Understanding RTMP Protocol: A Comprehensive Guide

11 min read
January 4, 2024

Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) is a communication protocol that has been used for streaming audio, video, and data over the internet since around 2002. Initially developed by Macromedia, RTMP has evolved to become a reliable and widely adopted protocol for live video streaming and on-demand content delivery. RTMP is based on Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) technology and enables real-time communication, supports adaptive bitrate streaming, and facilitates the exchange of control messages between the server and client.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the components, variations, and encoding of RTMP, its advantages and drawbacks, and its integration with streaming platforms like Digital Samba.

Table of Contents

  1. Components of RTMP
  2. How does RTMP streaming work?
  3. What are the advantages and cons of RTMP 
  4. RTMP in action: The live-streaming workflow 
  5. Is Flash dead?
  6. RTMP ingest 
  7. RTMP protocol variations 
  8. RTMP encoding 
  9. RTMP and Digital Samba
  10. Final thought: Embracing the power of RTMP streaming

Components of RTMP 

RTMP, the bedrock of seamless media streaming, intricately weaves technical prowess into its fabric. Functioning as the conduit between server and client, it orchestrates real-time transmission of audio, video, and data. 

Its architecture, structured for fluidity, ensures uninterrupted content flow, underpinning the efficiency and reliability of RTMP live streaming services. This protocol's robustness forms the backbone of many digital content delivery systems, enhancing user experiences with its reliable performance and efficient communication.

Understanding RTMP encoding

In the world of RTMP, encoding takes the spotlight. This process transforms raw audiovisual data into a digital format primed for transmission. Encoders are the main components here, employing various formats and compression techniques to optimise content for faster delivery. 

You can think of them as linguists translating media files – encoders ensure compatibility and efficiency, enabling seamless communication between devices and servers. This encoding effectiveness, crucial to RTMP streaming, is the engine behind its ability to effortlessly deliver high-quality media content across digital platforms.

The three primary components of RTMP

  1. RTMP Server: The powerhouse managing content delivery and facilitating communication between the RTMP source and RTMP destination.
  2. RTMP Client: The recipient, accessing and decoding the streamed content sent by the server, ensuring a seamless playback experience.
  3. RTMP Protocol: The framework governing the rules and processes, setting up the seamless flow of data between the server and client, ensuring efficient communication and delivery.

These components, working together, coordinate to deliver the effectiveness of real-time streaming experiences, empowering users with instant, high-quality content across the digital landscape.

How does RTMP streaming work?

What is RTMP streaming?

RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol) streaming is a widely used method for delivering live video content over the internet. The protocol enables real-time communication between the server and client, making it an ideal choice for applications where timely updates are critical. 

In this section, we'll delve into the step-by-step process of RTMP streaming and highlight the importance of real-time messaging in streaming environments.

RTMP streaming workflow

The RTMP streaming workflow involves several steps, from capturing content to delivering it to viewers. Here's a detailed explanation of the process:

Content capture

The first step in RTMP streaming is to capture the video and audio content. This can be done using cameras, microphones, or screen recording software. The captured content is then fed into an encoder, which compresses and converts the raw footage into a digital format suitable for streaming.


The encoder then translates the video and audio signals into a digital format compatible with RTMP. Some common encoding formats include H.264 and VP8. The encoder also applies compression to reduce the file size, making it easier to transmit the video over the Internet.


After encoding, the video and audio data are packetised into small chunks called "packets." Each packet contains a header that includes information about the packet's sequence number, timestamp, and other metadata. The packets are then sent to the RTMP server.

Server processing

The RTMP server receives the packets and processes them accordingly. The server may perform tasks such as transcoding, which allows for adaptive bitrate streaming and ensures that viewers receive the highest quality video possible given their internet connection.


Once processed, the packets are delivered to the RTMP client, which decrypts and decodes the data. The decoded video and audio signals are then passed to the video player or web browser, which renders the content for the viewer to enjoy.

Real-time messaging and RTMP

RTMP enables real-time messaging between the server and client, making it an ideal choice for applications where timely updates are critical. The protocol allows for bidirectional communication, enabling the server to send messages to the client and vice versa. This feature is particularly useful in live-streaming scenarios, where interactions between the broadcaster and viewers are essential.

