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Thus was born youtube-dl in an Asturian town, motivated by a 56k modem connection in the middle of 2006

In recent weeks the youtube-dl video downloader has generated a lot of interest among the public, after being accused by the US RIAA of promoting 'piracy'.

While everything was solved quite satisfactorily for those responsible for the program (GitHub recently restored its repository), its creator wanted to explain in his personal blog what led him to launch this program fourteen years ago.

Copper theft and 40 minute wait for 10 MB videos

In 2006, the year YouTube was acquired by Google, García lived "in a town 5-10 kilometers from Avilés", in the Asturian community. Despite the short distance between the two populations, the area in which he lived lacked cable and ADSL Internet access...

... and we had to add the constant theft of copper cables, which resulted in service interruptions and the replacement of stolen material with a lower quality one.

In short, his only option to connect to the Internet was through a 56 ks modem that was provided a download speed of 4 KB / s. A situation that made it "painful" to access any YouTube video: like this, for example, a video as small as 10MB would take 40 minutes to load.

A longer or higher quality video took hours to charge (hours in which the telephone connection was no longer available for other purposes), hours in which there was the possibility that the connection would be interrupted and it would be necessary to start from scratch. Let's not even talk about reviewing a video that he would have liked very much.

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Let's do it

Faced with this situation, García was interested in a solution that would allow him to download the video directly to the hard disk. And, if possible, with a download management system that allows you to resume them:

"At the time, there were other solutions for downloading YouTube videos, including a fairly popular Greasemonkey script. By pure chance, none of the few that I tried worked when I did so, so I decided to explore the possibility of creating my own tool. And this is, more or less, how youtube-dl was born ".

Having used Wireshark (today known as Ethereal) to analyze how Firefox accessed YouTube, its objective was to replicate the steps that this browser used to download the content of the videos (In fact, it was using its User-Agent to impersonate Firefox on Linux).

The controversial software was born as a command line program written in Python, specifically in 143 lines of code (more comments). It was released on SourceForge (GitHub did not exist yet) under the MIT license on August 8, 2006. Before the year was out, Linux.com dedicated an article to youtube-dl, which made it quite a popular show.

In 2008, youtube-dl abandoned SourceForge in favor of BitBucket and, most importantly, Garcia implemented the ability to download videos from multiple portals, not just from Youtube.com. That same year he finally managed to access the Internet from a 3G mobile phone, and the following year he moved to Avilés, which had an impact on his connectivity.

"I would like to point out once again that the purpose of youtube-dl as a tool has barely changed in its 14 years of existence. [...] For me, it has always revolved around offline access to videos that are already available online to the general public. "

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He explains that, "before and after the RIAA's DMCA requirement was received, many people have explained how they use youtube-dl with different goals in mind," such as journalists who use it to have a proof of videos they report on. , in case they end up being removed from the Internet.

Garcia alleges that an application like hers can be necessary even "in a world of mobile networks and always-on Internet connections", mentioning in passing that the online access options have been enabled by platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and the like.

But necessary ... for what? Easy:

First reason: in situations of lack of connectivity

"For long road trips, or trips abroad (especially with children), or underground, or on a plane, or in a place with poor connectivity ...".

Second reason: for accessibility

"The default online interface may also lack accessibility features, may make it difficult for some people to navigate content, or lack colorblind filters that might be available from a native video player application."

Third reason: for freedom and privacy

"Tools like youtube-dl allow people to access online videos using only free software. I know there are not many free software purists [pero] accessing online videos using youtube-dl can give you peace of mind that incognito mode, uBlock Origin or Privacy Badger can barely understand. "