So you want to download a YouTube video? While basic YouTube only offers downloads for a few select videos in a few select locations, there are ways to download any YouTube video you want at any time.
Also: Visit ZDNET on YouTube!
We will cover ways to download your favorite videos using three approaches:
- Paying for YouTube Premium
- Using a free Mac, Windows or Linux application
- Using an obscure and complex (but very powerful) Linux command line tool.
Your paid option: YouTube Premium
I’m a big fan of YouTube Premium because it saves my wife and me from having to endure most ads, but it is a luxury expense. Individuals can subscribe to YouTube Premium for $11.99 a month. YouTube also offers a family plan for up to six users for $22.99 a month. Finally, students can subscribe to YouTube Premium for $6.99 a month.
Also: Why I chose YouTube TV among the many streaming options
My favorite feature is a complete lack of ads from Google. There are no banners, no pre-roll and no interstitial ads. However, if a YouTube channel wants to embed an ad in a video, YouTube Premium will not filter those YouTuber-embedded ads.
YouTube Premium also provides background playback and picture-in-picture, YouTube Music and access to YouTube Originals.
YouTube Premium also includes the ability to Download videos. Here’s how you’ll go about it.
How to download YouTube videos via YouTube Premium
Saves when downloaded
You don’t get an easy way to turn that download into a usable video file on a desktop device, so if you want to use that video for anything other than offline viewing, you’re a little out of luck. The same applies to iOS.
Also: How local politics made me turn to YouTube Premium as a last resort of sanity
But if you’re an Android user with an SD card slot in your phone, you can set the settings for the YouTube app (tap your profile picture and then Settingsthereafter Downloads) to save videos to your SD card.
So, that’s how you download videos in a barely usable form for the low-low price of $11.99 per month. But what if you want a better solution, and you want to do it for free? Yes, we’ve got you covered.
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Your free alternative (and my preferred way) to download YouTube videos: ClipGrab
I have to give ZDNET’s managing editor props for introducing me to this show a few years ago. I have been using it ever since.
ClipGrab is a free program available for Mac, Windows and Linux users. The developer says it’s open source, but the source code is only available for Linux. In any case, ClipGrab rocks. How to download and use it.
1. Go to ClipGrab.org
Point your browser to ClipGrab.org and click Show all Download Options link. You will see download links for Mac, Windows and Linux there. I’ll show you the Mac version in this article, but the interface is practically identical on all three.
2. Copy the YouTube video link
Copy the video link of the YouTube video(s) you wish to download. You can do this in your browser’s URL bar or by clicking on Share button below the video itself.
3. Start ClipGrab
Make sure you are on Downloads tab and then select Start ClipGrab option.
4. Copy and paste
Copy and paste the URL of the video you want to download into ClickGrab.
5. Click Grab this clip!
After copying and pasting the desired video link into the ClickGrab browser, select Take this clip!
6. Select video format
On ClickGrab you can also adjust options.
For example, you can choose the format you want the video to be in when it is saved on your computer. I usually go with Original, but I specify something else if it doesn’t work.
You can also choose the download resolution. Depending on the video’s original resolution, you can choose to download the video in full resolution or reduce the resolution to save space.
Finally, press on Settings tab lets you customize where ClipGrab places your recently downloaded videos.
Linux command line options
I’d be remiss (or so I’ve been told in the comments below, on Twitter, and in my email inbox) if I didn’t mention that Linux users have a command line option (because of course they do) to download YouTube videos. As with all Linux command line, there are some gray areas here, such as whether the tool works or if there is a better tool (because of course there is).
Also: How to install Linux applications from the command line
The first in this command line hit parade is youtube-dl. You can access it via its own page, on GitHub or your favorite package manager. It should be noted that the GitHub repository was taken down for a while due to an alleged DMCA violation, but GitHub later restored it. There is a very interesting story about GitHub’s reasoning and response that you can read.
Some claim that youtube-dl is old fashioned and hasn’t been updated in a while. That’s not really true. The day I visited the repo, the header said that youtube-dl was updated six days ago. It looks like it gets ongoing maintenance. That said, there is another open source project on GitHub called yt-dlp that claims to be a fork of youtube-dl with more features. I haven’t tested it, use it at your own risk.
Also: Linux isn’t just for developers and command line pros
Both youtube-dl and yt-dlp offer a very, very wide range of features if you need them. Personally, I’m going to stick with ClipGrab, because I don’t have time to make YouTube downloading a second or third full-time job. But, it’s up to you.
Some moral, ethical and legal considerations
Now that you know how to download YouTube videos, should you? First, be aware that different jurisdictions have different laws. It may or may not be legal to download a given video, even if all you want to do is watch it offline.
If you want to download a video to include in something you produce, remember that some countries have the concept of Fair Use. In these jurisdictions, small clips of copyrighted media may be included in your productions. But also remember that YouTube has algorithmic systems that look for people who reuse videos, and your channel may get a warning for reusing media.
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When in doubt, it’s always best to ask.
There you go. Do you have other techniques to achieve the same thing? Let us know in the comments below.
You can follow my daily project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtzon Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.