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Network and Internet: Downloading web content onto your local harddisk.

A major part of the data (documents, pictures, music and videos, computer programs...), people in our modern world need or want to have, is searched for on the Internet, using a so called search engine, for most of us Google. Entering keywords about what to find and clicking the result links, that Google displays, everyone using a computer, tablet or smartphone knows how this works. Accessing a website to view its content is viewing the data online, that means that the data, stored on some computer on the Internet, is displayed in your web browser, in opposition to saving the data onto your local computer and then later, whenever you want and without an Internet connection being able to access (and not only view but also alter) it offline. This tutorial is primarily intended for Internet beginners, but I think, that it also includes some information, that might be useful for intermediate users. The tutorial shows how to proceed to save various types of data, that you find on the Internet, to the harddisk of your computer, including longer parts dealing with the download of videos and the download of computer programs. Note that the tutorial uses the Firefox web browser on Windows 10; with other browsers or on other platforms, not all that is said here may apply as such.

1. Downloading a complete web page.
Lots of reasons to do so. Primarily to view the data later or to have a permanent copy, that you can review at any moment and/or being able, without accessing the online page again, to extract words, sentences or pictures for a document, that you have to create for school or your office. Please, note that some text may be protected by a copyright; for photos, this is very often the case!
To download a complete web page, in the browser window, right-click within the page and in the opening context menu, choose "Save Page As". The "Save As" dialog box opens, with the destination folder being preselected (normally your Windows Downloads folder), with the filename being preset (for advanced users: it is taken from the <title> tag of the web page) and the preselected and normally most suitable file type being set to "Web Page complete". You can choose another storage location, just as you do in File Explorer. Using the Downloads folder is a good choice at this moment: You'll have all you download files together and you can move them afterwards, just as you like (never a bad idea, to run a virus check on the files before doing so). Renaming the file should normally not cause any problem when viewing the page offline. Sometimes, you'll have to do so: Some multi-pages web texts have the same title on each of these pages, thus you'll have to change the filename when saving them (for example by adding 1, 2, 3...). The two screenshots below show, how I did to save a complete web page from my local web server to the Windows Downloads folder.
Saving a complete web page [1]
Saving a complete web page [2]
If you save a complete web page, you will actually save a file (normally with extension .html) and a folder, whose name is the same as the file's name plus "_files". These file and folder must stay together for a proper offline display of the page (note that Windows File Explorer knows this, too, and when copying, moving or deleting one of them, the other is automatically copied, moved or deleted, too). Never rename an offline webpage in File Explorer! This would break the link between the file and the folder, and the page woudn't be any longer correctly displayed.
File and folder of a complete web page download
The folder with name ending in "_files" contains all files associated with the web page text: images and other multimedia files and scripts, for instance. But often, also one or more so called stylesheets (.css files). These allow to describe the page and text layout in an external file, instead of doing so within the "web page text". The advantage is obvious: If you want to change all your blue and italic text to red and bold, you'll only have to make a modification in your stylesheet and not in all concerned files. Disadvantage: without the stylesheet, there is no formatting defined and the text would be displayed in black and neither bold nor italic. The screenshot below shows the content of the folder associated with the webpage file, that we saved before: A stylesheet, the 2 flag images and the 2 photos. Hint: To find the pictures of an offline web page, just have a look in the corresponding "_files" folder.
Complete web page download folder content
To display an offline web page, just double-click the corresponding file. The page should look exactly the same as if you view it online. Not always! Sometimes, the images will not be displayed. (For advanced users: I think this is due to the fact, that the links for these images in the "src" attribute of the <img> tag are coded as full URLs, i.e. starting with "http://"; if, as on my website, you use relative links, such as "/res/..." in the example download, the look of the offline page is all correct, including the pictures). In Firefox, the page formatting is conserved, but "empty boxes" (with the size of the image) will be displayed instead of the pictures.
