A progressive download is the transfer of digital media files from a server to a client, typically using the HTTP protocol when initiated from a computer. The consumer may begin playback of the media before the download is complete. The key difference between streaming media and progressive download is in how the digital media data is received and stored by the end user device that is accessing the digital media.

A media player that is capable of progressive download playback relies on metadata located in the header of the file to be intact and a local buffer of the digital media file as it is downloaded from a web server. At the point in which a specified amount of data becomes available to the local playback device, the media will begin to play. This specified amount of buffer is embedded into the file by the producer of the content in the encoder settings and is reinforced by additional buffer settings imposed by the media player.

During the HTTP progressive download  the digital file is downloaded to a physical drive on the end user’s device, the digital file is typically stored in the temp folder of the associated web browser if the digital media was embedded into a web page or is diverted to a storage directory that is set in the preferences of the media player used for playback. The digital media file will stutter or stop playback if the rate of playback exceeds the rate at which the file is downloaded. The file will begin to play again after further download.