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What is HTTP Live Streaming?

What is HTTP Live Streaming?

HLS streaming is a technology that has gained much attention in recent years. With the ability to transmit high-quality video content over the internet, it is a perfect solution for various applications. Understanding HLS streaming can be critical in delivering an exceptional user experience to your audience. This article will delve into the fundamental aspects of HLS streaming, including its functionality, advantages, and the HLS streaming service.

What is HLS Streaming

The first thing we need to do is understand what is HLS streaming. HTTP Live Streaming or more commonly known as HLS is a widely-used protocol for live and on-demand video content delivery via the Internet. Apple developed it and introduced it in 2009 for their devices. Nowadays, HLS offers extensive support across numerous platforms and devices, such as desktops, mobile devices, and smart TVs.

Moreover, the HLS protocol breaks the video into small chunks and delivers them via HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). Each chunk is typically several seconds long and encoded in different bitrates and resolutions to accommodate different internet connection speeds and device capabilities.

Overall, HLS has emerged as a widely accepted and adaptable streaming protocol that sets the benchmark for delivering top-notch video content via the internet.

How Does it Work?

Now let’s understand how the HLS stream works. HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) works by breaking the video or audio content into small segments and delivering them over HTTP. It starts with encoding, where the video or audio content is usually encoded into different quality levels or bitrates to support adaptive bitrate streaming. Each quality level is then divided into small segments, generally around 10 seconds in length.

Next is creating a manifest file, which contains information about the segments, their duration, and their bitrate. The manifest file is typically in a format such as M3U8. Afterward, upload the manifest and segment files to a web server or content delivery network (CDN) for delivery to viewers.

When a viewer requests to watch the video, their device requests the manifest file from the server or CDN. The manifest file tells the device which segments to request and in what order. Now, the device starts playing the video by requesting the first segment at the lowest bit rate. As the video plays, the device can switch to higher or lower bitrates depending on the network conditions.

If the network conditions improve, the device may switch to a higher bitrate to deliver higher-quality video. Moreover, in case the network conditions deteriorate, the device may switch to a lower bitrate to avoid buffering or stalling. When the viewer reaches the end of the video, their device stops requesting segments, and playback ends.

Key Benefits of HLS Streaming

Using HLS protocol streaming provides many benefits. These benefits range from wider compatibility to access to real-time analytics. Given below are some of the benefits of employing HLS streaming in your live streaming applications:


One of the key benefits of HLS streaming is its wide compatibility with various devices and platforms. HLS standardizes itself on HTTP, the same protocol used for loading web pages, which means that most modern devices and browsers support it. Moreover, it is an ideal streaming protocol for delivering content to a large audience. The reason is it can reach a broad range of viewers on different devices and platforms.

Quality of Service

HLS supports adaptive bitrate streaming, which allows for seamless switching between different quality levels depending on the viewer’s internet connection speed. It means that viewers can watch the video stream without buffering or interruptions.

That is because video quality adjusts itself in real-time to match the available bandwidth. Adaptive bitrate streaming ensures that the viewer receives the highest quality stream possible.


As HLS uses HTTP for streaming, it is highly reliable and can handle network congestion and other issues that can affect the delivery of the video stream. HTTP is a widely used protocol optimized for reliable data transfer, meaning that viewers can watch the video stream without interruption or delay.


Digital rights management (DRM) is a significant component of HLS. It enables content owners to safeguard their content from unauthorized distribution or copying. Moreover, it is especially critical for premium content like movies or live events.

Simply put, it ensures content owners can provide only to authorized viewers. DRM provides a secure way to protect the content and prevent unauthorized distribution or copying.


It supports tracking and analytics, which allows content owners to monitor viewer engagement and behavior. Content owners can gain insights into viewer preferences by tracking viewer behavior, which helps them improve the content and user experience.

In addition, this data is usually utilized to optimize ad targeting and measure the success of marketing campaigns. Analytics can help content owners make informed decisions about their content and audience.

Advantages and Disadvantages of HLS Streaming

When it comes to finding out how good HLS streaming is, the answer varies depending on who you ask. Like everything, it comes with some pros and some cons. Listed below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using HLS streaming:


  • HLS streaming provides high-quality video streaming with adaptive bitrates.
  • It is a highly scalable protocol that can deliver video content to a large number of viewers without any loss of quality.
  • This protocol functions seamlessly on various devices and platforms, including desktops, mobile devices, and smart TVs.
  • Additionally, It reduces buffering time by breaking the video into small segments.
  • Moreover, it supports multiple video codecs, enhancing its compatibility with a broad range of devices.


  • It has a few seconds delay compared to live events which can cause issues for real-time applications such as live sports events.
  • HLS streaming has higher latency than other streaming protocols, such as RTMP.
  • For live events with a large audience, it can be expensive to set up and maintain.
  • This protocol requires more storage space compared to other streaming protocols because it breaks the video into small segments.
  • Furthermore, HLS streaming is a technically complex process that requires expertise in video compression, network protocols, and server-side technology.

When to Use HLS Streaming?

