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Tech Terms: Streaming Vs. Downloading


I asked if there were any common tech terms that confused you and you sure had a LOT of questions. Questions like this one: “Is streaming the same as downloading and watching as it downloads? Thank you in advance!”

Streaming and downloading are different things. Think of it as the difference between listening to an album on the radio and buying an LP.

One just lets you listen, the other gives you a copy of the item that belongs to you.

The “down” part of download is important. The file is moving from the cloud, down to your PC, tablet, phone, or game console. An actual copy of the file will be transferred from a server to the hard drive or storage drive of your device. You’ll be able to play that song, watch that movie, read that eBook, or open that program even when you aren’t online. (in the case of some apps or games, they might not be of much use offline, but they’re still there.


When you stream something, you’re actually playing it in the cloud by accessing the server of the company that owns it. When you stream a Netflix movie, you’re watching it on their servers. You do have the control to pause, rewind, and stop the video. Plus, you can watch it on demand. But, the video isn’t on the hard drive of your device. And when Netflix decides to no longer host that video on their servers, you won’t be able to watch it anymore.

Streaming music works the same way. You’re listening to those tunes from Apple or Amazon or Spotify’s servers. Depending on the service, you may have the ability to pause or repeat or skip songs, but the music is being played from servers somewhere far away and not from your device. If you don’t have a data or WiFi connection, you won’t be able to listen. And, unlike purchased music, the service can remove tunes at any time.


Playing a video from the YouTube site or from Facebook is streaming. You’re watching that video from the cloud. The cloud is just a term for offsite servers that could be in the next state or in another country.

If you go through a process of adding a movie or song to a shopping cart and paying an individual price for it, you’re probably buying it to download. Plus you’ll see a pop-up that indicates the item is downloading and it should turn up in your downloads, music, or videos folder.

One nice thing about streaming is that you never have to worry about hard drive space. So, if you’re using an item with limited storage space, you can listen to an almost endless variety of music without worrying about running out of room.

I hope that explanation helps.

~ Cynthia.


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2 Responses to “Tech Terms: Streaming Vs. Downloading”

  1. Sel Colomb says:

    How does Streaming affect my monthly Data limit, as set by my ISP.
    Is it the same as downloading the file?
    Thanks in advance.

  2. […] We discussed the difference between streaming and downloading last week. That raised a question with a reader: “How does Streaming affect my monthly Data limit, as set by my ISP. Is it the same as downloading the file?” […]

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