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What constitutes a download depends on why you are trying to define it. Are you concerned with the files that end up on your computer or with the bandwidth being used?

Regarding downloads: if, for example, I search and click on very funny Texas Hold'em and just sit and play, does that constitute a download? Or is it a download only if I save it somewhere in my system? This has always confused me. You've probably already answered it somewhere. If so, just point me to it.

In this excerpt from Answercast #11, I discuss how your ISP considers downloads, why that may differ from what you think of as a download, and the difference between streaming and downloading a video.

What is a download?

There are a couple of places where I talk about downloads, but to be honest, it's a confusing subject. I get that.

The problem is that it depends on specifically what you mean. What is the reason that you're trying to characterize it as a download or not? Realize that (regardless of what you do with it) any data that comes from your ISP to your computer is downloading data.

What you do with it then...

  • You could be playing a game
  • You could be downloading and saving a game

... But the bottom line is that all of that data was downloaded through your internet connection.

What your ISP sees as a download

If you're looking at it from an ISP's perspective, they actually don't care; they don't distinguish. They are just looking at the number of bytes that are going down the pike between their system and yours.

It's interesting because something like a game (a card game in the example that you're giving) is typically a small program. It could be written in Java or Javascript, or any number of things. Even though you're playing in your browser, that program is actually being downloaded from the server on which it resides to your computer, so that you can play it.

Technically, there's a download going on in this very example. It's just very well hidden from you.

"Downloading" websites

When you visit a website like Ask Leo!, the contents of that page are downloaded to your PC and that's where you actually view it from.

If the page you're viewing has pictures, those pictures are downloaded to your PC, and you're actually viewing them off of your own hard disk.

Basically, anything that happens on the internet, anything that involves getting data from the internet to your PC is a download in one form or another.

Streaming and downloading

I will point you at an article that I wrote a while back regarding video and that is "What's the difference between streaming and downloading a video?"

The reason I point you to that one is that it's a wonderful example of how you can download a video and have it on your PC, or you can watch the video streaming. As we see in both cases, you're downloading the entire contents of the video to your PC. It's a matter of what you do with it then. You either watch it immediately in the streaming case or you save it as a file.

Again, from a downloading perspective, it's no different. You're still downloading. You're still transferring that same information across the wire from the server which is out on the internet to your PC.

Next - Can I recover the information on my hard drive by putting it in an enclosure?

Article C5234 - April 22, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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