Breaking Down the Differences: RTMP vs HLS Streaming Protocols

Shalabh Agarwal Nov 1st, 2023

When it comes to streaming multimedia content over the internet, two prominent protocols have played significant roles in shaping the digital landscape: Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) and HTTP Live Streaming (HLS). Both of these technologies are designed to deliver audio and video content to a wide audience, but they do so in different ways and have distinct advantages and limitations. In this brief introduction, we’ll explore the key differences between RTMP vs HLS, shedding light on their respective strengths and use cases. Whether you’re a content creator, developer, or simply an enthusiast of online media, understanding these two protocols is essential for making informed choices in the world of streaming.

What is a streaming protocol?

A “streaming protocol” is another name given to a “broadcast protocol,” which is a standard for sending media files, usually video or audio, over the global web. In a video streaming protocol, “chunks” of data are sent from one device to the other. Secondly, it defines the method of reconstituting these components in workable parts.

This highlights a critical requirement of streaming protocols: there is a kind of harmony that exists between the outputs and the viewers themselves For example, if your receiving device has a video player that doesn’t use MPEG-DASH, your stream may fail.

The importance of standardization is also depicted here. Now we will consider the most popular media streaming protocols today. The six most frequent protocols are:

  • The use of the HTTP Live Streaming protocol
  • Protocol for Real-Time Messaging (RTMP)
  • Transport with a Guarantee of Safety (SRT)
  • MPEG-DASH stands for “MPEG Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP.
  • Smooth Streaming (MSS) from Microsoft.
  • Web-Based, Streaming, Real-Time Communication

Some of these alternative protocols that have been widely used for the distribution of multimedia digital content include RTMP, and HLS. Each has its unique features of use and technology. Here’s a comparison of RTMP vs HLS:

  1. Protocol Type:

RTMP: The name RTMP stands for Real-Time Messaging Protocol that was developed for minimal-delay broadcasting. It initially intended for flash players and is frequently connected with streaming and interactive apps such as games.

HLS: It is a streaming protocol developed by Apple based on HTTP. This technology was developed for adaptable streaming; it is one of the most popular means of online voice and video transmission.

  1. Streaming Latency:

RTMP: The RTMP allows low latency which makes it fit for applications of low time lag like online gaming and live transmission. Latency may range from several seconds to even nothing,

HLS: HLS is optimised for adaptive streaming, although it usually incurs high latencies when compared to RTMP. The duration of delay can be within 10-30 seconds and above. Real time interactive applications do not fit well in HLS.

  1. Server Requirements:

RTMP: Specialised media servers like Adobe Media or Wooza Media Server are used for streaming in a process referred to as RTMP. Such servers are responsible for encoding and sending content to media consumers.

HLS: In essence, HLS is founded upon the notion of standard web servers that are used to transmit content through the help of HTTP. There is little or no need of having dedicated media servers which makes it easy to set-up and implement. Delivering HLS content using standard web hosting.

  1. Device and Browser Support:

RTMP: Several media players and programs support RTMP, although there has been diminished support for it in web browsers – particularly since the fall of Adobe Flash.

HLS: However, HLS is more widely supported on all types of devices including desktops etc., across different platforms and internet browsers. It works well with iPhones, Android phones, web browsers and all other types of gadgets such as the smart televisions.

  1. Adaptive Streaming:

RTMP: Traditionally, RTMP does not natively support adaptive streaming in which a video quality is adjusted depending on the network condition. Nevertheless, some current implementations incorporate adaptable traits.

HLS: Adaptive streaming was explicitly made for HLS. It is able to adaptively vary the media bandwidth according to the user’s network condition leading to smooth playback.

  1. Security:

RTMP: Although RTMP has means of implementing encryption (RTMPE and RTMPS) for a more secure data transfer, its security qualities are not as well developed as is the case with HLS.

HLS: Besides, from the aspect of security, HLS boasts much more robust features that include support for encrypted media and the FairPlay digital rights management technology owned by Apple.

  1. Current Industry Trends:

RTMP: In general, RTMP use has dwindled, mostly in regard to web apps as Flash gets phased out and upgrades move towards newer streaming protocols.

HLS: HLS is probably one of the most popular streaming platforms used today, and it is an industry standard. There are numerous streaming services, platforms, and devices that can use this for video streaming on the internet.

Converting RTMP to HLS

It is usual to convert RTMP to HLS as it provides greater compatibility and improves the quality of the viewing experience. The steps involve encoding the real time RTMP stream in HLS adaptive streaming format that supports a wide range of devices.

For achieving such a conversation, specialized software or media servers can be utilized. The incoming RTMP stream is transcoded into multiple bitrates, the media content is divided into small segments, and an HLS manifest is formed as a result of this process. This leads to adaptive and adaptable streaming whereby a user can stream online on different internet-enabled devices and browsers.

Content providers can offer good quality live streams for large audiences using RTMP to HLS as it works out well under any network condition. Its use is commonly employed in live events, webinars, and online broadcasting with ease in delivering contents.

Benefits of HLS streaming

HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) is a streaming protocol with several useful features for delivering media. It’s a top pick for video and audio streaming because of its adaptive streaming, browser compatibility, and strong content protection features. By streamlining the process of deploying streaming solutions, HLS guarantees a consistent and uninterrupted watching experience regardless of the quality of the underlying network connection. HLS is a flexible and user-friendly choice that boosts viewer engagement and delivers useful analytics for content producers, whether you’re streaming on-demand video or live events. 


Briefly put, RTMP vs HLS play different roles and they are distinguished by unique features. RTMP usually has low latency and interactivity whereas users prefer HLS for adaptive streaming, wide support, and capability to stream to many devices and platforms. However, the choice between the two is dependent upon the unique needs of a streaming application.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Ans: RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol) and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) are two different protocols used for video streaming. The primary difference lies in their approach to delivering content. RTMP is a real-time streaming protocol that provides low-latency streaming, while HLS is an adaptive streaming protocol that segments video content into smaller chunks, allowing for better adaptability to varying network conditions.

Ans: RTMP is suitable for scenarios that require low-latency streaming, making it ideal for live events, webinars, and interactive applications. It provides a direct and continuous connection between the streaming server and the viewer, minimizing delays in content delivery. If real-time communication is a priority, RTMP is a preferred choice.

Ans: HLS is a better option when adaptive streaming and compatibility with a wide range of devices are crucial. HLS breaks the video into small segments, enabling adaptive bitrate streaming, which adjusts the quality based on the viewer’s internet speed. This makes HLS suitable for delivering content over diverse network conditions and to a variety of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs.

Ans: Yes, there are compatibility differences between RTMP and HLS. RTMP may face challenges with certain firewalls and restrictive network environments, while HLS is widely supported across devices and platforms. HLS, being based on HTTP, leverages standard web technologies and is more firewall-friendly, making it a more versatile choice for reaching a broad audience.

Ans: Yes, it is possible to use RTMP and HLS together in a streaming setup. This is often referred to as multi-bitrate streaming. By offering both RTMP and HLS options, content providers can ensure compatibility with a wide range of devices and network conditions. This approach provides flexibility for viewers to choose the streaming protocol that best suits their situation.

Shalabh Agarwal - Co-founder, Enveu
Shalabh Agarwal is the co-founder of Enveu, one of the fastest-growing App automation and OTT solutions providers. Shalabh oversees the global businesses for Enveu and has been working in the Technology and SaaS space for over 15 years.

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