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How to Download YouTube videos

How to Download YouTube videos
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In this article, I’ll show how you can easily download a video from YouTube on Windows, macOS or Linux.
All you need is the Free VideoLAN VLC and your Web Browser.
So no need for any sketchy third party websites or commercial tools.

Caution: Keep an eye on the YouTube Terms of Service rules, as well as your local laws!
According to the YouTube Terms of Service policy, you will need to ask for permission from either YouTube and/or the respective Copyright holder(s).




Why Download Videos from YouTube?

You may wonder why anyone would like to download YouTube videos.
I can mention a few here. For example, you’d like to

    • Play the video offline (eg. when traveling).
    • Keep a video for future viewing, for example a video related to an interesting topic, or a special or memorable event.
    • Watch the video on a different (not YouTube-capable) device (eg. a not-so-smart TV).

And there are many more reasons one can think of.

How to Download a YouTube video

About Copyright and Permission … 

Before proceeding:
I assume you have permission from YouTube and/or the copyright holder of the video you want to download.

  • Not only is it polite to at least ask for permission from whoever uploaded the video to YouTube, it is also respectful towards the work they have put into it to provide the video.
  • Additionally, the YouTube Terms of Use state that you are required to do this in order to not violate the agreement.
  • Finally: make sure you follow the local Copyright laws of the country you reside in.

Tools we need to Download a YouTube video

We only need 2 tools to download a YouTube video;

  1. A web browser so we can go to YouTube and find and download the video we would like to download. This can be any browser you like.
  2. VideoLAN’s VLC, which helps us determine the correct URL for downloading a video. It’s free and available for several Operating Systems like Windows, Linux and MacOS.

Step 1 – Install VideoLAN VLC

We will look at Windows, MacOS and Linux, and for all three platforms we will need to download and install VLC.

You can download VLC for free at the VideoLAN website.
Download the version suitable for your Operating System and install it.

Step 2 – Find the “share” link of the YouTube Video you’d like to download

In your web browser, go to YouTube and locate the video you want to download.
You’ll see a “Share” button, which we need to click so we can copy the “Share link” to the clipboard of our computer, as illustrated below.

The “Share” link is now on your computer’s clipboard!

Get the YouTube Share Link

Get the YouTube Share Link

Step 3 – Getting the real link to the YouTube Video you want to download

In this step we will use VLC to determine the download link.
Since VLC looks a little different per platform, I’ll show some screenshots of each of the platforms.

Windows

Start VLC, and from the “Media” menu select the “Open Network Stream” option and paste ( Ctrl + V ) the Share link in the “Please enter a network URL” field and click “Play“.
The YouTube video will start playing if everything went according to plan.
If desired, you can now click the Pause button in VLC.

Windows - Open the YouTube Share Link with VLC

Windows – Open the YouTube Share Link with VLC

Once the video is playing, open the Media Information window by selecting from the VLC menu “Tools” Media Information” (or pressCtrl+ i ).
At the bottom of the window that opens, you will find the actual URL in the field “Location“.

Location blank? 

When stopping the video playback, the “Location” may show blank.
Try again while the video is playing! (thanks Jeff for the tip!)

 

Copy this URL to the clipboard (it’s a HUGE link).
This is easiest done by clicking the content of the field 3 (!) times – you’ll see everything in the field being selected.
Now either right click the selected text and select “Copy” from the popup menu, or press Ctrl+ C .

Windows - Get the actual URL of the YouTube Video in VLC

Windows – Get the actual URL of the YouTube Video in VLC

MacOS

Start VLC and from the VLC menu choose “FileOpen Network” (or press  + N ) and paste the Share Link in the “URL” field (  + V ), and click “Open“.
The YouTube video will start playing if everything went according to plan.

MacOS - Open the YouTube Share Link with VLC

MacOS – Open the YouTube Share Link with VLC

Once the video is playing, open the Media Information window by selecting from the VLC menu “Window” Media Information” (or press  + i ).
At the bottom of the window that opens, you will find the actual URL in the field “Location“.

Location blank? 

When stopping the video playback, the “Location” may show blank.
Try again while the video is playing! (thanks Jeff for the tip!)

Copy this URL to the clipboard (it’s a HUGE link).
This is easiest done by clicking the content of the field 3 (!) times – you’ll see everything in the field being selected.
Now either right click the selected text and select “Copy” from the popup menu, or press   + C .

