YouTubers upload hundreds of hours of footage every minute. What if you want to download it? In some circles, that’s considered a big no-no, but you have your reasons, right? Here’s how.
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There are billions of hours of video on YouTube. Literally. And that’s hardly the most astounding statistic about the site, which has been the go-to destination for uploading and watching video since 2005. That said, sometimes, you really want or need to have one of those videos on your own computer or phone. But when the topic of downloading YouTube videos comes up, there’s a side subject that must be broached: Is it legal?
On the copyright front, as long as you’re downloading a video for your own personal offline use, you’re probably okay. It’s more black and white when you consider Google’s terms of service for YouTube(Opens in a new window), which read: “You are not allowed to…access, reproduce, download, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, alter, modify or otherwise use any part of the Service or any Content except: (a) as expressly authorized by the Service; or (b) with prior written permission from YouTube and, if applicable, the respective rights holders.”
Watching YouTube videos offline through unofficial channels takes money from Google and video creators. There’s a reason YouTube runs ads: People make a living this way.
Obviously, stealing videos from YouTube is a big no-no. If you want to share a video, YouTube and most other video sites make it easy, from embedding to emailing to sharing via social networks. You simply do not need to download a video most of the time.
However, you have your reasons. If you must download a YouTube video—absolutely need to, just for yourself, and not for dissemination, and not to be a total douche-nozzle—here’s how.
Note: This story is updated frequently as the tools involved change regularly. Some of those changes are not always pleasant, such as software so full of “extras,” it gets flagged as malware by antivirus tools. The same goes for the helper websites—a change in a site’s ad network can also create issues with malware.
To prevent this from becoming a laundry list of programs and sites that can download YouTube videos, we came up with a few rules for inclusion. Services must:
Support 4K downloads even in the free version.
Work with top three video sites: YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo.
Download entire playlists or channels in a batch (on YouTube), at least with a paid version.
Output to MP3 for audio (or offer companion software that does so).
Have an interface that doesn’t suck.
Not collect your personal data beyond your email address.
Not contain malware. If there’s even a whiff of it in the air, even a PUP, it’s out.
The programs, services, and sites in this story are all free of spam/virus/problems as of this writing, but caveat emptor. Big time. Especially if you’re not really emptor-ing.
YouTube Premium Downloads
Now available for subscribers of YouTube Premium—the paid version of YouTube that allows you to watch without ads—are video downloads. Kind of. There’s one caveat with quality: All the video you download is limited to 1080p quality max, or lower. No 4K.
The biggest issue is, this feature doesn’t really download a video to save on your computer forever. It is more akin to the download feature found on mobile apps for Netflix and Hulu, which makes a streaming video available to watch later using your local storage and views it using the app’s interface only. This is not a method that allows you to, say, watch a video using different software such as the VLC Media Player.
You access the download by going to the YouTube hamburger menu and selecting Downloads (Opens in a new window)to view the list of what you’ve grabbed. The page says “Downloads remain available as long as your device has an active internet connection at least once every 30 days.” This probably isn’t exactly what you are looking for in a download. But the tools below deliver exactly that.
Third-party software is where you will get the best control over downloading online videos. Typically, you paste the URL for the YouTube video you want into the program, and it downloads the highest quality version it can find. For videos in 1080p High Definition (HD) format, that’s usually an MP4 file. For anything higher in quality—4K or 8K—the file format is typically MKV.
In the past, YouTube videos were Flash-based, so your download was an FLV file, but those tend to be harder to play back. MP4 (short for MPEG-4 Part 14 multimedia format(Opens in a new window)) plays everywhere
Note that the MKV file, also called a Matroska, is a container—the file could contain video utilizing any number of codecs inside. The fool-proof way to play them all is to use the VLC Media Player for Windows, which plays everything. (Read more about it below.) As for the downloaders, here are the best options.
VLC Media Player
Free; Windows, macOS, Linux
We mention VLC Media Player(Opens in a new window) above because it’s a fantastic tool for Windows, Mac, and Linux users that plays back just about any media ever created. It also has the ability to download YouTube videos, albeit in a convoluted way. (If you run into any problems, try a full re-install of VLC and clear your cache to make it work.)
Copy a URL from a YouTube video, then open up VLC. From the Media menu, select Open Network Stream (Ctrl+N) and paste in the URL. Click Play. When the video is playing, go to Tools > Codec Information. There is a box at the bottom called “Source”—copy the URL you find in that box.
Go back to your browser and paste the URL—it’s a temporary web address and will expire eventually—in the address bar and start playing the video. When you’re viewing the video in the browser, click the 3-dot menu at the lower right for the download option to keep it locally.
However, it appears that VLC is only going to save your file as 1080p and not any higher, even if the original YouTube stream was available in 1440p or 2160p (aka 4K). It also won’t convert video to other formats. To get those options, you need the desktop software below.
