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.
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, which reads: “You shall not download any Content unless you see a ‘download’ or similar link displayed by YouTube on the Service for that Content.”
After all, watching YouTube videos offline through unofficial channels takes money out of Google’s pocket and the wallets of the video creators. There’s a reason YouTube runs pre-roll ads: people make a living this way.
Let’s be clear: 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 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.
If you’re interested in programs and sites that only download music, read How to Convert YouTube Videos to MP3 Files.
If you want to download from Netflix or Amazon Video, read How to Download Video From Your Favorite Streaming Service.
We want to prevent this becoming a laundry list of programs and sites that can download YouTube vids, for there are far too many of these tools. To be included, the software must:
The programs, services, and sites in this story are all working spam/virus/problem free 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.
It used to be that YouTube videos were all 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, plays everywhere, on anything.
Note that the MKV file, also called a Matroska, is a container—the file could contain video in 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. As for the downloaders, here are the best options.
Free basic functions, $15 for lifetime license on 3 computers;
Multi-lingual 4K 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.
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 579.4MB file in about 43 seconds. It 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 then do 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 $15 paid version. Playback of the MKV file 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 software if you’ve got the original.
Digiarty’s multi-lingual WinX claims to allow downloads from 300+ sites—including adult sites. Perhaps the biggest selling point of all is the claim that “There is no malware, adware, spyware or virus. 100% clean.” The latest version has a much improved interface as well. There are ads, though—on install, I was asked to upgrade to its $29.90 product for Windows and macOS called VideoProc, which does everything that WinX does, but for 1,000+ sites, plus offers some editing for high-end 4K/UHD video.
When you copy a YouTube URL (even for a playlist), click in the WinX software to launch. You start with the “analyzer,” which checks all the options. This tool also 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 highest res. You can set up a number of videos to back up before you even click the download button. The 4K 575.4MB file took 1 minute and 39 seconds to download, more than double that of 4K Video Downloader.
I couldn’t find options for downloading closed captions. That’s another strike against, if you need that function. But WinX makes up for it by supporting so many download sites and having a price equal to nothing.
Free or $29.95 for Personal Pro Edition;
Gihosoft’s free version has limits—there’s no one-click download, it doesn’t support all 10,000 sites, you only get five downloads a day, and download speed tops out at 1Mbps no matter what your connection speed. You can also only grab audio in M4A and can’t get subtitles. All those restrictions go away if you pay.
However, even free, you can grab 4K video from YouTube with no problem. A 575.4MB file took over 10.5 minutes—no surprise with the speed restriction, but still agonizingly painful. There’s an option to convert the file to MKV, AVI, or WMV as you download it. If you want a playlist, you can do them in a batch, but in my test TubeGet would only allow a max of 1080p HD even on the 8K video playlist.
Free or $19.99 premium;
YouTubeByClick 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 580MB MKV file in 4K only took 55 seconds—not bad at all, but that was with the premium version’s unlimited speed. The free edition took a lot longer with the 2MB 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 notice if it’s running in the background. Enter your account credentials for YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and a couple of other foreign sites to get instant private downloads.
Totally free, 5KPlayer from DearMob is a media-playing utility that is a lot more than a downloader—but it’s got a heck of a downloader integrated. 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. You may still use it if you don’t register; I didn’t and was able to download 4K vids from YouTube.
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 you’ll see more—including ability to get a 4K 3,840-by-2,160 file in WebM format. The 577MB WebM test download took about 6.75 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 on your home supporting DLNA network; it supports AirPlay for quick playback to supported devices. Pick a video in the library and you can do a quick conversion to MP4, MP3, or even ACC (an 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. 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 interface and playback issues may have you looking elsewhere.
Do you prefer 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—a typical two-minute movie trailer in 1080p can be around 30MB—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 can easily go from useful to suspicious, especially if they get popular. If your browser (or your instincts) throws up warnings, avoid and move to the next.
