What Is the Difference Between Embedding and Linking?

By Aaron Parson

An Excel chart linked in Word updates along with cells in Excel.
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On the Web, embedding refers to placing a piece of media within a Web page as opposed to linking back to the media's original source. Whether you link or embed content, however, it still plays from the original site. Publishing and office programs use the terms differently: Embedded content is a duplicate copy that travels with a document, while linked content reads the material from a second file in real time.

Linking on the Web

Linking to a website is the easiest way to share a site's content. By copying and pasting the site's address into an email, text or instant message, your recipient can open the page. You can also send links through social media, though in some cases, such as when posting links to videos on Facebook, the social network automatically generates an embedded version alongside the link.

Embedding on the Web

Unlike linking, which takes a reader to a separate website, embedding content plays a piece of media without leaving the current Web page. For example, a business might embed a YouTube demonstration of a product into its site, allowing visitors to see the clip without exiting the site to go to YouTube. Fans can also embed clips into personal sites or blogs using the embed code available through the Share button.

Working With Images in Page Layout

Embedding large images in a word processor or desktop publishing program drastically increases the size of the document. By linking to an image instead, the document remains small, but you have to send the image files separately when sending the document to another computer. To link images in Word 2010 or 2013, click "Picture" on the Insert tab as usual, but instead of clicking "Insert" after picking a file, open the drop-down menu next to the Insert button and pick "Link to File." Unlike embedded images, linked images update when you edit the original picture in another program.

Linking Microsoft Office Content

Microsoft Office 2010 and 2013 applications can either embed or link to content from other Office programs. For example, if you copy a range of cells in Excel and paste them into Word, the cells become embedded. Changes made later in Excel won't alter the Word document. To link the cells instead, right-click in Word and choose either "Link & Keep Source Formatting" or "Link & Use Destination Styles" from the Paste Options section. If you move the source Excel file later, you need to recreate the link in Word: Right-click the linked cells, choose "Linked Worksheet Object" and pick "Links" to see and update a list of all linked material in the document.