4K Video Downloader
Free or $15 for lifetime license on 3 computers; Windows, macOS, Ubuntu Linux, Android
Multi-lingual 4K Video Downloader(Opens in a new window) (4KVD) is frequently updated and features clear download links on the program’s website; no ad traps here. The software does what it advertises in a simple interface. It grabs videos up to 8K in quality and downloads to plenty of formats. Simply copy a YouTube URL and click the Paste Link button to get started. 4KVD will even grab subtitles, entire playlists, and all the videos in a channel to which you subscribe. The sites supported are limited to the big names like YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and a few others, but that covers most of what you need. It does display a large banner advertisement to keep the lights on and you’re limited to 30 downloads a day on the free version.
I had to make a switch from MP4 to MKV format to get my test video to download in 4K. 4KVD snagged the 3-minute, 229.7MB file for the movie trailer in about 1 minute and 20 seconds. 4KVD defaults back to 1080p HD, so I made the same switch when downloading an Ultra High Definition (8K) playlist(Opens in a new window).
If you enable the Smart Mode and its presets, 4KVD can perform one-click downloads to your favorite format. If you want to download more than 25 videos at a time or subscribe to YouTube channels to instantly download the latest, that requires the paid version. Playback of the resulting MKV files via VLC Media Player was flawless.
The program itself has an option to extract audio to MP3 format, so you don’t even need the 4K YouTube to MP3(Opens in a new window) companion software.
$59.90 for one year, $78.90 lifetime, $119.90 family (2-5 PCs); Windows, macOS
The powerful VideoProc from Digiarty comes in an editor edition and this converter(Opens in a new window), which also provides editing and effects. The downloading aspect is great, a version similar to Digiarty’s WinX YouTube Downloader, which you can still find but is not promoted by the company these days. This makes sense, as VideoProc Converter handles a lot of downloading, supposedly supporting 4K from over 1,000 websites. With hardware acceleration(Opens in a new window), it promises some speed. Thankfully, it frequently offers price discounts.
To use it, you open the software, let it detect your hardware to see what you have to help with acceleration (if anything). Click the Downloader button, click Add video to place as many URLs as you want to batch, and then Download Now. Or you can get a whole YouTube playlist or live stream. It grabbed our 697MB test 4K video(Opens in a new window) to WEBM format in about 2 minutes and 15 seconds, which isn’t bad. Best of all, the trial version of VideoProc Converter, which limits conversions to 5 minutes, doesn’t appear to limit downloads.
1-year license $44.99 plus tax (or $9.99 for Free YouTube Download); Windows
Like some others, FlixGrab(Opens in a new window) has several different programs available, many with overlapping features. For example, it has FlixGrabMS (a version you get from the Microsoft Store(Opens in a new window) to run on Windows 10/11)—but it wouldn’t let me grab video from YouTube. The straight download of the FlixGrab program from the flixgrabapp.com site did work with YouTube and several other sites,. Plus it offers a Free YouTube Download(Opens in a new window) that is specific to YouTube, yet uses the same easy-to-use interface. The downside, as with others, is the high subscription price, but it’s the only way to get high-quality downloads. The YouTube-only version is substantially cheaper at $9.99 per year, however. Neither comes with a trial period.
Free; Windows and macOS
The free 5KPlayer(Opens in a new window) is a lot more than a downloader, but it’s got a heck of an integrated downloader. Promising no viruses, ads, or plug-in requirements is a good start. It is, sadly, one of the few tested that asks for a registration of your name and email—you have to do that to get the full download function across 300+ sites(Opens in a new window). However, you can still nab 4K vids from YouTube without registering.
When downloading, the program does try to hide some things. Paste in the URL for a YouTube video and the analysis engine runs and shows only a few download options. Click the gear icon, then the Show All button, and scroll to see more—like a 4K 3,840-by-2,160 file in WebM format. The 227MB WebM test download took an agonizing 6.5 minutes. Grabbing playlists was possible, but you must adjust download settings one video at a time. The confusing interface makes it hard to go back to the other videos in the playlist.
5K Player also features DLNA server playback so videos you grab can be watched on any devices that support DLNA, plus it supports AirPlay for quick playback to Apple devices. Pick a video in the library for quick conversion to MP4, MP3, or even ACC (the audio format preferred by iOS). The player didn’t like playing back the overly large 4K file, though, and experienced buffering issues (VLC didn’t have any problem with the same file).
Ultimately, there’s a lot to like about 5K Player, from the price to the features, especially if you look at them as extras on a downloader. But the bad interface, slow download speeds, and playback issues may have you looking elsewhere.
Do you want to avoid installing software? Video download helper sites are supposed to do the download work for you. All of them do one basic thing: You give them a YouTube URL (or another video site, if supported), they parse it, give you a choice of what size download you want, and provide a link to said download. They work on any platform, sometimes even on mobile devices. You don’t have to install anything on your PC. It can take a lot longer, depending on the size and quality of the video you want, but you can’t beat the convenience.
