How To Download YouTube Videos To Mac Safely (and other videos, too)

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Today, I’m excited to bring you one of my favorite secrets on the internet: A complete guide for how to download YouTube videos to Mac.

As I’ve expressed in previous posts, I’m what you call a data hoarder. I invest a lot of time and energy into saving all of my digital files from every computer I’ve ever owned with multiple backups and fail-safes. I try to save anything and everything I think I might want to revisit in the future.

However, so much internet content is trapped on platforms where it’s difficult to archive. Whether it be YouTube, social media, or streaming platforms, saving video content to your Mac is usually difficult, if not seemingly impossible. I’ll explain why this is at the end of the article.

This is why I’m going to spend this post teaching you everything I know about saving internet videos to your Mac. All of these methods are verified and safe, so you should be (mostly) safe from malware. But first, a warning.

How to download YouTube videos to Mac: Three methods

Later on in this post, I’m going to show you how to download videos from all across the web. But since YouTube is the dominant video sharing platform by far, I’m going to dedicate some time to it first. Below are three of my favorite ways to download YouTube videos to Mac, and each of them is a method I have used regularly for years without issue.

Method #1: Screen recording – the easiest way

The simplest, safest, and easiest way to save videos to your Mac is by using the built-in screen recording features introduced in macOS Catalina. To use this method, first open the video you want to save on YouTube. Keep in mind that this is going to save the entire window, so you might want to go fullscreen for this.

Once your video is opened, press cmd + shift + 5. This will pull up a panel at the bottom of your screen with various options, including:

  • Capture Entire Screen
  • Capture Selected Window
  • Record Entire Screen
  • Record Selected Portion
  • Capture Selected Portion

For our purposes, we’re going to choose Record Entire Screen:

Once you click that, it will start recording your Mac’s screen. When you’re ready to stop recording, press cmd + shift + 5 again and click the Stop icon:

By default, the video will be saved to your Mac’s desktop. From there, it’s yours to do with what you like!

And that’s it! That’s how you can use the built-in screen recorder on macOS to download YouTube videos to Mac.

A few things to keep in mind with this method:

  • You’ll be recording the video as it is, not downloading its file. So if the resolution drops or the slider at the bottom of the video is triggered, or the video pauses, all of these things will show up in your video.
  • You can make sure your mouse isn’t recorded in the video by pressing cmd + shift + 5, clicking Options, and making sure that Show Mouse Clicks isn’t checked.
  • There are third-party tools that let you record your Mac desktop, like Parallels Toolbox, if you don’t want to use Mac’s built-in method.

Method #2: Use VLC Media Player to download YouTube videos to Mac

VLC is one of the most common apps for managing media and is completely safe (and free!) to use. If you don’t already have it installed on your Mac, you can click here to download and install it.

Once installed, open the VLC app on your Mac.

In a separate window, open your YouTube video in your internet browser of choice and copy the URL from the search bar.

Return to VLC, click File in the Menu Bar, and then click Open Network… from the dropdown menu.

In the URL box, paste the URL you copied from YouTube and click Open.

VLC might ask for access to your Music app on Mac – grant it if so. Once done, you should see the YouTube video opened and playing in a new VLC window.

From here, you’re going to click Window from the Menu Bar then Media Information… from the dropdown menu.

At the bottom of the popup that appears you’ll see a new URL for the YouTube video. This is the link to the actual video file, not just the YouTube page for it. Copy this link and paste it into your web browser.

Right-clicking this video brings up an option to download the video. Click Download Video As… to choose where the video saves and what it’s called.

And that’s it! That’s how you can easily and safely download YouTube videos to Mac using VLC.

Method #3: youtube-dl – the hardest way

youtube-dl is my absolute favorite way to download YouTube videos to Mac. It’s extremely safe and reliable. I have yet to run into a YouTube video I couldn’t download. And it can even download videos from other websites, too.

However, I’m sure many users won’t be too fond of youtube-dl because it’s a CLI app. CLI apps are apps that you run in your Mac’s terminal. If you’ve never interacted with your Mac’s terminal, this might seem risky – and honestly, it can be risky.

That said, youtube-dl is installed through Homebrew, which makes it pretty safe, and it’s widely used without issue. You can even read the source code online to make sure there’s nothing malicious in it. And despite being a CLI app, it’s super easy to use.

Step 1: Install youtube-dl

Before you can use youtube-dl, you need to install it through Homebrew. If you don’t have Homebrew installed on your Mac, here’s how to get it. (Homebrew is not dangerous in any way; it’s one of the most popular Mac apps of all time).

First, open the Terminal app on Mac. It should look like this:

Then, paste this into the Terminal and press return:

/bin/bash -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/HEAD/install.sh)"

That is just the installation code from Homebrew’s website, which you can view for yourself by clicking here.

Once that’s installed, which can take a few minutes, paste this into your Terminal:

brew install youtube-dl

After a few seconds, youtube-dl should be installed and ready to go.

Step 2: Navigate to your desktop in the Terminal

By default, your Mac’s terminal will place you in your user folder. In this folder are other folders like Documents, Applications, Downloads, and Desktop. youtube-dl will save your YouTube video to whichever folder you’re in. For simplicity, we’re going to save it to the Desktop.

