Leech: The Lightweight Mac Download Manager

There was a time when having a download manager made a real difference to one’s experience of using the internet. There are places where this is still true. A few years ago, I spent a month in a remote part of India, where I struggled to top 2k download speeds with my laptop’s modem connecting via a fixed line. I literally waited an hour some days just to download a morning’s email.

A download manager wouldn’t have helped all that much with those messages, but it would have made a huge difference if I had wanted to download any software, music or video files.

That’s the most common use of a download manager: pausing and restarting downloads, scheduling them for later in the day, perhaps after you’ve gone to bed, so that massive download can be ready and waiting in the morning. There are now a number of download managers that can do a whole lot more than this. Speed Download has been the big-hitter for a long time, but (though I bought a licence for the app) I’ve never got along with it.

Recently, I’ve switched over to using Leech, which makes no claim to being as powerful, but turns out to be an excellent, lightweight option that might just do everything you need.

Simple Is as Simple Does

Leech’s interface is plain and clear:

Leech Interface

Leech Interface

As the text in the main window says, you can get started by simply dragging a URL – or a long list of URLs – onto the window, or the app’s Dock icon, and Leech will go ahead and queue each of the links for download. So if you’d accumulated a list of files you wanted to download, this would be a good way to get them all in one go, simply drag the list out of whatever app you’d used to compile it, and drop it into Leech.

You can also integrate Leech with several of the most popular browsers – Safari, Camino, OmniWeb, and Firefox (via the Flashgot add-on), but not yet with Chrome, a lack which will hopefully be addressed before too long.

You need to set this up via Leech’s Preferences, under the ‘Integration’ tab. Click on ‘Install Leech Browser Plugin’, and you’ll be guided through the process of installing the plugin itself, along with SIMBL, which handles the technical work of integration.

Browser Integration

Browser Integration

And then the final step (this is obvious, but I missed it at first, so I’ll say it): in your browser, click on the app title in the menubar, and then on ‘Download via Leech’.

Menu Bar Activation

Menu Bar Activation

Once that’s done, Leech will automagically catch any downloads as you click on links.

Leech in Action

By default, Leech is set to be as discreet as possible, and will shut itself down as soon as it has finished the final download in its queue. While files are downloading, the Dock icon doubles as a simple progress meter:

Dock Progress Meter

Dock Progress Meter

As your download progresses, the arrow will fill with white – as shown here, it’s right at the start of a very long download. And of course the blue number shows how many downloads are currently running.

You can pause downloads at any time by clicking the pause button at the right, and restart again by clicking in the same place:

Pause and Resume Downloads

Pause and Resume Downloads

Although Leech only retains items in the main interface until they’ve finished downloading, it also keeps a comprehensive History, which is available from the menubar:

Comprehensive Download History

Comprehensive Download History

The Queue menu gives you access to a few more useful settings – in particular, this is where you can specify whether Leech puts your computer to sleep or shuts down when your downloads are completed.

And via the File menu, you can quickly control where items are downloaded to, as well as setting up rules for how different file types are dealt with. So, for instance, I want a rule that will always download installers to my Desktop, to stop them getting lost in among everything else in my Downloads folder. I simply go to File and then ‘Define Rule’, which brings up this window:

Defining a Rule

Defining a Rule

As you can see, I’ve typed in ‘.dmg’ in the ‘Extensions’ section, and then selected ‘Desktop’ as the download destination. I’ve also chosen to have DiskImageMounter automatically open all downloaded installers as they arrive – which will make it more likely I’ll actually look at all the software I download!

Useful Extra Hints & Tips

If you’re wanting to download a selection of files from a site, you can use some URL-fu to speed things up. Say you’ve a list of documents titled in sequence ‘Research_project_1’ through ‘Research_project_25’ and you want to download the first fifteen of those. You could simply type the URL into TextEdit or anywhere else, as follows:


Select the text you’ve just typed and drag it onto Leech’s Dock icon, and it’ll fetch the files you need. This would work with alphabetically sequenced files too, and you can use commas to include files not immediately following in sequence, e.g. http://www.imaginaryserver.com/Research_project_{a-c,f,r-u}

Another nice feature is Leech’s integration with your Mac’s Keychain – so if you have to enter a password for a download, Leech will remember it the next time you come to download files from the same server.

The last thing I’ll mention is the ability to exclude domains or particular file-types, so that Leech leaves them alone. In the Preferences, on the ‘Integration’ tab, you simply enter the details you need, and Leech will stay out of the way.

Exclude Certain Files

Exclude Certain Files

In Conclusion

Do you need a download manager? Perhaps for many of us this is a matter of preference before it’s a matter of necessity. There are places and circumstances where one can be very, very useful – even essential. But you would need to decide for yourself whether you want or need one enough to pay for it.

Speed Download is undoubtedly a more powerful programme – the fact that it has a built-in FTP client guarantees that right away, but it has several additional features. For one thing, the claim is made that Speed Download actually will increase your download speeds.

I must say I’ve never noticed any difference, especially when I take account of the time I spend interacting with Speed Download – mostly shutting it down when it’s finished downloading. And – though this is entirely subjective, I know – having to look at Speed Download’s ugly design makes my day less wonderful.

Leech’s minimal, beautiful interface and intuitive design simply work much better for me, so I’m happy to have switched.