2. Saving a web page's text content.
When saving a web page as type "Web Page, complete", all files associated with the page will be downloaded and stored in your Downloads folder. There are two other options:
  • Web Page, HTML only: This downloads the .html file without downloading anything else. Thus: no images or multimedia, no scripts (except for those coded within the web page), all externally defined formatting lost, as in the screenshot below (Advanced users: the text being displayed instead of the images is the value of the "alt" attribute of the <img> tag). This option may for example be useful if the website is very slow or if there are lots of pictures, that you don't need. Sometimes, using this format is the only possibility to view the webpage offline, for example, if there is a script, that constently reloads it (and, when not being connected to the Internet, the page, after a little moment being displayed, "disappears").
  • Text files: As the type name suggests, the download will be a simple text file. Most of the HTML tags will be removed and you'll have a text document, that you can directly work on in a text editor or, using a simple copy/paste, pass into a wordprocessing application such as Word (MS Office) or Writer (LibreOffice).
Offline view of a 'HTML only' web page
3. Saving text from a web page.
Whatever personal or professional document you're working on, there are situations where you need some data, that you can find on some web page: perhaps only a single word (because you don't know how it's spelled), an expression in a foreign language, a sentence (for example a quotation), a whole text paragraph, containing important information for what you're doing, table data (scientific or statistical, for example). Of course, you could download the complete page (perhaps saving it as text files) and extract the needed data later. But why not directly extracting the data from the online page?
Extracting text data from a web page requires 3 steps:
  • Selecting the text (see below)
  • Copying the text to the clipboard (use CTRL+C)
  • Pasting the text from the clipboard in your text editor or wordprocessing application (use CTRL+V)
CTRL+C and CTRL+V (meaning: with the CTRL key pressed, press the C resp. V key on your keyboard) are shortcut keys working as well within MS Windows as within most applications. Thus, in Word, you may use CTRL+C instead of Edit > Copy and CTRL+V instead of Edit > Paste. And in File Explorer, you can click a file, hit CTRL+C, browsing to the folder where you want to copy it to and hit CTRL+V.
Text selection on a web page:
As in other applications, text in the web browser window may be either selected by using the mouse or the keyboard. For mouse selection, click at the left of the text begin and drag (move the mouse while letting the button pushed) over the text to be selected. In the case of a multi-line text, just drag downwards, the complete current line will be selected. For larger selections, it's best to do it in several smaller parts. Even though it is possible to continue selecting text that follows the last line displayed in the browser window: just gently move the mouse (do not release the button!) to the left and the right; the page will scroll and selection continues until you release the button. Doing all with the mouse may be the quickest way in most cases, but sometimes the web page is formatted in a way that it's difficult to select what you want and just what you want. In this case, usage of the keyboard may be helpful: for keyboard selection, click at the left of the beginning of your text and then use the arrow keys to select what you want.
Some special cases (hints).
Text to selectSelection action to take
Single wordDouble-click near (best left to or below) the word
Text that is part of a linkClick at "normal" text before or after the link, then use the left resp. right arrow key for selection; remove the unwanted letters after having pasted the selected text into the editor
Table dataClick in the first table cell and then drag the mouse or use the arrow keys. After paste, the values of the table columns are often separated by a TAB, so it's normally easy to find out which column a given value belongs to
Internet link (URL)Right-click the link and in the opening context menu choose "Copy link location" (then paste the clipboard content as usual)
Copying a web page link
If you paste data in a wordprocessing (or other "specialized" application), there is a more sophisticated method available in the "Edit" menu than the simple paste. Normally called Paste Special, this feature may allow to paste web page content with its formatting. Thus, the font size, color and style may be conserved. It's also possible, that Word or Writer inserts a real table, if you use "Paste Special" to paste table data. Be aware, however, that this not always works or that the results may be different from what you did expect.
4. Saving images from a web page.
As we saw above, when saving a complete web page, images, together with other external files, are stored in a folder with the same name as the .html file plus the suffix "_files". One simple way to get a web page image to your harddisk is simply downloading the entire page and copying the picture from the "_files" folder to wherever you like. As with text, there is also the possibility to extract the image directly from the online page: Right-click the image and in the opening context menu, choose "Save Image As". If the image is actually displayed on the offline page, you can of course also use this method with your downloaded page.
