’t remember how I figured out where my HN link was – possibly, an online friend told me. Either way, I figured out that it was this link.

It turns out that I was wrong – people were reading my website. Too many people. Though I suppose that for clout-chasing purposes, that’s not the worst reason to get my website killed.

Finding the thing that sucked the data

But still, that didn’t explain why I was making so much egress. I’m only serving a bit of HTML, right? Going back to Vercel, I looked at an egress breakdown by link… and it was entirely out of the images.

all my valuable egress is being eaten by jpgs and pngs

In other words, I had to move images out of Vercel and onto something else.

Fixing the problem

This incident forced me do what I was meaning to do for a long time: go and actually upload my images to object storage.

Putting the images in a better place

Backblaze is the object storage provider I use because I’m not an organization with compliance or uptime requirements or tons of money.

I wrote an uploading script and a codemod script, both in Python, using the boto3 library.

  • The upload script recursed through my directories and uploaded images to Backblaze, while saving their URLs into a CSV.
  • The codemod script recursed through my directories for Markdown files, and relinked images based on that CSV. This script contained awful hacks like the regex \!\[.*\]\((.*)\) for finding links to images.

There was a little caveat with the upload script – I had to specify the content-type and content-encoding or else they would not be recognized as images by the thing. Luckily, Python has a built-in library called mimetypes.

Once that was all done, I published my blog, and then all the images were linked to files hosted in Backblaze.

Begging Vercel to please lift my block 🥺

The last thing to do was go and ask Vercel to lift my quota. Honestly, I’m surprised they didn’t just cut off my website as soon as I hit the limit, and that they were actually generous enough to let it go to 313% before blocking me.

I filed a support issue in Vercel:

Sent: 2022-11-23 22:44

Subject: Usage block

Hello, my personal blog has been blocked due to an unforseen surge in traffic. This was caused by the site hosting multiple large images, an issue that I have just fixed by moving the images to external object hosting on Backblaze, which will prevent this from happening again. Could you unblock it now?

I hit send, and I waited for the response. The next morning:

Sent: 2022-11-24 05:59

Subject: Re: Usage block

Hi there,

Thanks for reaching out to Vercel Support!

We appreciate your co-operation and appreciate that you’ve made changes to reduce the usage. We have unblocked your account for you now.

Please do consider our Terms of Service and Fair Use Policy whilst using our service.

Kind regards, Rob

Rob Peters

▲ Senior Customer Support Engineer at Vercel

and was back in business!


just use object storage for your images, y’all

EDIT: i found the images again and put them in