Downloading YouTube videos is generally easy and a handy function. It's excellent in cases where you need offline access to YouTube videos, for instance, when in public transport where your connection may be unreliable. Downloading YouTube videos is also great in cases where you want to save your mobile data allowance. You can download them to your phone using your home Wi-Fi and watch them on the move (one can always hope that in 2021 we will start moving again) without spending any mobile data. However, in certain parts of the world, free YouTube video downloads are necessary rather than a luxury. So let's discuss how you can download YouTube videos for free.
While YouTube itself provides this option, it requires a premium subscription. But there are third-party free YouTube downloaders that you can use as well. Below we explain how to do all this. But first let's talk about the legality of free YouTube video downloads.
Is downloading YouTube videos legal?
Using third-party apps to download YouTube videos is against YouTube’s terms of service, stating that you can only stream videos directly from its servers. Downloading YouTube videos also opens you up to potential copyright infringement unless you have permission from the copyright holder, it’s in the public domain, or you own the video yourself.
Consequently, you are treading into questionable territory by downloading YouTube videos, unless it's by using YouTube's own apps.
Online YouTube downloaders vs desktop software
You can use many sites to download YouTube videos, but I won't recommend them in this post due to their disadvantages over desktop software. First of all, they're slower than desktop applications as you don't download straight from YouTube. The intermediary connection to the site's server is a bottleneck. Moreover, typically these sites feature ads of the NSFW variety or display thumbnails of recently downloaded videos, which may not be appropriate.
Online video downloaders/converters typically don't provide many formats and quality options, if at all. They only allow you to download a single video at a time and cannot handle playlists. 3D and 360-degree videos are also beyond their limitations, and very few can handle 4K video downloads.
So, in general we don't recommend using online YouTube video downloaders even in 2021. It's better to resort to desktop ones, as they are a safer and more capable choice
How to download YouTube videos to PC
1. Download 4K Video Downloader
First, let's see how to download YouTube videos to a Windows PC. Start by downloading and installing 4K Video Downloader. This 4K Video Downloader is completely free and can download whole playlists and 360-degree and 3D videos. It's really one of the best options for a free YouTube video downloader out there. When the download is done, check the box marked ‘Launch' and click ‘Finish.'
2. Copy and paste the video URL
Next, find the video you want to download from YouTube on your web browser and copy its URL from the address bar. From there, go back to 4K Video Downloader and click the green ‘Paste Link' button at the top left. The downloader will retrieve information about the video and give you a list of video quality options. These will vary depending on the quality of the original video. But 4K Video Downloader can download YouTube videos even in 4K if it's available.
3. Choose the quality and format
4K Video Downloader can download full YouTube videos or rip the audio track. You can choose your preferred selection using the drop-down menu on the left. Then choose a format using the menu on the right. MP4 typically provides a good tradeoff between quality and size and will play on every device.
Finally, choose your preferred quality. For TV or PC playback you should choose high quality despite the longer download time and extra size. Luckily, you can check the estimated file size on the left to see how much space it will take. You can also choose where the download location of the downloaded video using the ‘Browse' button at the bottom.
When done, click ‘Download'.
4. Download the YouTube video
The YouTube video will now be downloaded for you. If there are other videos in the creator's channel, 4K Video Downloader will ask whether you want to download those as well. It can download up to 24 videos at once.
Once the video has finished downloading, you can find it in the destination folder or right-click it in 4K Video Downloader and select ‘Play.' Unless you adjust the settings, the video will stay in this list until you choose to remove it – even if you close and restart the software.
If you often download videos in the same format, you can enable Smart Mode. This saves your download preferences and loads them automatically. Click the lightbulb icon at the top right and next time you paste a URL into 4K Video Downloader, it will be downloaded instantly with the last settings you used.
Download YouTube videos to an Android device
1. Install TubeMate manually
TubeMate is one of the most popular tools for downloading YouTube videos on Android smartphones. It’s really easy to use and has the features you need without any unnecessary extras.
The TubeMate video downloader isn't available on the Google Play Store. Google, the owner of YouTube, is not a fan of YouTube downloaders. So first of all you'll need to allow your Android device to install and run apps downloaded from unknown sources. However, make sure that you download only apps you know are safe.