MacOS - Get the actual URL of the YouTube Video in VLC

MacOS – Get the actual URL of the YouTube Video in VLC

Linux

Start VLC, and from the “Media” menu select the “Open Network Stream” option and paste ( Ctrl + V ) the Share link in the “Please enter a network URL” field and click “Play“.
The YouTube video will start playing if everything went according to plan.

Linux - Open the YouTube Share Link with VLC

Linux – Open the YouTube Share Link with VLC

Once the video is playing, open the Media Information window by selecting from the VLC menu “Tools” Media Information” (or pressCtrl+ i ).
At the bottom of the window that opens, you will find the actual URL in the field “Location“.

Location blank? 

When stopping the video playback, the “Location” may show blank.
Try again while the video is playing! (thanks Jeff for the tip!)

Copy this URL to the clipboard (it’s a HUGE link).
This is easiest done by clicking the content of the field 3 (!) times – you’ll see everything in the field being selected.
Now either right click the selected text and select “Copy” from the popup menu, or press Ctrl+ C .

Linux - Get the actual URL of the YouTube Video in VLC

Linux – Get the actual URL of the YouTube Video in VLC

Step 4 – Actually downloading the YouTube Video

The easiest way to now download the YouTube video is by pasting (Window/Linux: Ctrl+ V  , MacOS:   + V ) the link you copied in Step 3, into the address bar of your browser and pressing Enter.

Supported browsers and the missing 3-dots … 

It appears that this trick may not work with all browser. Safari and Firefox have been reported to not show the 3-dots option.
I’ve tested this with Google Chrome and Opera, and in both the button does appear. (thanks Jeff for the tip!)

The YouTube video will load and start playing.

Click the 3 vertical dots () in the lower right corner of the video (see screenshot below).
In the popup menu, select the option “Download“.

It may take a couple of seconds, but at some point your browser will ask where to save the download, typically suggestion something like “videoplayback”.

Enter a proper name here, so you can identify the video later, and add the.mp4extension to the filename. Finally press Enter and to start the download.

Since you have already installed VLC, you can choose to use VLC again, but this time for playback.
However, there are plenty of alternative media players that will play the MP4 format as well.

Download the YouTube Video with your browser

Download the YouTube Video with your browser

TIP: Use a Download Manager … 

Fully optional, and definitely not required; but you could of course use a so called “Download manager”.
If you do not have one installed: there are plenty free download managers available, but I’d only install one of these if you download more often.
The advantage of a download manager can be found in potentially faster downloads and easier adding of a link.

Some examples:

  • Download Station on a NAS (for example on a QNAP or Synology NAS)
  • FlashGet (pretty old but free for Windows)
  • Plenty of free download managers as a Chrome Extension can be found here.

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Comments


There are 3 comments. You can read them below.
You can post your own comments by using the form below, or reply to existing comments by using the "Reply" button.

  • Feb 26, 2021 - 6:05 AM - Jeff Comment Link

    Hello,

    This isn’t working for me.  The “HUGE” URL in step 3 doesn’t show.  I’m using MacOS Big Sur 11.2.2.

    Any suggestions?

    Reply

    Jeff

    • Feb 26, 2021 - 7:15 AM - Hans - Author: Comment Link

      Hi Jeff,

      sorry to hear you’re running into an issue.

      Based on your question, I’ve just tried it on Big Sur (11.2.1 and 11.2.2 after I updated), with VLC 3.0.11 and VLC 3.0.12.
      All scenario’s worked, but I did notice it to be a pain to copy the huge link.
      The field used for this huge link in VLC is clearly way too small.

      What I see in my VLC, is a big mess of characters in this field (extending beyond the size of the box).

      To copy the link, I place the cursor somewhere in this field, even if it seems blank.
      Next press Command+A (select all), and Command+C (copy).
      To see what the link looked like I pasted it in a text editor.

      If it still remains blank, then I do not know what to tell you.
      Maybe check if you have a recent VLC version. I just tested with 3.0.12 (latest it seems).

      Reply

      Hans

    • Feb 26, 2021 - 8:29 AM - Hans - Author: Comment Link

      Thanks Jeff for emailing me the solution – I’ve added your tips to the article for others to see. 

      1) Location only seems populated during playback.
      2) Not every browser shows the 3-dot button (eg. Safari and Firefox). 

      Reply

      Hans



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