Saving a web page image
5. Downloading PDF and other documents.
Lots of documents, such as books, book chapters, articles, tables, etc are stored on the web as PDF documents. Web browsers are able to render HTML pages and other text based content as well as images. Other files can't normally be opened (directly) with the browser; some supplementary application is needed. In some cases, these applications are so called add-ons, that are installed "within the browser" and by this extend its features. Some of these add-ons are called plugins, as for example flash player; others (and there are hundreds of them with all kind of purposes) are called extensions (see further down for add-on examples).
Some browsers, as for example Microsoft Edge are able to display PDF documents; on the browser's Settings page, the user may choose to display these files, or to download them onto your computer. For all browsers, there are extensions, that allow to directly display the content of PDF files. Another possibility is to use an external desktop application to view their content. In this case, if you click an Internet link pointing to a PDF file, the browser displays a dialog box, where you are asked if you liked to download the file or to open it, using this application. Which application will be used to open a given file type, defined by a given file extension (.pdf in the case of PDF documents), may be configured in your browser's settings; by default it's the application that Windows actually uses to open this file type (application associated with a given file extensions). On my actual system, with Firefox as web browser, it's a freeware program, called Foxit Reader. In the dialog box, choose one or the other of the 2 options, depending on if you want to immediately view the document's content or not (to save the file opened in your PDF viewer, use the "Save" command of the application). If you check "Do this automatically for files like this from now on", Firefox will open resp. save PDF files without asking you what to do.
Saving web page PDF files
What applies to PDF files, also applies to other documents, such as Word or Powerpoint documents being normally opened with MS Office (or LibreOffice). In fact, it applies to all file types, that can't be handled by the browser and the installed plugins, including archives and applications (cf. below).
6. Downloading audio and video files.
The important to remember first: Lots of audio and video files stored on the Internet are copyright protected and you make yourself culpable when downloading them. Also be aware, that in some countries, you may be considered committing a serious illegal act by downloading such files onto your local computer.
I would point out the following (personal points of view):
  • There are a lot of Internet services, where you can legally download your preferred music albums, using a specific application. In most cases, you'll have to pay for using these services.
  • A free alternative for downloading music albums are Internet radios. Most audio players have features to search for such radios (for example by music genre) and also to save the music files onto your harddisk. All legal, in my eyes, to do so; in fact nothing else that what we did when I was young: listening to the top of the pops in radio and recording the songs to audio cassettes.
  • Years ago, the only way to find films on the Internet, was to access illegal servers. This has changed. YouTube is all but not illegal and if you watch a film there, that's not doing whatever wrong. And in my eyes, downloading the film to watch it later (in particular if you don't have your own Internet access), can't really be called illegal. At least as long as your intention is nothing else than watching offline, what you might have been watching legally online.
  • Just for your information: YouTube is also a good place for finding music. Some files are music videos, others recordings of concerts. There are also lots of music albums on YouTube. They are stored as video files, mostly with no video, just a picture or a series of pictures, but with all the audio tracks of the album (by the way, note that there are lots of free programs to extract the audio tracks from a music video).
As I said above, web browsers can only render text and image. To play videos within a web page, a video player and a video codec plugin must be installed as browser add-ons. The video player normally used is Flash Player (no more true, as Adobe decided end 2020 to cease the development of the player); the codecs used to render Internet videos normally being H264 video codec.
To manage the add-ons in Firefox, click the menu icon (three horizontal bars, at the right edge of the menu bar) and choose "Add-ons".
Firefox plugins for video playback
Downloading videos, using a browser extension.
There are lots of web browser add-ons (extensions), that are specialized in video downloading. The one I'm been using for years is called Video DownloadHelper. The extension works together with an external companion app (called VdhCoApp), that has to be downloaded and installed in the same way as any desktop program.
