Streaming Versus Downloading Media

September 18, 2009


When you access music and video over the internet, there are basically 2 ways you can get the content. Some content is streamed to your computer while other content is downloaded. It’s a good idea to understand the difference, so we are going to try and explain it in this article.

Actually, you probably already understand downloading. When you download Music or Video from the internet, you download a file to your computer. You can place that file on  your computer wherever you want to. Then you can open that file and view or listen to the content. The file stays on your computer until you remove it. So you can generally come back and listen to or view it again and again.

Streaming, on the other hand, is different. When you access a media stream on the internet, no file is downloaded to your computer. The music or video comes in real time and is played real time. It’s not stored on your computer, so if you want to listen to it or view it again, you have to stream it again. It’s kind of like an on-demand live broadcast.

As you know, the most popular video website is YouTube. You may be wondering which of these models it uses. It uses downloading, but it downloads the file to a temporary location that’s hidden from view. Take a look at this picture:

you tube player progress

This is from YouTube. You will see this at the bottom of any video you watch on YouTube. See the download position? That’s how much of the video has been downloaded to your computer. The playback position is where you are in the video as you play it back. If the playback  position catches up to the download position, the video will pause and wait until it downloads some more of the video before it starts playing again. If you run into this a lot, you can either get a faster internet connection, or you can pause the playback  yourself and wait for most (if not all) of the video to be downloaded and then play it.

If you come back and try and watch a YouTube video again, it may not have to download it again. It all depends on of that copy of the video is still in that temporary location or not. Those temporary files get cleaned out periodically.

An example of a type of website that uses streaming is any radio station website where you can listen to their live broadcast. Another example is On that website, you can watch TV episodes, movie trailers, and even a few movies.

If there is media content that you plan to watch or listen to over and over, then it would be a good idea to try and find a source for that where you can download it to your computer. Especially if you have a slow internet connection, or if you have bandwidth limitations on your internet connection.

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