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To download means to receive data to a local system from a remote system, or to initiate such a data transfer. Examples of a remote system from which a download might be performed include a web server, FTP server, email server, or other similar systems.

The term downloading is distinguished from the related concept of streaming, which indicates the receiving of data that is used nearly immediately as it is received, while the transmission is still in progress and which may not be stored long-term, whereas in a process described using the term downloading, this would imply that the data is only usable when it has been received in its entirety.

Increasingly, websites that offer streaming media or media displayed in-browser, such as YouTube, and which place restrictions on the ability of users to save these materials to their computers after they have been received, say that downloading is not permitted. In this context, download implies specifically “receive and save” instead of simply “receive”.

Downloading is not the same as “transferring” and should not be mistaken with one another.  A download can mean either any file that is offered for downloading or that has been downloaded, or the process of receiving such a file.

Streaming and downloading can involve making infringing copies of the works in question; organizations running such websites may become vicariously liable for infringement by actively inducing infringement by others. Taking legal action against the technologies behind unauthorized “file sharing” has proven successful for centralized networks (such as Napster), and untenable for decentralized networks like (Gnutella, BitTorrent).