More specifically, and as the implementations in use today are, adaptive bitrate streaming is a method of video streaming over HTTP where the source content is encoded at multiple bit rates, then each of the different bit rate streams are segmented into small multi-second parts. The streaming client is made aware of the available streams at differing bit rates, and segments of the streams by a manifest file. When starting, the client requests the segments from the lowest bit rate stream.
If the client finds the download speed is greater than the bit rate of the segment downloaded, then it will request the next higher bit rate segments. Later, if the client finds the download speed for a segment is lower than the bit rate for the segment, and therefore the network throughput has deteriorated, then it will request a lower bit rate segment. The segment size can vary depending on the particular implementation, but they are typically between two (2) and ten (10) seconds.