Please chime in in the comments: do you think a download manager is worth having? Any opinions of Leech, Speed Download or any other options out there?


Leech is a download manager that integrates with every major browser, and adds a great deal more functionality over that included in your browser by default. If you download files on a regular basis, it's definitely worth taking a look at.



Add Yours
  • Ok, this is cool, but I really don’t want or need a download manager enough to pay for it.

  • I’ve been using iGetter, which is also a download accelerator. I can choose whether to use it or not by simply right-clicking (or Ctrl-clicking) on a link, and selecting either “Download As…” or “Download with iGetter.”

  • I’ve tried an early version of Leech, but appears to have a problem handling more than 20 links. Some files were corrupted or partially downloaded. So, if you don’t need to get that amount of links, it’s a pretty decent app (IMO).

  • It is as if you heard my calling from the comment section of your roundup on great interfaces ;)

    Will probably buy this if it can handle rapidshare (and others) downloads well.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • If you a premium account, it works great. If you don’t, then Leech won’t even download it (just the .html of the download).

  • Nice article.

    I use FIrefox and the DownThemAll+FlashGot combination. Downloads got to one folder which is them automatically processed by Hazel. The result: I have an organized Downloads folder (archives in Archives folder, dmg and dpkg in Applications folder, etc).

    If I used Chrome/Safari, I would condider using an external download accelerator, Leech seems fairly lightweight, and good alternative to Speed Download 5.

  • I love leech, but the one thing it is missing is a speed limiter. If you’re playing PS3/xBox at the same time as downloading, then it’s a pain. They only need to implement a slider in the bottom right or a single button that says “Limit Speed” and do the code.

  • Simple and handy, but… But why it doesn’t have rule option “Ask each time where to download”? That is very important and necessary thing for me. If your are planning to add it, I’ll buy it right now…

  • why do you need a separate app to manage downloads!? doesn’t the web browser do a good enough job on its own, especially chrome. And to pay for something like that?

  • Download managers that function independently of a browser are valuable because they allow downloads to be queued. If I want to download 20 items in Safari, I’d have to either start all downloads at once (copy all links and paste into Downloads window) or download one-at-a-time, which is time/attention consuming and generally a pain. I can paste my 20 links into SpeedDownload and assign it to download two files at a time while keeping the rest queued. When one download is complete, a new one begins.

  • Hey man… I can’t give my comment if I don’t get my license to try it first.. Maybe someone can give me one? Hehe

    Anyway, won’t pay for a download manager that much

  • iGetter. That is all.

  • That SIMBL window is outdated… Safari in fact has it’s own plug-in interface now! Hope the Leech developers take advantage of the new functionality soon!

  • I have to agree with Raspo – really cool, but JUST below the “I’d pay for it” bar.

  • People who pay money for download managers should be registered insane!

  • I use jDownloader due to the ability to download from freeservers like rapidshare and hotfile, jDownloader can even restart my router to renew the ip address to get new slots, it manages premium accounts, show how many quota and expiration dates. It’s a pretty good download manager. But the downside is that it was written in Java. It uses a lot of memory and its a little slow.

  • jdownloader is the best for sure

    • Jdownloader?!! You’re kidding, right?!! Yes, sure! Only when it works. And that’s never! Crashing and freezing like sh*t.

  • I’d love to see a head-to-head comparison of the top Mac download managers. A long time ago when I made the switch, I went searching for the best app to handle this task. I’ve been using Speed Download ever since and, after trying several other apps, keep using SD because it’s always worked best for me.

    I guess you might call me a “power downloader” though, so I need many of SD’s features (like multiple connections per file, user agent switching, etc). Making full use of a 55 Mbps connection isn’t easy without a dl manager.

    To those who ask who would pay for a dl manager: people who pay for expensive, fast internet connections and want to take full advantage of them in an organized and specific way with as little hassle as possible. ;)

  • About to try Leech. Bought Speed Download for Tiger but don’t want to pay for it again for Snow Leopard. Cost is too much for what it does when there is freeware and shareware that does the same or better. Speed Download customer service is poor. Once requested a missing license code and was told to track it down through the online service where I paid for it. After a scathing email about the lack of good customer service, SD sent my license code – maybe because they were hoping for an upgrade sale – no chance.

  • Jdownloader is chrashing and freeeeezing like hell.
    i paid 25 for speed downloader 2 years ago. After 6 months i regretted like never before!!

  • Hi! I just want to let you know that there is a free download manager for Mac- Folx (mac-downloader.com)

  • Ok so I got this app awhile ago and am just now trying it out.

    I can’t believe leech doesn’t let you throttle your bandwidth. On top of that, I can’t believe your review made no mention of this!

    You guys gave this an 8/10.. seriously did you get paid by ManyTricks to “review” this app? I hope you did, because it reads more like an ad than an objective review.

    Bandwidth throttling is one of the main reasons peoiple use a download manager. Total waste of money.

  • Bought Folx for my 4 computers and after a while they all freeze and won’t work anymore. Not even their tech support can help. Waste of money.

  • Leech really sucks. Just using the trial, it has nothing compared to jDownloader.

    1st issue: no clipboard listeners, so you have to copy-paste all the URLs.
    2nd issue: doesn’t work. Said it was finished downloads when they weren’t even started!

    Don’t get Leech; get jDownloader — it’s free!