If you want to skip this step, you can jump to Step 3 and just use Spotlight to find your video file after it’s downloaded.

In the terminal, you can move from one folder to the next using these commands:

  • cd [folder name]: Change Directory, which moves you to whichever folder you specify after the cd command (so long as that folder is inside of the folder you’re currently in)
  • cd ..: This takes you back from the folder you’re currently in. So if you cd into Folder #2, you can return to Folder #1 with the command cd ..
  • ls: This command lists all of the files and folders inside of the folder you’re currently in

To start, go ahead and type ls into the Terminal and press return. You should see something like this:

If you see a folder labeled Desktop, like in the screenshot above, type cd Desktop into the Terminal and press return. If you don’t see that folder, just cd into a folder that you can find in the Finder app using the cd, cd .., and ls commands.

Step 3: Download YouTube videos to Mac using youtube-dl

With all of the prep work out of the way, you’re finally ready to start the download of your YouTube video. First, let’s grab the URL.

Find the video you want to download on YouTube and open it in a new window. Here, you’ll see the first URL, which is in the search bar of your web browser:

However, this URL isn’t going to work for most videos. Instead, we’re going to grab the social media URL. To do this, click SHARE underneath the video, then click COPY:

Next, open your terminal, and type the following (replacing [video_URL] with the URL you just copied):

youtube-dl [video_URL]

Once you press return, youtube-dl will save the video to your desktop. It usually takes a few seconds for a video under ten minutes with an average internet speed.

And that’s it! You now know how to safely download YouTube videos to Mac using youtube-dl. If you ever run into a YouTube video that won’t download, it’s probably just because you need to update youtube-dl. To do this, paste this into your terminal:

brew update

Then:

brew upgrade

These two commands will update all of your Homebrew apps, including youtube-dl.

How to download internet videos to Mac: Three more methods

Ok, so now that you know how to confidently download YouTube videos to Mac, let’s talk about how to download any internet video to your Mac. Admittedly, this is either going to be significantly harder than it is to download YouTube videos to Mac, or it’s going to be significantly easier. It all depends on the website and how tricky it is to save a video from there.

Two of the below methods are the same as the methods listed above. I won’t spend too long on those. The third is a safe app you can use that will allow you to download whatever you want.

Method #1: Use youtube-dl – but not for everything

If you’re like me and prefer the good ol’ command line to download YouTube videos to Mac, then you’ll be happy to know that it can download videos from other sites, too.

Of course, this app is primarily optimized and updated for downloading YouTube videos, so it won’t always work on every website. But you can try copying URLs from Facebook, Vimeo, and other social media platforms into the youtube-dl command. If a video doesn’t work at first, try copying the URL from different parts of the page, such as the search bar, social media share buttons, the right-click menu, and so on.

It should be noted, though, that youtube-dl does not allow you to download internet videos to Mac from streaming services like Netflix. For that, you’re going to want to use Method #2.

Method #2: Use screen recording – for almost everything

Yep, if youtube-dl won’t record it, your Mac’s built-in screen recording probably will. Videos won’t always be saved in the best resolution, and you may have to crop out the webpage and put up with video overlays.

But at the end of the day, this is a simple and effective tool to get the job done. If all else fails, screen recording will get you to the finish line.

Method #3: Free Download Manager – for everything

Last but not least, we have Free Download Manager, which will allow you to download whatever you want. It’s an app built to download internet videos to Mac from all over the web.

Lots of users rely on this app for saving videos and other types of files, regardless of where or how they’re uploaded. On the site, you’ll also see lots of related tutorials for things like Netflix video downloaders and hard drive cloning tools.

While I can’t vouch for the other apps this site is suggesting you use, I can confirm that this app at the link provided is completely safe to use. Give it a look!

Why is it so hard to download YouTube videos to Mac?

After reading through this article and seeing how many hoops you have to go through just to save a video, you’re probably wondering why Google has made it so difficult to download YouTube videos to Mac. After all, you can save images and text from all across the internet with pretty much no problem. So what gives?

It comes down to copyright. While most content on the internet is subject to copyright (like this post and the images used within it, for example) video and audio media tend to fall under stricter protection. This is generally due to the money behind these types of content (advertisers, producers, agencies, etc.) that YouTube and other platforms are trying to protect.

And in all honesty, it’s not a bad thing that YouTube is protective over its creators’ content. The last thing independent creators need is their content being downloaded, shared, or re-uploaded without their consent. Not to mention that downloading online content is technically illegal (though YouTube has never pursued any suits against individuals or software used to download videos).

So with that said, do not use any of these methods to share content illegally or earn money off of someone else’s content. Use them sparingly and only when you feel it’s the best way to preserve the content that’s been uploaded online.

Conclusion

And with that, I’ve filled you in on absolutely everything I know about how to download YouTube videos to Mac, along with other internet videos, too. I hope it helped!

For more info on hoarding data, getting the best apps on your Mac, or simply deciding between which Apple Watch to buy, check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.

Until next time!

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