curl ootw: –quote

Previous command line options of the week.

This option is called -Q in its short form, --quote in its long form. It has existed for as long as curl has existed.

Quote?

The name for this option originates from the traditional unix command ‘ftp’, as it typically has a command called exactly this: quote. The quote command for the ftp client is a way to send an exact command, as written, to the server. Very similar to what --quote does.

FTP, FTPS and SFTP

This option was originally made for supported only for FTP transfers but when we added support for FTPS, it worked there too automatically.

When we subsequently added SFTP support, even such users occasionally have a need for this style of extra commands so we made curl support it there too. Although for SFTP we had to do it slightly differently as SFTP as a protocol can’t actually send commands verbatim to the server as we can with FTP(S). I’ll elaborate a bit more below.

Sending FTP commands

The FTP protocol is a command/response protocol for which curl needs to send a series of commands to the server in order to get the transfer done. Commands that log in, changes working directories, sets the correct transfer mode etc.

Asking curl to access a specific ftp:// URL more or less converts into a command sequence.

The --quote option provides several different ways to insert custom FTP commands into the series of commands curl will issue. If you just specify a command to the option, it will be sent to the server before the transfer takes places – even before it changes working directory.

If you prefix the command with a minus (-), the command will instead be send after a successful transfer.

If you prefix the command with a plus (+), the command will run immediately before the transfer after curl changed working directory.

As a second (!) prefix you can also opt to insert an asterisk (*) which then tells curl that it should continue even if this command would cause an error to get returned from the server.

The actually specified command is a string the user specifies and it needs to be a correct FTP command because curl won’t even try to interpret it but will just send it as-is to the server.

FTP examples

For example, remove a file from the server after it has been successfully downloaded:

curl -O ftp://ftp.example/file -Q '-DELE file'

Issue a NOOP command after having logged in:

curl -O ftp://user:password@ftp.example/file -Q 'NOOP'

Rename a file remotely after a successful upload:

curl -T infile ftp://upload.example/dir/ -Q "-RNFR infile" -Q "-RNTO newname"

Sending SFTP commands

Despite sounding similar, SFTP is a very different protocol than FTP(S). With SFTP the access is much more low level than FTP and there’s not really a concept of command and response. Still, we’ve created a set of command for the --quote option for SFTP that lets the users sort of pretend that it works the same way.

Since there is no sending of the quote commands verbatim in the SFTP case, like curl does for FTP, the commands must instead be supported by curl and get translated into their underlying SFTP binary protocol bits.

In order to support most of the basic use cases people have reportedly used with curl and FTP over the years, curl supports the following commands for SFTP: chgrp, chmod, chown, ln, mkdir, pwd, rename, rm, rmdir and symlink.

The minus and asterisk prefixes as described above work for SFTP too (but not the plus prefix).

Example, delete a file after a successful download over SFTP:

curl -O sftp://example/file -Q '-rm file'

Rename a file on the target server after a successful upload:

curl -T infile sftp://example/dir/ -Q "-rename infile newname"

SSH backends

The SSH support in curl is powered by a third party SSH library. When you build curl, there are three different libraries to select from and they will have a slightly varying degree of support. The libssh2 and libssh backends are pretty much feature complete and have been around for a while, where as the wolfSSH backend is more bare bones with less features supported but at much smaller footprint.

Related options

--request changes the actual command used to invoke the transfer when listing directories with FTP.

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