Open up ‘Settings' and go to ‘Security'. Scroll down to where it says ‘Unknown sources', tap the toggle to turn this setting on. Now, on your Android device visit the TubeMate YouTube Downloader website and select one of the verified sites to download it from.
2. Choose a video to download
You might see a warning message about downloading APK files, so click ‘OK' to allow it. Once TubeMate has downloaded, run the file and tap ‘Install', then tap ‘Open'. You'll then be informed which permissions the video downloader needs to run. If you're happy to proceed, let it go ahead and the app will launch. TubeMate looks much like the official YouTube Android app. You can search for a video and begin playing it. From there you can tap the red ‘Download' button that appears at the bottom right.
3. Download the video
Next you will see a list of video and audio formats along with quality and resolution options. Just remember the tradeoff between quality and size so that you won't have your device filled.
When you're satisfied with your selections, tap the red ‘Download' button again. The video will download in the background, so you can keep using your phone as normal. Keep in mind the YouTube video download is a battery-draining task.
You can also add YouTube videos to a queue to download later. This handy if you're currently using 4G and want to wait until you have Wi-Fi before downloading any large files.
Download Youtube Videos to iPhone, iPad or iPod
On iOS or iPadOS, you will need to install the Documents app. While Documents is a file manager, it can also download YouTube clips too. The process is a little fiddly but still straightforward.
First of all, find the clip you want to download in the YouTube app for iOS or in Safari. Once you’ve found it, tap the ‘Share' icon and then ‘Copy Link'.
Open Documents and look for its web browser icon, which is the little compass at the bottom right of the display. Tap on that and go to savefrom.net. Paste the address of the YouTube clip in the big input box, choose the quality options you prefer and the file will start to download.
When it’s finished it’ll appear in Documents' downloads section, from which you can drag it over ‘Photos > Camera Roll' so it’s available from outside the Documents app.
Download YouTube Videos to your Mac
On a Mac and MacOS you have many options but one of the simplest is MacX YouTube Downloader (also available for Windows). The process is similar to 4K YouTube Downloader. All you need to do is add the link and choose the quality options, and you can download multiple clips at once.
Download videos with YouTube Premium
A YouTube Premium subscription, provides various perks, including the ability to download videos to watch offline without third-party software. You can do this using the YouTube, YouTube Music and YouTube gaming apps. Bear in mind that you can only watch the downloaded videos using the app – you can’t move the video file to a different device, or watch it with a different player.
Start watching a video, then tap the ‘Download’ button (a gray arrow) under the player and choose a quality setting. Once the video has downloaded from YouTube successfully, you can find it in your Library or Account tab.
You must be signed into your account to watch downloaded videos, and you can't respond to videos with comments or likes when watching them offline as you are accessing the locally saved version.
Available and ideal format options for YouTube video downloads
Free YouTube video download software provides a choice of several file formats. The most common are MP4, 3GP, AVI and MOV; the choice of format and quality settings will affect the devices you can watch your video on, along with its quality.
For older phones with small storage and small screens, 3GP is probably ideal. Although it's terrible for pretty much everything else.
For other devices, MOV is Apple's video format and works on every Mac, AVI was developed by Microsoft and works happily on PCs, and MP4 is the video equivalent of MP3 and works on pretty much anything. MP4 is probably the safest choice here.
Downloaded video quality
The next decision you'll need to make is the video quality. That's because YouTube streams in multiple qualities ranging from 3GP for old mobiles to 1080p high definition for big HD displays.
Unless you download in 3GP format, you have four options for your device: 360p, 480p, 720p and 1080p. Once again you have to consider the balance between quality and file size. 720p is probably the sweet spot unless you are going to playback on a big screen. If you don't have heaps of storage available go with the lowest quality that is ok for you.
If the video you're downloading has music, it doesn't matter what video quality you choose – the soundtrack has the same bitrate whether you go for a 480p video or a 1080p one. That's because YouTube's audio and video streams are two separate things. So adjusting the video quality doesn't make any difference to the quality of the soundtrack.