What Is Internet 'Streaming'? Is It Like Downloading?

Streaming vs. Downloading: What's the Difference?
Streaming vs. Downloading: What's the Difference?. Kidstock / Getty

Question: What Is Internet 'Streaming'? Is It Like Downloading?

You've been told to visit a 'streaming' website to get your music or your Microsoft Office 2013. But what exactly is 'streaming', and how is it different from downloading?

Answer: Streaming, sometimes known as 'background downloading', is the fast-track cousin of regular downloading. In a regular download, you make a duplicate of a large web file or a large software program, sometimes taking 30 minutes to 24 hours to complete the download and receive a working copy.

With streaming, two things are different: you are still downloading, but you start viewing or using the file while it is downloading. With streaming, you can afford to be impatient, and start reaping the benefits of the download within a few moments. Streaming is most valuable when the files in question are larger than 2 or 3 megabytes.

The second difference that separates streaming from downloading is that you do not actually keep a copy of a streamed file; you only view it or listen to it, and then it vanishes into the ether when you are done.  That's why you don't have Youtube videos accumulating on your hard drive!

In 2015, streaming is most commonly associated with music and movie files. YouTube and Netflix are two perfect examples of streaming websites: you can begin viewing your YouTube video or Netflix movie while they are still transferring to your computer. Instead of waiting 4 or 5 minutes to see a video, you can start watching it within 4 or 5 seconds.

Internet-based radio is another strong example of streaming: instead of waiting for the entire song to transfer to your computer before it can be played, you can listen to the song during the streaming process. Examples of streaming radio include Spotify, Pandora, and Google Play Music.

Recently, Microsoft has employed streaming to share the new Office 2013.

Instead of making users wait for hours to use the Office products, they can begin using them almost immediately as the hundreds of megabytes stream in the background.

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