After discussing how HTTP streaming or HLS works, it is time to review its use cases. HLS is widely used for a range of applications and services. Summarized below are some of the most common applications of HLS to broaden your knowledge on this subject:

Live Streaming

HLS is ideal for live-streaming events such as sports, concerts, and conferences. Live streaming requires delivering real-time content to viewers as it happens, which can be challenging. Moreover, this protocol solves this problem by breaking the live stream into small segments for easy distribution over the internet.

These segments are usually cached at multiple locations, reducing the server’s load and improving the stream’s reliability.

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Adaptive Bitrate Streaming

It is a method that dynamically adjusts the video stream’s quality in response to the viewer’s internet connection speed. With HLS, adaptive bitrate streaming is made possible, meaning the video stream quality can be automatically adjusted based on the user’s internet connection speed. It achieves this by providing multiple versions of the video stream, each at a different bitrate.

Multi-Platform Support

Numerous platforms and devices support HLS, such as iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, and Linux. It means that you can use HLS to deliver video content to a diverse audience, regardless of their device or platform. HLS achieves this by using HTTP as the underlying transport protocol, which is widely supported by all modern devices and platforms.


With HLS, encryption and digital rights management (DRM) are natively supported to prevent piracy and unauthorized access to your content. Encryption secures the content during transmission, and DRM ensures that only authorized users can access the content.

Moreover, it is a helpful feature for protecting your content from piracy and unauthorized distribution. HLS achieves this by using the AES-128 encryption algorithm, which provides high security.

VOD Streaming

When delivering video-on-demand (VOD) content, HLS is the most popular choice. VOD requires delivering pre-recorded content to viewers on demand, which can be challenging if the content is large.

HLS solves this problem by breaking the video into small segments, easily distributed over the internet. The existence of these segments is cached at multiple locations. After all, this reduces the load of the server and improves the stream’s reliability.

Comparing HLS Streaming with Other Video Streaming Protocols

Comparing HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) to other video streaming protocols involves looking at various aspects such as latency, compatibility, scalability, and ease of implementation. HLS, developed by Apple Inc., is one of the most widely used streaming protocols due to its broad support across devices and platforms. Here’s how HLS stands in comparison to other popular streaming protocols:

1. HLS vs. RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol)

  • Latency: RTMP provides lower latency compared to HLS. While RTMP can achieve near real-time streaming, HLS typically has a latency of several seconds due to its method of breaking the stream into a series of small HTTP-based file downloads.
  • Compatibility: HLS has wider compatibility with modern devices and browsers. RTMP, originally developed by Macromedia and later owned by Adobe, has seen a decline in direct browser support and often requires a Flash player or specific setups to run, which limits its compatibility.
  • Use Cases: RTMP is often used for live broadcasting that requires low latency. However, due to its declining support on modern platforms, it’s commonly used as an ingestion protocol to be transcoded to HLS or other formats for distribution.

2. HLS vs. DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP)

  • Adaptability: Both HLS and DASH are adaptive streaming protocols, meaning they adjust the video quality in real-time based on the user’s internet speed and device capabilities. However, DASH provides more flexibility and efficiency in adapting to network conditions.
  • Compatibility: HLS enjoys broader native support, especially on Apple devices and browsers. DASH, being an international standard, has wide support but can face compatibility issues with some Apple devices.
  • Features: DASH supports more advanced features like multiple audio tracks, DRM (Digital Rights Management), and more efficient codecs. This makes DASH a strong choice for platforms requiring high levels of customization and protection.

3. HLS vs. WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication)

  • Latency: WebRTC specializes in ultra-low latency communication, making it ideal for real-time applications like video conferencing, live auctions, or gaming. HLS cannot match WebRTC in terms of latency.
  • Scalability: HLS is more scalable for large audiences. WebRTC is peer-to-peer and requires significant server resources for relaying streams to large numbers of viewers, which can be a limitation for broadcasting to a wide audience.
  • Compatibility and Implementation: While HLS is straightforward to implement for streaming applications, WebRTC requires a more complex setup and negotiation between peers. However, WebRTC is supported by most modern browsers without the need for plugins.

You may also like: Which One is the Best Protocol for Live Streaming: RTMP vs HLS vs WebRTC

ZEGOCLOUD Supports HLS for Live Streaming

Want to find out the best service that supports HLS for live streaming? Finding the best service can be challenging, given the numerous options available. However, we have selected an excellent service which is ZEGOCLOUD. Its live-streaming SDK & API provide support for live-streaming output using HLS. It uses WebRTC as the input streaming protocol, which is much faster and better than RTMP.

With ZEGOCLOUD’s live streaming SDK, you can create more engaging live streams that support multiple broadcasters. Furthermore, it supports interaction between the broadcaster and the viewer, all while streaming from mobile devices. The stack combines streaming with conferencing, while the audio and video SDK combine in one product. As a result, it allows broadcasters to switch between HLS streams and WebRTC easily.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, HLS streaming is a powerful technology that allows for high-quality video streaming with adaptive bitrate for a range of devices and network conditions. Businesses and individuals who aim to deliver high-quality video content to their audience widely use it as a standard choice for video streaming. Furthermore, when it comes to choosing a provider for HLS HTTP live streaming, there are many options available.

However, ZEGOCLOUD stands out as the best choice due to its user-friendly interface, reliable and scalable infrastructure, and competitive pricing. With ZEGOCLOUD, businesses can be sure that their video content reaches their audience seamlessly and without interruption.

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