The problem is, you can’t always trust them. There are hundreds of these types of sites out there—it seems anyone with a modicum of coding ability has set one up. Such sites easily go from useful to suspicious, especially if they get popular and the proprietor sells out to make cash off your visits.
Since this story was first published, all the helper sites we recommended have been removed for reasons like adding sexually explicit ads, no longer working, switching to pushing its download utility only, and one for going out of business to avoid getting sued.
For that reason, we’re not recommending any helper sites at the moment. Try one if you find it, but if your browser, antivirus, or instincts throw up warnings, avoid and move on.
A browser extension can save you a step. However, you’re going to run into some issues with downloading video from YouTube, especially if you’re using Chrome as your primary browser.
The Chrome Web Store(Opens in a new window)—where you get Chrome browser extensions—is controlled by YouTube’s owner Alphabet/Google. Even an extension ostensibly for this purpose isn’t going to allow YouTube direct downloads, because of Chrome Store restrictions. In general, with Chrome extensions, the download of any RTMP protocol video (protected videos) or streaming video isn’t possible. You can use them on other sites with video, of course. Just not YouTube.
Want to get around it? Get an extension that does not come from the Google Web Store. Some of the programs and helper sites offer an extension component and will spell out how to do the install(Opens in a new window) without the assistance the Chrome Web Store usually provides. Here are a couple.
YouTube Video Downloader
Free; Chrome, Opera, Edge, Vivaldi, UCBrowser
YouTube Video Downloader from Addoncrop(Opens in a new window) is on multiple browsers but with excellent side-load capabilities(Opens in a new window). It puts a button below whatever video you’re playing on YouTube, or even an embedded YouTube video, making it easy to grab. Supported video quality goes up to 8K. You can also convert audio from the video to an MP3. It will even help you take video screenshots.
Free; Firefox, Chrome, Edge
Video DownloadHelper(Opens in a new window) supports a huge number of sites—even those for adults. You’ll know a video is downloadable when the icon for the extension animates when you’re on the web page. Video DownloadHelper for Chrome has stopped working with YouTube; that way, it could get placement in the Chrome Web Store. Get around that by using the Video DownloadHelper extension on Firefox or Edge instead.
Downloading from YouTube using an Android app from the Google Play Store is a challenge, given that Google has a tight grip on the site it owns, and offers the paid YouTube Premium service that supports offline viewing.
That said, with Android, it is possible to install apps without going through Google. For example, InsTube – Free Video and Music Downloader(Opens in a new window) for Android can only be found at InsTube’s site. Download the APK (Android application package) file to sideload on an Android device. Find it in your device’s downloads and click to install(Opens in a new window). (You may have to go into your security settings and enable “Unknown sources.”)
On iPhones and iPads, you’d think there would be no such restriction since Apple and Google aren’t exactly the best of pals (or maybe they are(Opens in a new window)). However, on the iOS apps I have tried, not only wouldn’t they download from YouTube, but they’re also typically not available for long. One of those apps said in its description, “Downloading from YouTube is prohibited due to its Terms of Service.” Apple is ensuring that app makers play by the rules—even Google’s rules.
Chances are, the minute you find an iOS app that can download YouTube videos, it will get “fixed” or banned. The only real option is to jailbreak your iPhone and use sideloaded apps that download what you want.
There are workarounds. One is to subscribe to YouTube Premium; it lets you download video on your iPhone or iPad to watch later, much as Netflix and Hulu do.
Another is using a free iOS file manager app like Documents by Readdle(Opens in a new window). Use the Safari browser to visit a YouTube video, and use the Share option to find Copy Link. Then go back to Documents, and use the built-in browser in the app to surf to a video download helper site. Paste the link into the form (hold your finger down on it until you get the “Paste” menu to pop up). The site will give you the links to download, and you can save the file to Documents. Hold and drag the file up, until you’re back on the main screen, then drag it to the Photos folder. You’ll need to give Documents permission to access Photos the first time. You can then access the video like you would any video taken on the phone or tablet—in the Photos app.
Another workaround: Go back to the desktop and try AnyTrans(Opens in a new window) ($39.99 for a single computer for one year, Windows or macOS; $59.99 lifetime plan), a desktop file manager for iOS devices that has an integrated downloader supporting 900 sites, including YouTube and Facebook. It’ll transfer the videos to the iPhone for you over the USB cable. Even if you don’t pay for AnyTrans, the download option remains and is free forever.
Want a truly unique way to “download” a video? YT Scribe(Opens in a new window) lets you grab the transcription so you can read them instead. It auto-transcribes, punctuates, and paragraphs the text. The better the subtitles, the better the “article,” of course. Best of all, it’s totally free.
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