Downloading a file transfers the entire contents to your computer. Streaming a file transfers packets that are stored temporarily in a buffer.
Almost all information sent over the Internet is contained in files. For example, when your browser connects to a Web site, the site sends a document file back to your computer. Once the entire file has been received, your browser interprets the file and displays a Web page. This process works very well for small files because the time required to deliver the file over the Internet is short. It does not work as well for large media files such as audio and video files.
There are two basic ways in which file content is delivered via the Internet to your computer: downloading and streaming.
- Downloading a file transfers the entire contents of the file to your computer. After the file has been downloaded, it can be used. For example, to download an MP3 music file, you right click on the link, choose Save as, and specify the location on your computer to save the file. Downloading a file can take a few minutes or in the case of video files it can take hours. Once the file has been stored onto your computer, you can play the music or the video
- Streaming a file does not transfer the entire contents of the file to your computer. Rather, the file is broken down into parts or data packets. These data packets are temporarily stored in a buffer or special part of your computer's RAM. Once the buffer has received several packets, these packets can be used at the same time more data packets are being received. For example, a streaming MP3 music file can be listened to at the same time it is being downloaded. A streaming audio or video file can begin playing within seconds and continue to play until the entire contents have been delivered.