Firefox add-ons: extensions
Clicking the "three points" at the right edge of the "extesion box" and in the context menu, choosing "Options" opens the extension's settings page (you also find there options to disable or completely remove the extension). Video DownloadHelper has lots of options, that the user can adapt as she prefers. The only setting, I changed, is the download folder.
Video DownloadHelper settings [1]
Video DownloadHelper settings [2]
When Video DownloadHelper is installed as a Firefox extension, a "three balls" icon appears in the menu bar. To download a video, do the following:
  • Click the link to play the video (what is normally done in Flash player).
  • When the "balls" of the Video DownloadHelper icon become colored, click them (if they don't, Video DownloadHelper doesn't recognize the video and you can't download it).
  • A dialog box opens, where the user is asked if she wants to download the video in the web browser or using the companion app. If you choose the browser, you follow the download progress by opening the browser's Downloads tab as for any other file. If you choose the app, you can click the blue circle with the number of files actually being downloaded in Video DownloadHelper, to see the download progress. Note, that streamed videos cannot be downloaded with a web browser; in this case, the companion app is automatically used.
  • The downloaded file is saved into the folder defined in the Video DownloadHelper settings.
The following screenshots show the download of a film from the 123 Free Movies web site (be sure, that your virus scanner is running and that the virus definitions are up to date, if you access this site; also not sure, if downloading films from here is really legal!?).
Downloading a film using Video DownloadHelper [1]
Downloading a film using Video DownloadHelper [2]
Downloading videos, using a desktop application.
The advantage of using a browser exension to download the videos, is that all actions, you take, are taken in the browser application. This isn't changed, if the companion app of Video DownloadHelper is used: the app runs in the background, you'll never see anything of it. If you use a desktop program, you'll have to work with 2 applications: the browser to find the video's Internet address and the download application, that runs in its own window as any other program (There are download programs, that include a search engine; however, for me, using Google may help to avoid to access illegal sites with illegal content).
In the past, I used Video DownloadHelper for saving all the films, that I watch the evening in my sleeping bag, including those from YouTube. But, some months ago, YouTube changed its policy and also the format, the videos are stored on their servers and I wasn't anymore able to download the files with Video DownloadHelper. Thus, I decided to try a desktop program. An alternative had been, trying one of the numerous other available browser extensions. The program, that I actually use is called WinX YouTube Downloader. So far, it does what I expect it to do. There are lots other similar applications; search the Internet and choose the one, that suits the best for your needs (cf. "Downloading computer programs" below).
Install WinX YouTube Downloader. Find the video you'd like to download using Google. The first steps to do are taken in the web browser window:
  • Click the link to play the video (what is normally done in Flash player)
  • Copy the address of the video (content of the browser address bar) by selecting it and hitting CTRL+C
Copying a video URL to the clipboard
The next steps are to be taken within WinX YouTube Downloader:
  • In the main window, click "Add URL"
  • In the opening "Add URL" window, click "Paste URL and Analyze". The application checks if it is possible to download the video. If yes, it is added to the list of videos to be downloaded; if not, a "failure" message is displayed.
  • In the video list, there are several files listed for each video, in particular different file types (.mp4 or .webm) with different video quality, Let the default, or select the one you prefer, then click "Download selected videos"
  • Do not forget to hit the "Download Now" button in the file download window; download of all the files in the list is started. You may stop all downloads by pushing the corresponding button. You may also pause (or remove) individual downloads.
WinX YouTube Downloader: Adding a video URL
WinX YouTube Downloader: Pasting and analyzing a video URL
WinX YouTube Downloader: Choosing a video format
WinX YouTube Downloader: Downloading the video(s)
7. Downloading computer programs.
The following primarily applies to so called third party software, i.e. not developped by the operating system vendor, and that is not part of the "official" programs, that you may get via applications like "Microsoft Store".
