What is the difference: Streaming vs Downloading

Clients often ask us what the difference is between streaming and downloading, and it is worth understanding, as this difference can be important when it comes to managing data usage and device storage. Read on to learn more about streaming vs downloading.

Fundamentals: Streaming vs Downloading

Whether it’s music, pictures, podcasts, books or video, there are two main methods of accessing online media: streaming and downloading.

A few popular apps for accessing online media are:

  • Youtube
  • Spotify
  • Apple Music
  • Netflix
  • Hulu
  • Prime Video
  • Disney +
  • Paramount +
  • Audible

On these types of apps users employ an internet connection to receive the data required to access the files. The users identifies the media they want to access, and that data file is transferred to their device to play.

The data file can either be downloaded to the device and then play from the device, or it can be transferred in small pieces that are just enough at a time to play the file continuously, with nothing stored on the device. This second method is called streaming.

The downloading or streaming can be done with either a WiFi connection to the internet, or with a cellular data connection.


The main drawback to streaming is the need for a continuous internet connection. If the user does not have an internet connection, streaming is not possible. When the user is on a reliable WiFi connection, this is easy.

Without WiFi, the internet connection must be through the users cellular service. If that connection is reliable, the streaming works very well.

However, streaming can also use a lot of data. If the user has a limited data plan, they can run through gigabytes of data very quickly if not careful. The higher the quality of the media, the more data it will use.


Most of the apps listed above have an option to download the media. This option will save the media file to the device’s internal storage.

This allows for the media to be downloaded on WiFi, and then consumed offline, with no need for any form of ongoing internet connection.

The size of the media files is the same, and if a user downloads on a Wi-Fi connection, they don’t use any cellular data, and they don’t have to worry about interruptions in service.

Often users will delete the media files afterwards to save space on the device.

Downloading is great for long car trips, flights, and subway users, and for anyone who needs to use as little cellular data as possible.

Partially downloaded album on Apple Music.

If you have any questions about streaming vs downloading, or our terminology wasn’t clear, please use our contact form to send us a message. Thanks!

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