Use Shortcuts to download YouTube Videos on iPhone

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download youtube videos
Shortcuts has no problem ripping and downloading YouTube videos.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Using Apple’s amazing new Shortcuts app, you can rip a video from YouTube, download it, and store it in a folder on your iPhone — all without using a computer.

Maybe you want to watch some clips on your commute without burning through your cellular data. Or perhaps you’re a language or music teacher, and you want to keep teaching materials offline instead of relying on your pupil’s Wi-Fi?

This shortcut can be triggered in Safari, and will save the YouTube video to your Camera Roll, iCloud Drive, Dropbox or other location of your choice. Let’s get started.

No Mac required — this method is iOS-only

You can preview the action steps before importing.
You can preview the action steps before importing.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Most methods to download YouTube videos for offline watching on your iPhone or iPad involve using your Mac to do the downloading, then iTunes (or an iTunes-like workaround) to get those videos onto your device.

This one uses Apple’s Shortcuts app, which lets you automate all kinds of tasks on your iDevice. It will do the following:

  1. Check to see that you’re actually viewing a YouTube video.
  2. Parse the link, and modify it to get the raw video file from YouTube’s servers (you can choose the quality level).
  3. Download that video.
  4. Rename the file to match the title of the YouTube page.
  5. Save the video.

My modified Shortcut is based on an original Workflow from Reddit user danielnotdan, posted on the Workflow subreddit. Workflow was the app that Apple bought and turned into Shortcuts. If you like, you can head over there and download the shortcut. 1

Or, you can download my version, which is tweaked to add steps 4 and 5 from the list above. Just tap that link, and then — when the Shortcuts app opens — you can tap to preview the shortcut before installing it.

I’ll show you my custom tweaks later. For now, let’s see how to use it.

How to use a shortcut in Safari to download YouTube videos

To use any shortcut in Safari on your iPhone or iPad, just tap the Share Arrow, then tap the Shortcuts icon. A panel will appear with any available shortcuts. Just tap the one you want, and it will run.

In this case, you just have to sit back and watch. If you’re using my unmodified shortcut, you’ll find the downloaded video inside the Shortcuts folder in your iCloud Drive. That’s it. You can now watch it, share it, whatever, just like any other video file.

Tweaking the shortcut to save YouTube videos in Dropbox

To edit the Download YouTube shortcut, just open up the Shortcuts app and tap Download YouTube in the list. Here you’ll see all the steps that danielnotdan put together for you, along with my extras.

Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see the final step saves the result to iCloud Drive. But what if you want to add it to your Camera Roll instead? Or Dropbox?

Here's the final step, where the YouTube video is saved to Dropbox or another service.
Here’s the final step, where the video is saved.
Photo: Cult of Mac

To add a new final step, head over to the actions list on the left, and find the one named Save to Photo Album. You can scroll to find it, or just tap a few letters into the search bar to narrow your choices. Then, just drag the action to the bottom of your shortcut. Make sure to delete the Save File and Set Name actions.

By default, the Save to Photo Album action will save to your All Photos album. If you tap the All Photos label in the action, you can pick another album. That makes it easier to find your saved clips later.

Save your ripped YouTube video to Dropbox.
Save to Dropbox.
Photo: Cult of Mac

To save to Dropbox instead, tap iCloud Drive in the Save File action, and pick Dropbox. You can now specify the folder where the video will be saved.

And that’s it. Next time you want to download YouTube video and save it to your device, just tap the Safari Share Arrow, choose this shortcut, and wait for it to do its stuff. The resulting ripped YouTube video will end up in your Camera Roll.

Other variations

You can do quite a lot with this shortcut. I have modified it to rip audio from YouTube videos, for instance. You can also choose different quality levels by dragging these numbers into a different order.

Change video quality by dragging these numbers.
Change video quality by dragging these numbers.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Here’s what each number means, according to danielnotdan’s original:

  • 22: mp4 720p
  • 18: mp4 360p
  • 34: flv 360p
  • 35: flv, 480p
  1. It’s the first link you find in the Reddit thread. As always when downloading any app, script or executable code from the internet, double-check you’re happy that it is safe before use. Shared shortcuts can be previewed in the browser before downloading, so make sure you do that.

Note: We originally published this post on Oct. 2, 2018. It has been updated.