What Is the Shockwave Flash Player?

By Sue Smith

As with many technology products, names for Flash Player and its associated tools have changed many times. Shockwave Flash Player is more commonly known as Flash Player, although there is also, confusingly, a Shockwave Player from Adobe, but it is far less commonly used. Flash Player plays Shockwave Flash (SWF) files, so you may see it referred to as Shockwave Flash Player. Flash Player is a common piece of software installed on most computers and used by people who have Internet access.

Shockwave Player

Flash technologies were originally produced by Macromedia but are now owned by Adobe. In the years that Flash has been an active technology, both the player and the authoring tools have undergone many changes in branding and naming, which can lead to some confusion. Adobe's Shockwave Player is used to display multimedia content created in programs such as Adobe Director. It is also free to download and install.

Flash Player

Flash Player is regularly updated, and in many cases updates have added significant advances in functionality and performance. Flash Player can be used as a standalone program in which users can open, play and interact with SWF files, as well as play FLV (Flash Video) files. Flash Player is also used extensively within the Web browser as a plugin. Macromedia Flash Player got to Version 9 before Adobe Flash Player started. The Adobe version of the tool has featured new versions and updates improving performance and rendering of media, such as graphics and sound.

Media

Flash Player can play a number of different file types but is mainly associated with SWF and FLV files. SWF files are created by Flash authoring software, with the source files in ".fla" (Flash source) and ".as" (ActionScript code) file formats. Flash files may also contain images, sound, video, text and animation, with the final playable SWF generated with all of the necessary media elements included. When SWF and FLV files are generated, their contents can be optimized to minimize file size while retaining quality.

Plugin

Most Flash content is deployed over the Web. Flash content is contained within HTML webpages and is sometimes used to build entire websites. The Flash Player Plugin is used in this case, and runs within the browser, making Flash content accessible as the user browses the Web. Different versions of the Flash Player Plugin are compatible with different browsers such as Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Opera and Chrome, and different operating systems including Windows, Mac and Linux.

Compatibility

The use of Flash content has been the subject of much debate, and support for Flash is restricted on some platforms. While Apple products, particularly mobile devices such as phones and tablet PCs, have reduced support for Flash, some other mobile platforms such as Android are continuing to develop Flash support. Flash media are sometimes criticized for causing problems like browser crashes, but people are still using Flash Player in large numbers so it shows no sign of disappearing.