Save YouTube Videos to Your Computer with These Simple Steps
I've been writing about computers, the internet, and technology professionally for 30 years, more than half of that time with PCMag. I run several special projects including the Readers' Choice and Business Choice surveys, and yearly coverage of the Fastest ISPs and Best Gaming ISPs. I work from my home, and did it long before pandemics made it cool.
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 videos online 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?
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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."
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.
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 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 or Plex.
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; read on for tools that are a better fit.
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)) files can play anywhere
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VLC Media Player(Opens in a new window) is 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.)
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 collect subtitles, entire playlists, and all the videos in a channel to which you subscribe. The sites supported are limited to the big names, including YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and a few others, but that should cover most of what you need. It does display a large banner advertisement to keep the lights on with the free version, which is also limited to 30 downloads a day.
When I tried it, I had to make a switch from MP4 to MKV format to get my test video to download in 4K. 4KVD snagged a 3-minute, 229.7MB file for a movie trailer in about 1 minute and 20 seconds. I made the same switch when downloading an Ultra High Definition (8K) playlist(Opens in a new window).
When 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 30 videos per day or subscribe to YouTube channels to instantly download(Opens in a new window) the latest, you'll need the paid version. Playback of the resulting MKV files via VLC Media Player is flawless.
The powerful VideoProc from Digiarty comes in an editor edition and this converter(Opens in a new window), which also provides editing and effects and, of course, handles a lot of downloading, supporting 4K from over 1,000 websites, including TikTok. With hardware acceleration(Opens in a new window), it promises some speed. Thankfully, Digiarty frequently offers price discounts: In fact, the price has dropped a lot on the one-year license; it's currently(Opens in a new window) just $25.95.
To use it, let the software detect your hardware to see what will help with acceleration (if anything). Click the Downloader button, click Add video to place as many URLs as you want to batch, and then click on Download Now. Or grab a whole YouTube playlist or live stream.
VideoProc 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. The trial version of VideoProc Converter, which limits conversions to 5 minutes, doesn't appear to limit downloads.
FlixGrab(Opens in a new window) offers several different programs, many with overlapping features. For example, FlixGrabMS is available in the Microsoft Store(Opens in a new window) for Windows 10 and 11 machines, but it wouldn't let me grab video from YouTube. The straight download of the FlixGrab program from flixgrabapp.com did work with YouTube and several other sites. It also offers a Free YouTube Downloader(Opens in a new window) that is specific to YouTube yet has the same easy-to-use interface.
5K Player also features DLNA server playback, so the videos you grab can be watched on any device that supports DLNA. It also 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).
Do you want to avoid installing software? Video-download helper sites are meant 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), and they parse it, give you a choice of what size download you want, and provide a link to said download. The sites 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 to get a download, depending on the size and quality of the video you want, but you can't beat the convenience.
Since this story was first published, all the helper sites we recommended have been removed for reasons such as adding sexually explicit ads, no longer working, and switching to pushing a download utility only. One went out of business voluntarily in 2020 to avoid getting sued(Opens in a new window).
Want to get around this? 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 from Addoncrop(Opens in a new window) is available for multiple browsers but with excellent side-load capabilities(Opens in a new window) via user scripts or third-party extensions such as Foxified (Opens in a new window)(which allows Chrome/Edge user access to Firefox extensions). It puts a button below whichever video you're playing on YouTube, even an embedded YouTube video, making the video easy to grab. Up to 8K video is supported. You can also convert audio from the video to an MP3, and it will even help you take video screenshots.
Chances are, the minute you find an iOS app that can download YouTube videos, it will be "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, which lets you download videos on your iPhone or iPad to watch later, much as Netflix and Hulu do. But it doesn't allow you the freedom to edit a clip.
Another is using a free iOS file manager app, such as 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 (you know, the kind we don't recommend).
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 as 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 for a lifetime plan). It's 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 it 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.