A few of these sites make it easy to grab video by letting you change the URL of a vid at YouTube slightly, so the service takes over. We’ll note a few of those below.
NOTE: Beware of the ad traps on some helper sites—ads that look like they should be the download button to get your desired content, but they are not. Also, depending on the ad network employed by the site, your own virus detection software may throw up some warnings. The more the developers of sites rely on ads they don’t control, or resort to trying to get you to place something on your system as “payment,” the worse off we all are.
Here are a few helper sites that stand out. 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.
Despite some previous problems, to its credit, TubeNinja sports an easy-to-use site with nothing that appears like an ad trap. It supports a huge number of sites (including so, so many adult sites), several languages, and has the ability to add functions via a browser bookmarklet. Download size is limited to 720p resolution, maximum.
That’s a “tub” not a “tube” on that name, but YouTubNow still works with YouTube and offers up to a 720p MP4 download, plus a lot of audio-only options. There are no ads and the downloads are unlimited. The paste box is also a YouTube searcher.
One of the few helper sites that supports 4K downloads, YoutubeMonkey offers a super-simple interface—there’s simply the form for pasting the URL and a download link—above a very ugly listing of popular videos that have been downloaded using the service.
SaveFrom.net has made a name for itself over the last few years. It can do web-based downloads, but also provides software to install and a browser extension, which it pushes. It doesn’t support 4K, but few helper sites do—going to a 1,440MB WebM file is an option, but it doesn’t come with audio—the only format that does is 720p MP4s. Nor can you use SaveFrom.net to make an MP3. Of course, those options are in the downloadable software.
VidPaw offers up the usual features but on a relatively spartan interface. Though it shows how YouTube might someday crack down on these things—VidPaw’s own tutorial video, hosted on YouTube, was “no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.” For now, however, the site 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.
A browser extension can save you a step. But 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—like the obviously named Video Downloader professional above—states right up front in its description, “The download of YouTube videos to hard drive is locked because of restrictions of the Chrome Store.” In general with Chrome extensions, the download of any RTMP protocol video (protected videos) or streaming video isn’t possible.
It’s the same with other extensions like vGet. You can use them on other sites with video, of course. Just not YouTube.
Want to get around it? Get an extension that doesn’t come from the Google Web Store. Some of the programs and helper sites above have an extension component and will spell out how to do the extension install without the assistance Chrome users typically get from Chrome Web Store.
Other browser extensions can do the job, if you don’t get them from Google.
Free; Opera, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, IE, Chromium-based browsers
This downloader tool is on all 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.
Free; Firefox, Chrome
Not to be confused with the unrelated “pro” above, Video 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 $137,700.
Free or $33/year up to $133/year for businesses; Chrome
This is a Chrome extension that actually works from the Web Store—because it doesn’t let you download YouTube videos. It time marks snippets you can share (only from YouTube). First create an account and log in. The extensions icon turns green on a YouTube page—click it to create the times you want, and they are then saved and easily shared; the viewer goes back to YouTube and sees what you specify. It’s not really close to saving a video for your offline use, 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. (Nor can you actually download anything with your officially sanctioned YouTube apps. Unless you live in India.)
That said, with Android it is possible to install apps without going through Google. The latest is InsTube – Free Video and Music Downloader just for Android—you can only get it at InsTube’s site. You download the APK (Android application package) file to sideload on an Android device. Find it in your device’s downloads and click it to install. (You may have to go into your security settings and enable “Unknown sources.”) There is a similar side-load app from YTD.
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 few apps I tried in the first edition of this story, not only wouldn’t they download from YouTube, they’re not even available anymore. 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. All the better to get Google to block someone who eventually does something illegal with iTunes downloads.
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 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 like SaveFrom.net. Paste the link into the form (hold your finger down on it until you get “Paste” menu to pop up). The site will give you the links to download, and you can save the file to Documents. Hold down 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.