Streaming Definition

Streaming, also called data streaming, is a technique for transferring a compressed file, usually an audio or video file, to a computer over the Internet in a continuous flow so that a user can begin using it before the entire file has been received.

This contrasts with downloading, in which the entire file must be received before it can be used. In the case of streaming, typically no file remains on the computer for reuse at a later date.

The advantage to streaming is that the user can begin to listen to or view the file often within just a few seconds, whereas downloading can take much longer, depending on the speed of the connection and the size of the file.

Streaming files are typically accessed through web browsers. In some cases the browsers contain sufficient built-in software to accommodate the streaming data, but in other cases it is necessary for users to download plug-ins from the Internet.

Streaming usually involves first downloading an initial portion of the file into the user's player or viewer program. This program then begins playback of the file while the remainder continues to be received. The arriving data is stored in a buffer (i.e., a portion of a computer's memory set aside for the purpose) slightly in advance of when it is needed in an attempt to ensure the replay can continue smoothly and without interruption.

A number of competing streaming technologies have been developed. The most popular standard for audio streaming is RealAudio, which was developed in 1995 by RealNetworks, Inc.

Created September 21, 2005.
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