Getting Started with cURL

cURL is an incredibly powerful tool when working on the web, but getting started (and being useful) with it can take some time. I'm going to walk through what I do with cURL 95% of the time.

At its very basic, cURL makes requests to URL's. Normally you want to interact with those URL's in someway.


By default, cURL makes an HTTP GET request, so that will fetch the HTML from Awesome!

Spitting it out in the terminal isn't so useful, so let's save it to a file:

curl -o google.html

Looking at google.html will show you the same contents as before. This is especially useful when you want to save a JSON response.

Great! Well, interacting with HTML is pretty boring, most of what I do is interacting with API's. cURL is a great way for quickly testing your PHP script, your JSON endpoint, or what that API actually returns.

I work at CloudMine and we have a decent JSON API, so I'll use that just as an example. Just keep in mind that the URL isn't important here, but rather the curl options.

By default, curl makes GET requests, so let's GET some data!


Woh! What?

{"errors":["API Key invalid"]}

Oh, CloudMine expects an API Key to be sent as well. As an additional header? Sure, no problem:

curl \  
-H X-CloudMine-ApiKey:e90ef1aeaadd48de93b45038ed592a06


Excellent! Sending the correct header worked. But the response is rather vague, I'm not sure if it worked and found no data, or it didn't work and didn't return an error. Let's examine the headers on the reply:

curl \  
-H X-CloudMine-ApiKey:e90ef1aeaadd48de93b45038ed592a06 -i


HTTP/1.1 200 OK  
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 2014 17:31:10 GMT  
Content-Type: application/json; charset=utf-8  
Transfer-Encoding: chunked  
Status: 200 OK  
X-Request-Id: a9fbdaec-3b3c-4b11-92d8-5af2e9f01e8e  
Cache-Control: max-age=0, private, must-revalidate  
X-Runtime: 0.020247  
X-Rack-Cache: miss  
Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *  
Access-Control-Expose-Headers: X-Request-Id


Adding '-i' will return all the headers on the response. If you only want the headers, you can use '-I'.

Excellent. But the URL I want to hit is actually an endpoint for consuming data. I want to send information. Let's make a POST request!

curl -X POST \  
-H X-CloudMine-ApiKey:e90ef1aeaadd48de93b45038ed592a06 -i
{"errors":[{"code":400,"message":"Invalid payload"}]}

Oops, we forgot to send data. To send inforamtion, we use -d.

curl -X POST \  
-d '{"myrandomkey":{"name":"ethan"}}' \
-H X-CloudMine-ApiKey:e90ef1aeaadd48de93b45038ed592a06 \
-H "content-type:application/json"



CloudMine expects the Content-Type to be explicitely stated, so we add that as a header too. Other common ones are application/xml and application/x-www-form-urlencoded

Cool. Well, I don't like that object, so let's delete it.

curl -X DELETE "" \  
-H X-CloudMine-ApiKey:e90ef1aeaadd48de93b45038ed592a06



Welp, there it goes.

That's 95% of what I do with cURL. Some other useful options to know are:

-d @./path/to/file Will send the information in the file as the body of the request. Great when POSTing large amounts of data.

-L The request will follow any redirects it gets. Useful for when site's redirect you from url/ to url.

-u username:password Useful for going through HTTP Basic authentication.

-v Makes the request verbose, which you should always do when submitting a cURL request and response to a support person.

Lastly, sometimes your terminal will do funky things with the URL to escape it. If you don't like this, just put the text in quotes. cURL will respect it either way.

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