Is there any reason why many websites - including very mainstream ones such as microsoft.com and sourceforge.net - show a page with "Your download will start in 10 seconds; if you don't want to wait you can use this direct link" instead of simply starting the download?

Do they simply not know any better? What's especially strange is that this is even extra work to implement!

I find it extremely annoying but since like I said many very mainstream websites do it maybe there is something I am missing.

  • 8
    – ICR
    Nov 13, 2011 at 17:27
  • 4
    I bet it's more or less a Dark Pattern, taking advantage of your captive audience to display ads. It's especially noticeable (and obviously marketing related) on download sites like Mega Upload that are mostly add supported.
    – Ben Brocka
    Nov 13, 2011 at 18:10
  • 2
    Direct download sites usually have waiting times around 60 seconds (not 5 or 10) and hide the download link during this time. Regular sites usually display the link the whole time.
    – Gala
    Nov 13, 2011 at 21:45
  • 1
    @GaëlLaurans true, most sites offering downloads like Cnet aren't nearly as intent on frustrating you, but the extra "page" view does at the very least amount to one more ad view per transaction, and potentially more click throughs. Direct download sites usually have a malicious intent to make free downloads as agonizing as possible.
    – Ben Brocka
    Nov 14, 2011 at 0:45
  • 1
    Its not all about advertising, some of it is to do with popup blockers too. In the case of microsoft, the "your download should start" page is normally filled with instructions should something go wrong, like a pop up blocker blocking the download. The direct link allows you to overcome this without changing your settings.
    – Mauro
    Nov 14, 2011 at 11:26

11 Answers 11

  1. Probably because they want you to read an ad while they have you as a captive audience.

  2. It gives you a chance to back out before anything starts, in case you realise you're in the wrong place.

Of course reason two might be touted as the official line while reason one is the real marketing plan.

  • 1
    I hadn't even thought of ads in this case, but I always have adblock.
    – Ben Brocka
    Nov 13, 2011 at 17:31
  • 3
    ads, a list of other services, a message from a sponsor - whatever. You've invested time in finding the download, it's going to start automatically (hopefully), you should just sit back and watch the fruits of your labour download, you are indeed a captive audience for a few seconds. Nov 13, 2011 at 20:11
  • 1
    I think some of the large file download sites (megaupload etc) give you a delay in downloading if you're only a free customer, but you get immediate downloads if you're a paying customer. Kind of as an incentive to become a payed-up member.
    – JonW
    Nov 16, 2011 at 11:01
  • 1
    @JonW that's not quite the same as this though, megaupload and such make it painful to use their services free. This is a much less pronounced delay and less clearly malicious.
    – Ben Brocka
    Nov 18, 2011 at 21:07

I always thought this was a legacy pattern to account for older browsers that were unable to trigger an asynchronous download of a file.

By asking a user to download only if their browser has not started the download automatically developers could cover both type of browser.

However, it is likely this has since been hijacked by marketing for tracking / ad purposes.

  • 3
    I believe historically, this is the case. The form was "download should start in n seconds, click here if it doesn't". Because people are used to this, it has got hijacked for ad marketing. Nov 19, 2011 at 17:24

The download page is great way to keep track downloads.

I've created websites that use the "download will start in X seconds". I want to keep track of download stats. By adding a redirect, I can guarantee that I'll be able to have a record of the transaction.

The download page also prevents hot-linking. If I just had a link to the file, then third parties could hot-link to the file and users wouldn't know where it was coming from. Depending on my setup (I often serve files from S3, which has a very complicated logging system), I might not even know how many people attempted to download the file.

Of course it's mainly used to display ads, but I do think it has a useful role to play. It's not inherently bad.

  • Great practical reasons for the pattern.
    – Ben Brocka
    Nov 18, 2011 at 14:32

A more innocent, less cynical explanation might be that if it's not completely clear a link will start a download, users might panic a little when they see the download begin, being, as they are, suspicious of unsolicited files and actions in a web environment. However, I can't think of many situations where a user wouldn't expect a link to start a download - anything with the word 'download' in it should be a pretty strong cue.

I suppose another legitimate reason might be that you want to provide users an alternative, just in case they're following the wrong workflow - i.e. that there's another, better file or product to use. But if that's the case, why not stop users getting misdirected at an earlier stage?

  • I've seen Microsoft sites provide alternatives like you mention like when a file is depreciated, but they do this before you click the download link of course.
    – Ben Brocka
    Nov 13, 2011 at 18:11
  • 5
    @BenBrocka: "depreciation" != "deprecation" Nov 14, 2011 at 1:24
  • 1
    @ChrisMorgan single letter typos are quite common
    – Ben Brocka
    Nov 18, 2011 at 21:08
  • 3
    @BenBrocka: it may have been a typo, but I've seen several people confusing the two. If it were almost any other word I'd just ignore it. Nov 18, 2011 at 21:48

I believe part of the reason is to avoid hotlinking and/or automated scripts/search engines downloading large files and wasting their bandwidth. Using JavaScript to initiate the download cuts out 90% of unwanted downloads, leaving just real users and occasional targeted scripts.

Of course, now that the sites have those mostly blank pages, it's a great excuse to blast them with advertising or cross-promotion.

In terms of UX, I would avoid such screens. Most users understand that a big green button saying "download" normally leads to a direct download.


At its genesis it is a simple redirection. The website sends you to a page that has an HTTP header field for the Location, which would originally take some time (in the early days of the WWW). This design was remade and reborn to incorporate ads, as said by BenBrocka. The next logical step was to control the delay to ensure your exposure to said ads.


It is also an obstacle. These download sites tend to create obstacles to the 'free user' to create differences between free and paid plan, which has no counter.

It's annoying? It is! And that's the goal.


It should be really simple. If want the download to start instantly, you have to pay for it.

All those delays for starting downloads and limits to just 1 download per hour etc. are just to make you pay.

  • This is pretty common on some file hosting services - if you pay you don't have to wait. Microsoft (as stated in the examples in the original question) is however not one of those... Feb 27, 2014 at 13:11

The background is programmatically. Because it's not possible to push a download with header Content-Type: application/octet-stream; and redirect afterwards to other side.

Also does download finish pages often are used for tracking downloads.


While I agree that advertising, and a few other things, are likely the main reason, I think in the case of download pages that contain a plethora of ads posing as download links it could act as a way of "validating your download" because the ads must be clicked on to actually download them.

Basically, in the ocean of ads it feels a bit comforting that I know in that situation the website will start the download for me so that I don't have to figure out which link is the correct one.

Obviously I'm not particularly fond of download websites that are covered in these fake download links, but at least they don't leave us hanging.


I believe historically, this is the case. The form was "download should start in n seconds, click here if it doesn't". Because people are used to this, it got hijacked for ad marketing purposes.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.