For instance, during a live Q&A session, the broadcaster can use RTMP to send questions to the viewers and receive answers in real-time. Similarly, viewers can use RTMP to send comments or feedback to the broadcaster, creating a more engaging and interactive experience.

In addition, RTMP's real-time messaging capabilities make it an excellent choice for live-streaming applications that require low latency, such as online gaming, virtual events, and live sports broadcasts.

What are the advantages and cons of RTMP 

Advantages of RTMP

RTMP stands tall in the streaming sector, using several advantages that elevate content delivery and user experience. Let’s have a look at a few.

Limitations and cons of RTMP

While RTMP boasts significant strengths, it's not without its limitations and challenges.

Acknowledging these drawbacks allows users and streaming platforms to make informed decisions, balancing RTMP's benefits with its limitations while exploring suitable alternatives and security measures.

RTMP in action: The live-streaming workflow 

  1. Capture and encoding: live streaming commences with the capture of audiovisual content via devices like cameras or microphones. This raw data undergoes encoding, transforming it into a digital format suitable for RTMP transmission.
  2. RTMP server configuration: configuring the RTMP server involves establishing the entry point for content ingestion. This server receives and processes the encoded content, preparing it for streaming.
  3. Streaming software setup: content creators utilise dedicated streaming software, configuring settings to ensure compatibility with the RTMP protocol. This setup enables seamless transmission between the source and server.
  4. Initiating live stream: with all components in place, the live stream is initiated. This involves the establishment of a connection between the source and the RTMP stream server, allowing real-time data transmission.
  5. Viewer engagement: RTMP facilitates immediate engagement with viewers, enabling live chat, comments, and feedback during the stream. This real-time interaction fosters a sense of community and engagement.
  6. Real-time interactivity: beyond engagement, RTMP allows content creators to interact with viewers in real-time, conducting Q&A sessions, polls, or discussions, enhancing the immersive nature of live streams.
  7. Archiving and storage: post-live stream, content can be archived and stored for later access. RTMP's functionalities allow for the seamless archival of streamed content for future use or on-demand playback.

RTMP broadcast and server setup

RTMP serves as the key factor in the broadcasting landscape, steering the setup of servers and broadcasting mechanisms.

Is Flash dead?

Flash played a significant role in the development and adoption of RTMP as a communication protocol for streaming audio, video, and data. Adobe Flash Player, a browser plugin that ran inside a webpage, was the primary means of decoding RTMP data on the web. 

RTMP was initially designed to transport content between a hosting server and a video player, and it was mostly used for this purpose when Flash was the dominant web technology. The close integration of RTMP with Flash allowed for seamless streaming of audio, video, and data, making it a popular choice for content creators and streaming platforms.

The transition away from Flash

However, the use of Flash for streaming has declined due to its diminishing support and security concerns. Adobe stopped supporting Flash in 2017, and many browsers have since blocked it. 

This shift has led to a transition towards modern alternatives, such as HTML5 and WebSocket, which offer improved scalability, viewing experience, and compatibility with various devices and platforms. 

Despite the decline of Flash, RTMP remains relevant in certain streaming scenarios, such as live broadcasting and internal corporate networks, where it is used for streaming content within an organisation.

RTMP ingest 

RTMP ingest servers

RTMP ingest is a process that involves using RTMP technology to encode and deliver live video from an encoder to an online video platform. It requires the use of an RTMP encoder, which is relatively inexpensive compared to encoders that use other streaming protocols.

RTMP ingest servers play a crucial role in this process, as they receive live video feeds from cameras and other sources, and make them available for viewing by users. These servers can also be used in combination with HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) to achieve the lowest possible latency.

RTMP ingest is commonly used by broadcasters and streaming platforms to efficiently deliver live video streams to a media server for distribution. It is a cost-effective and user-friendly option for video distributors, making it a popular choice for live-streaming applications.

RTMP ingest and content delivery

RTMP ingest servers contribute to the efficient delivery of streaming content to end-users. They ensure easy access to encoders, are relatively inexpensive and are simple to set up. RTMP ingest can be used on any channel set up to receive it from any location in the world. This process is designed to make the transport of live encoded video very quick, ensuring reduced and low latency streaming when combined with HLS. 

RTMP ingest brings the encoded video chunks to the online video hosting platform, and HLS then takes the video streams forward to the supported video player. This coordinated process involving both RTMP and HLS takes place in the backend to deliver seamless live-streaming experiences.

