I have the birthday of curl remembered and I often repeat that it was started on March 20 1998. But that’s just the first time we shipped a version of the tool using the name curl. The tool, the code and the idea started before.
Back in November 1996 I found the tool httpget when I wanted to set up a cronjob to download currency rates automatically. (I can’t remember how I found it, I presume I used Altavista or something, as this was years before Google…)
I contributed back patches to that tool in late 1996 and quickly became its new maintainer when the original author Rafael Sagula handed over the keys to the kingdom to me. httpget was then a single 300 line C file. With admittedly rather crude code.
We did several httpget releases through 1997 until we after httpget 1.5 added support for FTP. The name of the tool then simply was not suitable anymore so we renamed it. To urlget.
We kept the version numbering and urlget 2.0 shipped in August 1997. We kept doing more releases and adding more features. With the combination of new upload support (no longer just “get”) and the realization that there were other tools out there already named urlget, I decided to rename the project again. So we bumped the version number and shipped curl 4.0 on March 20 1998.
The changes we did in the project before it was named curl have been a little lost, primarily because we did not use proper version control back then and not all tarballs have survived the many years since. For a long time, the changelog on the website only showed the changes done since 6.0 (Released in September 1999) but in December 2019 I did the job and added all the missing entries back in time to curl 4.0.
Based on early tarballs and their contents I went back and figured out the missing releases. All the httpget and urlget releases we did before the rename to curl. It turns out there were 29 of them – assuming my counting is correct.
The graph below shows releases per year and is now based on all these releases. Turns out that we have done exactly 250 releases to date.
Since this new extended changelog then also presumably contains all changes and bugfixes ever done, the graph over bugfixes and bugfix speed also grew more complete.
By reading the old changelog entries it is clear that we were not documenting all the bugfixes and changes as thoroughly and as detailed back then as we do these days in the project, so that is one obvious piece to the explanation for the growth in the above plot.
In release presentations and elsewhere I sometimes mention which release “number” we do. This number is now bumped significantly. I don’t think it matters much. It is just a number and this is just a correction of it. For the keen observer, it will of course cause a discrepancy that might look odd, but now I have explained it!
The next curl release becomes release 251. Later this year – the year we celebrate curl turning 25 – we can count 27 years since httpget 0.1 shipped.
The original author of httpget kept up with the development and stuck around in the project the first year or two and then slowly dwindled away. His work was rewritten many times since and already by the time curl shipped, there were no traces left of the original httpget code. Everything had already been rewritten.
Unfortunately, Rafael died many years ago so we cannot get his words or memories from these days. But we can remember and honor his work and legacy.