Jun 10 2012
Years ago, while trying to figure out how to download YouTube videos, I ran across an article that explained how to use Apple’s ‘Safari’ web browser to do just that. I’ve a preference for doing things simply and without cost, where I can, and this appealed to me, so I tried it. It worked well and I’ve been using it ever since.
After the last revision of YouTube’s player interface, however, this technique stopped working for me but after some experimentation I figured out what the problem was and how to solve it with only one extra mouse-click. For those unfamiliar with this technique, I’ll explain the basic method that I have been able to use until recently and then the extra click you may have to use now.
Be sure and read to the end of the article to see what (I think) has happened and how to fix it.
YouTube’s videos are not meant (by YouTube) to be downloaded and no readily apparent way to do so is provided on YouTube’s site. Nor is there any built-in tool in Internet Explorer or Firefox that allows you to do so, though there are plugins for Firefox that will let you do so. YouTube videos are downloaded as hidden temporary files, played and then purged from the system, preventing you from playing the video you downloaded to your machine without going back to YouTube to replay it..
Safari, however, has a special, ‘Activity’ window, that you can invoke from the ‘Tools’ menu or by pressing Command-Option-A on a Mac (or Control-Option-A on a Windows PC). This window shows all the files being downloaded to your machine in order to display the web page(s) you are viewing … including the hidden temporary files that contain the YouTube video. Once having located this, it is simplicity itself to download the video. The basic technique is:
- Go to the YouTube page containing the video you want to download.
- Press Command-Option-A on a Mac (or Control-Option-A on a Windows PC) to invoke the ‘Activity’ window.
- Look down the list of files that are being downloaded to your browser to display the page(s) you’re looking at. The list will contain the name of each page or window followed by all the files being loaded for that page. Most of these files will be script files, small graphic images and other files, usually measuring only a few ‘k’ (kilobytes) in size. One, though, will typically be 1MB or larger; this is typically the one containing the video. This file will almost invariably be the largest file in the list (see the screen-shot below). It may have a long, convoluted name; do not worry about this.
- Double-click that largest file; when you do, the ‘Downloads’ window will appear and the file will be downloaded, usually with the name ‘videoplayback’ or ‘videoplayback.flv’.
- When the file has finished downloading, if its name is ‘videoplayback’, right-click on it and change its name to ‘videoplayback.flv’ which lets the system know that this is a Flash video file. Then you should be able to play it using the free and excellent VLC video player from videolan.org or any of a number of other free video players. Of course, if you are going to download many such video files, it’s a good idea to rename them with descriptive file names like ‘George Carlin on Dogs.flv’ or whatever; just be sure the ‘.flv‘ is at the end of the name so your system knows how to handle the file when you try to open it.
As I said, this technique has worked speedily and well for me but after YouTube’s shift to the new player version, I found that downloading the largest file invariably resulted in a file that looked like it would open … but wouldn’t. This was true for me on both my Mac and on my custom-built PC. After playing around with this for some time I began to realize what was happening (I believe) and what to do about it.
I noticed that when viewing the files in the ‘Activity’ window, the largest file was almost invariably 1.7MB in size, no matter how long or short the video or what its resolution was. I also noticed that it seemed to ‘refresh’ itself fairly often, appearing as another file with an identical or near-identical name and the same size … 1.7MB … with the previous one disappearing after a few moments.
This seemed odd to me but upon reflection it suggests to me (though I may be wrong) that the player is now basically streaming the video in a series of file segments that are about 1.5MB in size and then removing the played segments after they have been played. That would explain why none of the files play when downloaded; they are just chunks of the file and are interpreted by the player as they are loaded and then