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How to download YouTube videos for free, plus two other methods

Want to download a YouTube video? Here are two easy download options and a more advanced Linux command line option.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
YouTube on iPhone
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

While the official YouTube app and website only offer downloads for a few videos in selected locations, there's a way to retrieve content so you can consume it anytime, anywhere. Several ways. in fact.

Also: My 9 must-have gadgets for creating quality YouTube videos

In this tutorial, we'll cover how you can download your favorite videos using three approaches: 

  1. Using a free Mac, Windows, or Linux application
  2. Paying for YouTube Premium
  3. Using an obscure and complex (yet very powerful) Linux command line tool

Your free option (and my preferred way) to download YouTube videos: ClipGrab

I have to give ZDNET's managing editor props for introducing me to this program a few years ago. I've 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. Here's how to download and use it.

1. Go to ClipGrab.org

Point your browser to ClipGrab.org and click the Show All Download Options link. You'll see download links for Mac, Windows, and Linux there. I'll show you the Mac version in this article, but the interface is virtually 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 up in your browser's URL bar or by clicking the Share button under the video itself. 

3. Launch ClipGrab

Make sure that you're on the Downloads tab and then choose the Launch 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!

Once you've copied and pasted the desired video link into the ClickGrab browser, select Grab this clip!

Dashboard of ClipGrab.

Put one link of a video at a time into the top Downloads tab browser on ClickGrab. Once you're ready to download, select Grab this clip!

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

6. Choose the video format

On ClickGrab, you can also tweak options.

For example, you can choose the format you want the video to be in when it's stored on your computer. I generally go with Original, but I'll specify something else if that doesn't work. 

Also: How to create a playlist on the YouTube app

You can also select download resolution. Depending on the video's original resolution, you can choose to download the full resolution video or reduce the resolution to save space.

Options available for formatting video.
Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

7. Customize

Finally, tapping the Settings tab lets you customize where ClipGrab deposits your newly downloaded videos.

ClipGrab download and convert videos window.
Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Another free option (with some added-cost benefits)

ClipGrab remains my choice for easy, no-muss, no-fuss YouTube downloading. But if you want a YouTube downloader that can be upgraded into an entire power-user suite for video format conversion and management, look no further than the WinX/MacX pair of applications.

Produced by Digiarty Software -- better known by its DVD ripper software brand, WinXDVD -- WinX Video Converter (for Windows) and MacX Video Converter (for Mac) are freemium video conversion power tools. What makes them particularly interesting for this article is that the trial version (for Windows, or for Mac) includes a YouTube downloader that's free to use indefinitely.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

As a test, I downloaded a seven-minute video of one of my YouTube videos. Now, to be clear, I have a fast internet connection, but this tool was ridiculously quick. MacX Video Converter downloaded the entire video in 7.96 seconds. That's just a wow.

Also: I watched an hour-long TV show on Apple Vision Pro and it was glorious, unusual, and tiring

Do note that the trial version says it supports up to five minutes of conversion for free. That's not the downloading part. The paid-for version of these tools converts any video to MP4, HEVC, H.264, MOV, MKV, AVI, MP3, iPhone, and Android from a wide range of specialty formats. That's where the five-minute limit exists in the trial. But if you download the trial, you can download from YouTube (and also from all of these sites, see image below), for free. The only cost is putting up with a few upsell dialogs while you do so.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

If you do choose to upgrade to the paid versions, you'll get a power-user version that compresses videos, allows you to trim videos, and allows you to add and edit subtitles. Those paid products range from $19.95 to $149.95, depending on the options and number of users you choose.

Your paid option: YouTube Premium

I'm a big fan of YouTube Premium because it saves my wife and me from enduring most ads, but it is a luxury expense. Individuals can subscribe to YouTube Premium for $13.99 a month (that's up $2 from what it was a few months ago). YouTube also offers a family plan for up to six users for $22.99 a month. Finally, students can subscribe to YouTube Premium for $7.99 a month (up a buck from what it was a few months ago). 

My favorite feature is a complete lack of Google-provided ads. 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.

Also: These 3 AI tools made my two-minute how-to video way more fun and engaging

YouTube Premium provides background play and picture-in-picture, YouTube Music, and access to YouTube Originals. 

YouTube Premium also includes the ability to download videos. Here's how you do it. 

How to download YouTube videos via YouTube Premium

1. Log in to your YouTube Premium account

Once you've subscribed to YouTube Premium, you'll have a Download button in your web browser or your phone app to the right of the Share (arrow) icon at the bottom of a video. 

Arrow pointing to Download button on YouTube Premium.