RTMP protocol variations

These RTMP variations, each with distinct features and functionalities, cater to diverse streaming environments and security requirements. Understanding these variations allows streaming platforms and content creators to select the most suitable RTMP variant aligned with their security, accessibility, and efficiency needs.

RTMP encoding 

RTMP encoders and their importance

RTMP encoders stand as integral tools in the streaming domain, playing a crucial role in content preparation and delivery. These specialised devices or software applications convert raw audiovisual data into formats compatible with RTMP's transmission requisites. Their significance lies in optimising content for efficient delivery, ensuring seamless streaming experiences. 

Employing compression techniques and varied encoding settings, RTMP encoders significantly impact content quality, efficiency, and reliability in RTMP-based streaming workflows. 

Encoding formats in RTMP

RTMP supports a spectrum of encoding formats catering to diverse streaming requirements. 

Prominent formats include:

  1. H.264 (Advanced Video Coding) for video and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) for audio, renowned for their compatibility and efficiency in RTMP transmission. 
  2. H.264 excels in compressing video data, enabling high-quality transmission while conserving bandwidth. 
  3. Similarly, AAC ensures superior audio delivery with efficient compression, suitable for live streaming and on-demand content.

Which encoders support RTMP?

Several encoders are compatible with RTMP, facilitating diverse streaming needs:

  • OBS Studio
  • Wirecast
  • VidBlaster
  • vMix
  • Tricaster
  • Teradek

These encoders support RTMP functionality, providing content creators with diverse options for content preparation and delivery, ensuring compatibility and optimal performance within RTMP-based streaming environments. Users can choose an encoder based on their specific requirements, workflows, and desired streaming features.

RTMP and Digital Samba

RTMP and Digital Samba

In our Digital Samba platform, RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol) plays a crucial role not in direct streaming into a session, but in restreaming content from our platform to external RTMP-compatible servers. This shift in functionality emphasizes our platform's adaptability and extends our reach to popular streaming platforms such as Vimeo, Facebook Live, YouTube, and others.

Restreaming with RTMP in Digital Samba

Our platform leverages the Restreamer component, enabling users to broadcast their Digital Samba sessions to external servers that support RTMP. This integration is essential in ensuring that our users can share their content on a variety of platforms while maintaining the high-quality streaming standards that RTMP is known for.

Note: The Restreamer feature is currently available only in the Angular product of Digital Samba. 

How to restream your Digital Samba session using RTMP?

To restream your Digital Samba session to an external RTMP server like Vimeo, follow these steps:

Create a live event

use a service like Vimeo Premium to create a live event. Generate a stream URL and stream key, and keep them handy.

Configure restreamer in Digital Samba

in your Digital Samba session, go to the Restreamer settings. Enter the stream URL and stream key you obtained from Vimeo (or any other RTMP-compatible service).

Start your session

conduct your Digital Samba session as usual.

Begin restreaming

use the Restreamer feature to broadcast your session to the external platform. This is done by ensuring your session settings in Digital Samba align with the RTMP server's requirements.

Go live on external platform

finally, go to the platform where your content is being restreamed (like Vimeo) and start the live stream there. Your Digital Samba session will now be broadcasted to your audience on that platform.

By following these steps, you can effectively extend the reach of your Digital Samba sessions, leveraging the robust capabilities of RTMP for wider audience engagement.

Final thought: Embracing the power of RTMP restreaming

Throughout this article, we've looked at how RTMP works, its main components and its applications as a crucial player in live streaming and broadcasting. So, whether you're streaming live events, webinars, or internal corporate meetings, RTMP can enhance your streaming capabilities and provide a reliable and efficient delivery of content.

However, as we conclude, it's essential to acknowledge the current technologies we leverage on our platform. While RTMP offers distinct advantages, particularly in live event streaming, our HTML5 video player, at this stage, does not support streaming via RTMP.

Instead, we leverage the more modern and advanced capabilities of HTML5 and WebRTC. Our HTML5 Video Player is built using WebRTC and HTML5 technology, which facilitates a purely browser-based video conferencing experience. 

So, if you’re looking for an easy-to-use, robust video conferencing platform with broad streaming capabilities, try Digital Samba today. Simply create a free account and enjoy 10,000 free participant minutes of HD-quality video calls and a smooth video streaming experience.

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