In Germany there is a habit to use the verb stream for consuming a video stream from the Internet.

I don’t like this very much and I am wondering what you think about it as a native English speaker. From a technical point of view I use the verb to stream to provide a digital data stream into the Internet. But not for the opposite.

So is it common to use this also for consumers who watch a video? If it is not common, what alternative saying would be possible?

Some more background:

In the Wiktionary definition of stream there is no mention of the meaning of the reception of a data stream: "To push continuous data (e.g. music) from a server to a client computer while it is being used (played) on the client." However in the definition for streaming it is found: "The transmission of digital audio or video, or the reception or playback of such data without first storing it."

I know my question is very subtle and probably opinion based but I really have the feeling that the verb as such is misused for the consumer side. Also the meaning is not mentioned in the verb definition as cited above. But I also understand language is flexible and when it is becoming normal to be used in the context why not. But to add even some more irritation: there are judges in Germany which are questioning if a "streaming" to a hard disk (temp) cache is still a stream or not. From my point of view it is ridiculous and the word really should not be used for the consumer side.

  • 1
    Videos are watched using streaming. Streaming means receiving the video via the internet.
    – Lambie
    Apr 16, 2018 at 17:59
  • @Lambie I believe your simple definition is how 'streaming' is broadly used by the public (and thus, it is correct if that is how it is understood) that doesn't make certain technical distinctions to the protocol of information delivery previously tied to the word 'streaming' - which had more to do with being able to display digital data 'as it came in' via packets or whatever as opposed to a signal like on cable or a file that could only be played after it was completely downloaded
    – Tom22
    Apr 16, 2018 at 18:47
  • @Tom22 Absolutely, and my simple definition is what Thomas seems to be after. I don't think he was drilling down on the term at all.
    – Lambie
    Apr 16, 2018 at 18:49
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    @AndyT I have edited my question with more details, I hope I have made my question more clear with this.
    – Thomas
    Apr 17, 2018 at 11:54
  • There doesn't seem to be a word that makes the distinction you are looking for - essentially 'receive' rather than 'transmit', if I understand you correctly. But the word 'download' is used similarly, albeit the distinction is made by the associated preposition - we download from the server to the client.
    – peterG
    Apr 17, 2018 at 23:38

1 Answer 1


Yes, streaming is a common usage in English. I stream video from NitFlex several times a week but I download software.

I've watched the term stream as in "byte stream" move from the closed world of tech into the mainstream over the last 25 years or so.

  • I do believe, well I must believe as you share it, that people have come to use 'streaming' as almost synonmous as downloading now because 1) even things that start as the old definition of 'streaming' get 'ahead' as you go on YouTube or Netflix. HOWEVER, initially the word 'streaming' was more distinctly applied to live transmission over the internet - more like "broadcasting" however as a initialized stream of data files over the internet pipes. Cable TV, was not streaming as the data was coming differently. IF the common use means something new, the common use becomes the definition
    – Tom22
    Apr 16, 2018 at 18:40
  • I should add it didn't need to be 'live', although that tends to be the only place the old definition of 'streaming' applies ... I believe it meant data being displayed simultaneously to its arrival ... so a pre recorded video could be 'streamed' in a way differently than a 'download'
    – Tom22
    Apr 16, 2018 at 18:43
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    @Tom22, I think streaming means you get the data without the intent of saving it, whereas downloading means you save what is sent. The fact that you can capture a stream so that it becomes a download is just for nerds and pirates.
    – Aethelbald
    Apr 16, 2018 at 18:47
  • Hmm. yes, @A I think that you are right that is definitely part of the perception and.. perhaps even part of the previous techinical definition.. although.. I think that would be more "how your computer handled the stream" than the "stream" being applied to the data transmission. ... but, either way(and probably a bit of both) you are right that is a key aspect to how people see it.
    – Tom22
    Apr 16, 2018 at 18:51

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