See the Download button marked by my arrows. 

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

2. Toggle the Download icon

Select the video(s) you want to download, and once it comes up in the main screen display, click the Download icon. 

3. Find your downloads

You can find your downloads in the Downloads area of YouTube. Notice that YouTube says that the downloads are retained as long as you have an internet connection at least once every 30 days. That way, YouTube can confirm you are still a YouTube Premium user.

Arrow pointing to downloads on YouTube Premium.
Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Saving once downloaded 

You're not given 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 watching offline, you're somewhat out of luck. The same is true of iOS. 

Also: Warning: Your private YouTube videos aren't 100% private

However, if you're an Android user with an SD card slot in your phone, you can set the YouTube app settings (tap your profile picture, then Settings, then Downloads) to save videos to your SD card.

Download options in the settings on an Android device.
Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

So, that's how to download videos into an only barely usable form for the low-low price of $13.99 per month. That price went up by two bucks a month, a few months ago. Because, well, streaming prices are on the rise. Special.

Linux command line options

I would 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 things Linux command line, there are some gray areas here, such as whether the tool even works or whether there's a better tool.

The first option in this command line hit parade is youtube-dl. You can get access to it via its own site, on GitHub, or your favorite package manager. 

Also: Why I use the Linux tree command daily - and what it can do for you

It should be noted that the GitHub repository was taken down for a while due to an allegation of DMCA violations, but GitHub later reinstated it. You can read a very interesting story about GitHub's reasoning and response. 

Some folks claim that youtube-dl is old hat and hasn't been updated in a while. There's 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, so use it at your own risk.

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 turn YouTube downloading into a second or third full-time job. But it's up to you.


What is the safest way to download YouTube videos?

The very safest way is by using YouTube Premium. You're paying for sanctioned and supported downloading from the company itself. YouTube will have built-in restrictions for any laws in the country you're in. And you won't run into any trouble, because the downloads are locked to your subscription.

Of course, once you drop your YouTube Premium subscription, everything you've downloaded goes away. For more permanent downloads, I really like ClipGrab. I use it for downloading videos fairly regularly (including my own if I want to quickly grab a clip from some video I posted). I've had no problems legally or technically with ClipGrab, especially when I'm using it on a Mac.

What about XYZ downloader, which is the best ever?

I regularly get notes via email and socials from readers who want to use other tools. The typical story is either they saw an ad for the best downloader ever, or they have a friend/cousin/neighbor who "knows about computers" and recommended a specific tool.

I also fairly constantly get pitches from vendors who also have video downloaders and think their tool is far and away the very best thing and I'm a terrible human for not pitching their product to our readers. Because the core tech for video downloading is available as an open-source library, and because people tend to want to download protected videos, the video downloading software business is a bit of a cesspool of opportunistic and potentially unscrupulous vendors.

Also: The best live TV streaming services of 2024

Downloading otherwise protected videos is one of those gray-area categories where scammers like to play. I generally recommend you stick with the above recommendations because we've tried them, used them, and haven't experienced any negative issues.

But if you do want to follow another suggestion, keep your Spidey sense on high alert. If you land on a site with a ton of ads and popups, if it seems like there are multiple attempts to monetize the offerings, or if you're asked to give up your credit card digits, stay away.

Just... be careful. 

Can you get in trouble for downloading YouTube videos?

Now that you know how to download YouTube videos, should you? First, do 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. Also, some countries may not want you watching videos on specific topics, so if you're in a restrictive or repressive country, practice some extra caution. You might want to read our VPN guide for some more details on downloading with some level of anonymity. 

Also: 6 ways to save money on TV streaming without losing the shows you love

If you want to download a video to incorporate it into something you're producing, keep in mind that some countries have the concept of Fair Use. In those jurisdictions, small clips of copyrighted media can be incorporated into your productions. But you should also remember that YouTube has algorithmic systems looking for people reusing videos, and your channel might get a strike against it for reusing media.

When in doubt, it's always best to ask.

What happened to SaveFrom.net?

Some of you might be familiar with SaveFrom.net. This site allowed you to download from YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion (and a few other sites), merely by pasting a URL into a web page on the site. It also had a browser extension that facilitated downloads. But, highlighting the topic in our next section, SaveFrom.net has shut down its operations in the US and UK, providing this message from the UK (and an equivalent in the US):

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

However, one of our intrepid editors (not me) set his VPN to the Czech Republic and found that SaveFrom.net is alive and well, hiding far away from copyright laws:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

So, there you go. Do you have other techniques for accomplishing the same thing? Let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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