Download YouTube videos and audio with YouTube-dl

Updated: 08/03/2018 by Computer Hope

Illustration: Downloading a video with YouTube-dl.YouTube-dl is a free and open source command-line program for Windows, macOS, and Linux. You can use it to download videos from YouTube.

Tip: Downloading a YouTube video is legal if you use it in accordance with its license. Many YouTube videos use the Standard YouTube license, and some are licensed under Creative Commons, for example. You can check the video's license type on its YouTube page by clicking "Show More," then clicking the license name.

Find the YouTube license here, and comply with it when using any YouTube video.

For more information, see:

Installing YouTube-dl

For installation instructions, choose your operating system from the list below.

Installation: Windows

YouTube-dl does not have an installer, like most Windows programs. YouTube-dl consists of a single executable file, youtube-dl.exe, which you can download directly.

  1. Open the project page at https://rg3.github.io/youtube-dl/, and click Download.

Screenshot: Go to https://rg3.github.io/youtube-dl, and click Download.

  1. On the Download page, click the link for the Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable Package (x86). You might already have this installed; these steps will check, and install it if necessary.

Screenshot: On the YouTube-dl Download page, click the link for the Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable Package.

  1. Clicking the link will take you to a page at Microsoft's website. Click Download to download vcredist_x86.exe.

Screenshot: On the YouTube-dl Download page, click the link to download the Microsoft VC++ 10 Runtime.

  1. When download is complete, open File Explorer, and go to the location on your computer where you downloaded vcredist_x86.exe. Double click the file to run it.

Screenshot: In File Explorer, go to the location where you downloaded vcredist_x86.exe, and double click the file to run it.

  1. At the UAC prompt, click Yes.

Screenshot: At the UAC prompt, click Yes.

  1. If you see the message "A newer version of Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable has been detected on the machine," that means you already have it installed. You can click Close, and skip to step 8.

Screenshot: If the installer reports an error because a newer version of the VC++ runtime is already installed, click Close and proceed to step 8.

  1. Otherwise, continue with the installation, choosing the default options. When installation is complete, click Close, and continue to the next step.
  1. In your web browser, go back to the YouTube-dl Download page, and click Windows exe.

  1. The file youtube-dl.exe will download.

  1. YouTube-dl now exists in the folder where you downloaded it. You can run it by opening a command prompt, changing to your Downloads directory with the cd command, and running youtube-dl.

When you run youtube-dl, nothing will happen unless you provide it with the URL of a video to download. For examples of how to use the program, proceed to Downloading a video, below.

Installation: macOS

If you have Homebrew, you can install YouTube-dl by opening a Terminal and running the following command.

brew install youtube-dl

Or, if you have MacPorts, run the command below.

sudo port install youtube-dl

Or, you can download the source code using git, and compile it yourself:

git clone https://github.com/rg3/youtube-dl/ && cd youtube-dl && make
sudo make install

You can also download it using curl:

curl https://yt-dl.org/latest/youtube-dl && chmod u+rx youtube-dl

Or, download with wget:

wget https://yt-dl.org/downloads/latest/youtube-dl && chmod u+rx youtube-dl

Note: If you use curl or wget, youtube-dl will be downloaded to your current directory. To run the program from anywhere else, move youtube-dl to a directory of your choosing, and make sure that directory exists in your PATH environment variable. For example:

mkdir ~/ydl && mv ./youtube-dl ~/ydl/.
echo "PATH=$PATH:$HOME/ydl" >> ~/.bashrc

When installation is complete, you can proceed to Downloading a video, below.

Installation: Linux

YouTube-dl is available as a packaged binary in many Linux operating systems. For instance, on Debian or Ubuntu systems, you can install using apt:

sudo apt install youtube-dl

On all Linux systems, you can also install it by using the curl, wget, or git methods listed above for macOS.

Using YouTube-dl

YouTube-dl is a command line program, which means it has no GUI. Instead, you type commands to the program, using your command prompt or terminal window.

YouTube-dl has many options, but here we'll just cover the basics: downloading video, and downloading audio.

Downloading a video

The simplest way to use YouTube-dl is to give it the URL of a youtube video.

  1. Go to a video on YouTube that you want to download. Select the URL from the address bar, and copy it to your clipboard by pressing CTRL + C. If the URL has a "&" in it (a playlist, for instance), only copy the URL up to (but not including) the &.

Screenshot: Copy the URL of the YouTube video from your browser's address bar. If the URL has an ampersand and anything following it, don't copy that part.

  1. Open a command prompt or terminal window. On Windows, you can open the command prompt if you press Win + R (hold down the Windows key and press R) to open the Run box, then type cmd and press Enter. In macOS, open Applications, then Utilities, and choose Terminal. On Linux, your terminal program will depend on your particular Linux distribution. Usually, you can press Ctrl + Alt + T to open a terminal window.

Screenshot: Open a command prompt window: Press Win + R, then type 'cmd' and press Enter.

  1. Navigate to the folder where you downloaded YouTube-dl, using the cd command. (On macOS or Linux, if you installed using a package manager such as Homebrew or apt, you can skip this step. The youtube-dl executable is already installed to a directory in your PATH, so you can run it from any directory.)

Screenshot: Use the 'cd' command to change to the directory where you downloaded youtube-dl.exe.

  1. Type youtube-dl, followed by a space. Then, paste the URL you copied in step 1. (In Windows, place your cursor in the command prompt window and right click to paste. In macOS, you can paste in the terminal using + V. In most Linux terminals, press Ctrl + Shift + V.)

The command should look like this:

youtube-dl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Op3QLzMgSY

Press Enter to run the command and start the download.

Screenshot: Running youtube-dl at the Windows command line.

  1. The video will be downloaded to the current directory. You can now view it using a media player such as VLC.

Screenshot: Viewing video downloaded from YouTube in VLC Media Player.

Downloading audio

To download the audio of most YouTube videos, you can use the -f 140 option. For example:

youtube-dl -f 140 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ

YouTube-dl will extract the M4A audio version of the video file, and save it as an audio file with the M4A extension. You can then open it a media player such as VLC, or an audio editor such as Audacity.

To properly save some audio files, you may need to install the ffmpeg codec first. For Windows, visit https://www.ffmpeg.org to download ffmpeg. On macOS Homebrew, run brew install ffmpeg. On most Linux systems, the package name is ffmpeg, e.g. sudo apt install ffmpeg.

Then, to convert a downloaded audio file to the MP3 format, you can use ffmpeg -i inputfile outputfile. For example, the command:

ffmpeg -i Lecture.m4a Lecture.mp3

Will convert M4A audio file Lecture.m4a to an MP3 file, Lecture.mp3.

For a complete list of options, see the Pfficial YouTube-dl documentation on Github.