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My college kindly provides web space in form of an public_html directory. As I place content there, could I somehow monitor or log how often a given file is downloaded, and from whom? I think .htaccess may be of some help here, but this is just a guess that is why I am asking here: How to log or monitor access to my public_html directory without access to the apache server configuration?

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You cannot control logging with .htaccess. A similar question was asked here. The only way I can think of doing it is running a javascript stats program inside a index file, like statcounter. If you have no access to logs there is not much you can do. This is how programs like awstats create there stats.

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