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
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, which reads: “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
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.
So, obviously, stealing video 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
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
- 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,
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.
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 and even 8K videos—the file format
is typically MKV.
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
I’ve mentioned the VLC Media Player above because it’s a fantastic tool for
Windows users that plays back just about any media ever
created. It turns out, it also has the ability to download YouTube videos,
albeit in a convoluted way. (If you run into any problems with it, you may need
to do a full re-install of VLC and clear your cache to make this
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, you’ll see an option to download the file to keep 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
Video Downloader (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: grabs videos up to 8K in quality and
downloads to plenty of formats. Just 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 covers most of what you need. It does display a large banner
advertisement at the bottom to keep the lights on.
In tests, 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 duration, 229.7
Megabyte (MB) 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. If you enable the
Smart Mode and its pre-sets, 4K Video Downloader 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 companion
WinX YouTube Downloader
Free; Windows and macOS (MacX YouTube Downloader)
Digiarty’s multi-lingual WinX
claims to allow downloads from 300+ sites with
user-generated content—including adult sites. Perhaps the biggest selling point
of all is the claim that “There is no malware, adware, spyware or virus.
100% clean.” It has a clean interface, but there are ads for WinX’s premium service during install.
Copy a YouTube URL (even for a playlist) and launch the
WinX software. The “analyzer” checks all the options. This tool tried
to default to the 1,920-by-1,080 version in MP4; I picked the 4K version (3,840
by 2,160 pixels) in WebM format, a subset of the MKV format—you can rename a .WEBM
file to a .MKV and it’ll work fine. In settings there are options to default to
WebM at the highest resolution. You can set up a number of videos to back up before you
even click the download button. The 4K 226.9MB file took 2 minutes and 19 seconds to
There are no options for downloading closed captions. That’s
another strike. But WinX makes up for it by supporting so many download sites
and having a price equal to nothing.
Free; Windows and macOS
Totally free, 5KPlayer
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 I 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. However, you 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 a 4K 3,840-by-2,160 file in WebM format. The 227MB WebM test
download took a painful amount of time, about 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
5K Player also features DLNA server playback so videos you grab can be watched on any devices that support DLNA; and it supports AirPlay for quick playback to supported devices. Pick a video in the
library for a quick conversion to MP4, MP3, or even ACC (the audio
format preferred by iOS devices). 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). But 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 interface and playback issues may have you looking
$19.99 premium after trial; Windows only
captures video from over 40 sites. Before you even do the first download, you
can use the “dials” on the interface to set up a preferred download
format (MP4 video or MP3 audio) and a default download quality as high as 8K,
even on the free version. Downloading a 229.6MB MKV file in 4K only took 2.5
minutes—not bad considering the free version’s 2Mbps speed limit. You also need
the premium version to download playlists and channels, do conversions, avoid
ads, and get closed captions.
One thing you can do on YouTubeByClick that’s unique is set
it up so any time you copy a URL from YouTube, the program will auto detect it
and ask if you want to start the download. Enter your account credentials for YouTube,
Facebook, Instagram, and a couple of other foreign sites to get instant private
Do you want to avoid installing software? Video download
helper sites do the download work for you, providing conversion and then a
download link—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.
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. If your browser (or your
instincts) throws up warnings, avoid and move to the next.
All of them do one basic thing: you give them a YouTube URL
(or other video site, if supported), they parse it, give you a choice of what
size download you want, and provide a link to said download. All are free
unless noted and work across all platforms. However, note that since our last
update, I’ve deleted at least three helper sites we used to feature—one for
adding some sexually explicit ads; one for no longer working; and one for going out of business to avoid getting sued out of existence.
VidPaw Free Online Video Converter
VidPaw offers up the
usual features, and supposedly works with 1,000+ other
sites. It doesn’t offer video/audio combo downloads larger than 720p MP4s;
you can get the video alone as a 2160p WebM format if you desire. Add
“paw” to the end of “youtube” in a URL
(“www.youtubepaw.com”) to instantly get VidPaw running while you’re
This site gets a
high ranking on Google itself when you search for “download youtube video.”
It’s got a simple
interface for pasting in a YouTube URL. It also supports around 1,000+ sites. Top quality for a video is only 1080p. It states up front it
won’t handle playlists or bulk downloads, but its $18.90 desktop
client option called Vidus does and it can handle up to 8K.
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—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 without
the assistance the Chrome Web Store usually provides. Here are a
Free; Opera, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, IE,
on all browser platforms, with an installer for Chrome that skips the Chrome
Web Store. It puts a “download this video” menu right on any YouTube
page you load, with all the format options on display.
YouTube Video Downloader
Free; Chrome, Opera, Edge, Vivaldi
YouTube Video Downloader from Addoncrop is also on multiple browsers but with excellent side-load capabilities
to avoid the watchdogs in the stores. It puts a button below whatever video you’re playing
on YouTube, making it easy to grab as a video up to 4K or as an audio-only MP3.
Free; Firefox, Chrome, Edge
DownloadHelper 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 webpage. Video DownloadHelper for Chrome has stopped working
with YouTube—so it could get placement in the Chrome Web Store. You can get
around that by using the Video DownloadHelper extension for Firefox. The
developer has a Kiva initiative page, where it prefers you donate funds to
those in need, which has raised over $160,575.
Threelly A.I. Bookmarks For YouTube
Free or $33/year up to $133/year for businesses;
This is a Chrome extension that actually works from the Web
Store—because it doesn’t let you download YouTube videos. Instead, Threelly lets you mark the times you want people to see, and they
are then saved and easily shared; the viewer goes back to YouTube and sees what
you specify. It’s not like saving a video for offline use whatsoever, but
could be useful in certain circumstances.
Remember that problem of using Chrome extensions from the
Google Web Store? You’re going to have an even bigger issue when you want to
download from YouTube using an Android app from the Google Play store, where
Google has an even tighter grip (and a 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 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. (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. But on the apps
I have tried, not only wouldn’t they download from YouTube, they’re not even
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
There are workarounds. One is using a free iOS file manager
app like Documents
by Readdle. 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 ($39.99 for
a single computer), a 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?
Developer Anton Gera created the YouPost
extension for the Google Chrome browser to turn a YouTube video into an
“article.” It grabs all the subtitles, in whatever language you
prefer, and places them into a browser page with select screen grabs from the videos
as illustration. If the video doesn’t have subtitles, it’s not going to work. The better the
subtitles, the better the article, of course; auto-generated subtitles come
in like run-on-sentences by someone who doesn’t really speak the language.