curl and the road to IPv6

Friday, March 28th, 2014

I’d like to comment Paul Saab’s presentation from the other day at the World IPv6 Congress titled “The Road To IPv6 – Bumpy“. Paul works for Facebook and in his talk he apparently mentioned curl (slide 24 of the PDF set).

Lots of my friends have since directed my attention to those slides and asked for my comment. I haven’t seen Paul’s actual presentation, only read the slides, but I have had a shorter twitter conversation with him about what he meant with his words.

The slide in question says exactly this:

Curl

  • Very hostile to the format of the IPv6 address
  • Wants everything bracket enclosed
  • Many IPv6 bugs that only recently were fixed

Let’s see what those mean. Very hostile to the format of the IPv6 address and Wants everything bracket enclosed are basically the same thing.

Paul makes a big point about the fact that if you want to write a URL with an IP address instead of a host name, you have to put that IP address within [brackets] when the IP address is an IPv6 one, which you don’t do if it is an IPv4 one.

Right. Sure. You do. That’s certainly an obstacle when converting slightly naive applications from IPv4 to IPv6 environments. This syntax is mandated by RFCs and standards (RFC3986 to be exact). curl follows the standards and you’ll do it the same way in other tools and clients that use URLs. The problem manifests itself if you use curl for your task, but if you’d use something else instead that something else would have the same issue if it follows the standards. The reason for the brackets requirements is of course that IPv6 numerical addresses contain colons and colons already have a reserved meaning in the host part of URLs so they had to come up with some way to handle that.

Then finally, Many IPv6 bugs that only recently were fixed he said.

I’m the main developer and maintainer of the curl project. This is news to me. Sure we always fix bugs and we always find stupid things we fix so there’s no doubt about that we’ve had IPv6 related bugs that we’ve fixed – and that we still have IPv6 related bugs we haven’t yet found – but saying that we fixed many such bugs recently? That isn’t something I’m aware of. My guess is that he’s talking about hiccups we’ve had after introducing happy eyeballs, a change we introduced in release 7.34.0 in December 2013.

curl has had IPv6 support since January 2001. We’re on that bumpy road to IPv6!

what’s –next for curl

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

curl is finally getting support for doing multiple independent requests specified in the same command line, which allows users to make even better use of curl’s excellent persistent connection handling and more. I don’t know when I first got the question of how to do a GET and a POST in a single command line with curl, but I do know that we’ve had the TODO item about adding such a feature mentioned since 2004 – and I know it wasn’t added there right away…

Starting in curl 7.36.0, we can respond with a better answer: use the –next option!

curl has been able to work with multiple URLs on the command line virtually since day 1, but all the command line options would then mostly apply and be used for all specified URLs.

This new –next option introduces a “boundary”, or a wall if you like, between options on the command line. The options set before –next will be handled as one request and the options set on the right side of –next will start adding up to another request. You of course then need to specify at least one URL per individual such section and you can add any number of –next on the command line. If the command line then gets too long, we also support the same logic and sequence in the “config files” which is the way you can specify command line arguments into a text file and have curl read them from there using -K or –config.

Here’s a somewhat silly example to illustrate. This fist makes a POST and then a HEAD to two different pages on the same host:

curl -d FOO example.com/input.cgi --next --head example.com/robots.txt

Thanks to Steve Holme for his hard work on implementing this!

dotdot removal in libcurl 7.32.0

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Allow as much as possible and only sanitize what’s absolutely necessary.

That has basically been the rule for the URL parser in curl and libcurl since the project was started in the 90s. The upside with this is that you can use curl to torture your web servers with tests and you can handicraft really imaginary stuff to send and thus subsequently to receive. It kind of assumes that the user truly gives curl a URL the user wants to use.

Why would you give curl a broken URL?

But of course life and internet protocols, and perhaps in particular HTTP, is more involved than that. It soon becomes more complicated.

Redirects

Everyone who’s writing a web user-agent based on RFC 2616 soon faces the fact that redirects based on the Location: header is a source of fun and head-scratching. It is defined in the spec as only allowing “absolute URLs” but the reality is that they were also provided as relative ones by web servers already from the start so the browsers of course support that (and the pending HTTPbis document is already making this clear). curl thus also adopted support for relative URLs, meaning the ability to “merge” or “add” a relative URL onto a previously used absolute one had to be implemented. And even illegally constructed URLs are done this way and in the grand tradition of web browsers, they have not tried to stop users from doing bad things, they have instead adapted and now instead try to convert it to what the user could’ve meant. Like for example using a white space within the URL you send in a Location: header. Even curl has to sanitize that so that it works more like the browsers.

Relative path segments

The path part of URLs are truly to be seen as a path, in that it is a hierarchical scheme where each slash-separated part adds a piece. Like “/first/second/third.html”

As it turns out, you can also include modifiers in the path that have special meanings. Like the “..” (two dots or periods next to each other) known from shells and command lines to mean “one directory level up” can also be used in the path part of a URL like “/one/three/../two/three.html” which equals “/one/two/three.html” when the dotdot sequence is handled. This dot removal procedure is documented in the generic URL specification RFC 3986 (published January 2005) and is completely protocol agnostic. It works like this for HTTP, FTP and every other protocol you provide a path part for.

In its traditional spirit of just accepting and passing along, curl didn’t use to treat “dotdots” in any particular way but handed it over to the server to deal with. There probably aren’t that terribly many such occurrences either so it never really caused any problems or made any users hit any particular walls (or they were too shy to report it); until one day back in February this year… so we finally had to do something about this. Some 8 years after the spec saying it must be done was released.

dotdot removal

Alas, libcurl 7.32.0 now features (once it gets released around August 12th) full traversal and handling of such sequences in the path part of URLs. It also includes single dot sequences like in “/one/./two”. libcurl will detect such uses and convert the path to a sequence without them and continue on. This of course will cause a limited altered behavior for the possible small portion of users out there in the world who would use dotdot sequences and actually want them to get sent as-is the way libcurl has been doing it. I decided against adding an option for disabling this behavior, but of course if someone would experience terrible pain and can reported about it convincingly to us we could possible reconsider that decision in the future.

I suspect (and hope) this will just be another little change along the way that will make libcurl act more standard and more like the browsers and thus cause less problems to users but without people much having to care about how or why.

Further reading: the dotdot.c file from the libcurl source tree!

Bonus kit

A dot to dot surprise drawing for you and your kids (click for higher resolution)

curl dot-to-dot