The time, where the only possibilities to get the software (other denomination for computer programs) that you needed or wanted to have, was either to buy it, or to download cracked applications from some illegal site, is definitively over and whatever domain your applications belongs to, you can find programs legaly and free of charge. Some well known examples: LibreOffice, as equivalent of the commercial Microsoft Office, Gimp as free replacement of Adobe Photoshop, the Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers, VLC Player, for me personnlly the best video player ever, 7-Zip, an archiving application, that opens nearly all compressed files that exist. So, if you need to convert videos to MP3, if you want a maths application, that draws functions or calculates integrals, a program to do your accounting, or what ever else, just use Google Search, choose the program, that best suits your wishes, download it and install it. That's the short version. The longer one includes some precautions to take and points to consider. First of all, lots of software, that you can freely download from the Internet, contains malware, viruses or trojans or code that steals your personal data and sends it to the developer of the application. Thus, be sure, that your antivirus is running during download and after having done so, you should run a virus check on your downloads folder. Also be aware, that such software may contain unwanted add-ons, that aren't always detected by the antivirus program and that, beside doing what the program is expected to do, also "do something else", not necessary something harmful, but anyway something you don't want it to do (an annoying example being popping up all the time a message asking you to buy the full version of the program). You can avoid all these possible problems by donloading software from trusted sites only. With a new question rising: What sites can be trusted? Of course, there is no 100% protection, except not installing any third party software at all. But, if you are a little bit careful, you can avoid virus infections and other problems. Lots of websites, in particular those of computer magazines contain software reviews. You'll find there information about the vendor, as well as the program itself, if it is really free, if it contains add-ons, which platform (which version of Windows) it's intended for, what are its advantages and disadvantages, what are other (free) alternatives. But attention: Even if you know that a given program is all ok, the version, that you actually download may contain malware or add-ons. If possible, always download software from the vendor's website and not from a "software storage" site, that you don't know. Some of the sites, linking to all kind of software may be trusted. If you speak German, I'd recommend Chip Online, the site of the Computer magazine "Chip". You'll find there the download links to hundreds of free programs, often older full versions of actual applications and special downloads at the end of the year. The description of the downloads contains everything, that need to know and you must not bother about included malware. Note, that the primary download links of the programs on Chip Online are via their own download manager (this means, they'll install their application on your computer). If you don't want this, search for a "direct download" link; this will download the program with your web browser as any other file.
Software download at Chip Online
The software, that you download, is one or more files; there are several possibilities, what the files contain (see table below).
  • If the download is the executable form of a program, the browser displays a dialog box, asking if you want to save the file (to your download folder).
  • If it is an archive, you'll get a dialog box, asking if you'd like to download the file or to open it, using an external application, just as described for the PDF files.
Downloading a program as executable
Downloading a program as .zip archive
Contents of a software download file (overview):
Download type File extensions Description
Web installer .exe Small program, that downloads the full setup program (installer); thus, you need an Internet connection to install the software
Offline Installer .exe or .msi (Full) setup program, that installs the application onto your computer
Application .exe The applicaion itself. No installation needed; just run the program by double-clicking the download file
Installer archive mostly .zip Installer as compressed file or compressed folder, containing the setup program and other files, necessary for installation. Unzip the downloaded file and look for an executable called something like "setup"; run this program to install the application
Application archive mostly .zip The applicaion itself as compressed file or compressed folder, containing the application and any other files needed to run it. Unzip the archive and run the application by double-clicking the corresponding .exe file
Binaries archive often .tar.gz Similar to an application archive, except that in this case, the download consists in a complete folder structure with lots of files. If the download is a .zip folder, just unzip it as above; in the case of a .tar.gz, you have to unpack the .gz archive first, getting a .tar archive, that has also to be unpacked. To "install" the application, just move the resulting folder to your filesystem (e.g. to your "Program Files" folder; other common possibilities: C:\ or create a C:\Programs folder for such applications). These folder structures normally have a subfolder called "bin"; it's here, where you'll find the executable(s) to run the application.
In Windows File Explorer, file extensions of executables associated with an application (the program, that opens a file, when double-clicking it), are normally not displayed. To show the extension of all files, in the menu bar, choose "View" and then, in the now displayed "View bar", check the "File name extensions" box.