Streaming vs. Progressive Download

If you're new to media delivery over the Internet, you may not be aware that there are two distinct methods of delivering content to the end user.

Progressive Download

Using progressive download, a video file such as an FLV is downloaded from start to finish to the viewer's computer over HTTP. The majority of videos on sites like YouTube and Vimeo work this way. In many cases, the user has to wait for the video to download before they can skip to specific parts. If they pause the video and start looking at other web pages, for example, the video will continue to download in the background. This will not only slow their connection but will cost the content provider additional charges in bandwidth costs for data that is not used.

Secondly, progressive download is often insecure from the content provider's point of view as video can easily be captured and stored by the user. This makes progressive download inappropriate for applications where content protection is required.

Finally, due to its nature, it is not possible to deliver live streams using progressive download.

The advantage of progressive download is that for users on slow connections, content can be downloaded before hitting the play button which ensures a smoother playback experience where sufficient bandwidth is not available.


Streaming requires servers and software dedicated to sending content as it is requested by the end user. It addresses many of the problems associated with progressive download and is more appropriate for many applications.

If a user steps away from their computer after hitting the pause button, a streaming server will efficiently stop sending data until the user wishes to resume playback. It's also much more difficult, especially when using encryption, for an end user to capture an incoming stream when compared to progressive download. Data that users have already ingested is thrown away and not stored on their computer, making this delivery method much more suitable for protected content.

The biggest advantage of using streaming instead of progressive download is its ability to deliver live content.

This page was last updated on 19/1/12