Tag Archives: documentation

curl help remodeled

curl 4.8 was released in 1998 and contained 46 command line options. curl --help would list them all. A decent set of options.

When we released curl 7.72.0 a few weeks ago, it contained 232 options… and curl --help still listed all available options.

What was once a long list of options grew over the decades into a crazy long wall of text shock to users who would enter this command and option, thinking they would figure out what command line options to try next.

–help me if you can

We’ve known about this usability flaw for a while but it took us some time to figure out how to approach it and decide what the best next step would be. Until this year when long time curl veteran Dan Fandrich did his presentation at curl up 2020 titled –help me if you can.

Emil Engler subsequently picked up the challenge and converted ideas surfaced by Dan into reality and proper code. Today we merged the refreshed and improved --help behavior in curl.

Perhaps the most notable change in curl for many users in a long time. Targeted for inclusion in the pending 7.73.0 release.

help categories

First out, curl --help will now by default only list a small subset of the most “important” and frequently used options. No massive wall, no shock. Not even necessary to pipe to more or less to see proper.

Then: each curl command line option now has one or more categories, and the help system can be asked to just show command line options belonging to the particular category that you’re interested in.

For example, let’s imagine you’re interested in seeing what curl options provide for your HTTP operations:

$ curl --help http
Usage: curl [options…]
http: HTTP and HTTPS protocol options
--alt-svc Enable alt-svc with this cache file
--anyauth Pick any authentication method
--compressed Request compressed response
-b, --cookie Send cookies from string/file
-c, --cookie-jar Write cookies to after operation
-d, --data HTTP POST data
--data-ascii HTTP POST ASCII data
--data-binary HTTP POST binary data
--data-raw HTTP POST data, '@' allowed
--data-urlencode HTTP POST data url encoded
--digest Use HTTP Digest Authentication
[...]

list categories

To figure out what help categories that exists, just ask with curl --help category, which will show you a list of the current twenty-two categories: auth, connection, curl, dns, file, ftp, http, imap, misc, output, pop3, post, proxy, scp, sftp, smtp, ssh, telnet ,tftp, tls, upload and verbose. It will also display a brief description of each category.

Each command line option can be put into multiple categories, so the same one may be displayed in both in the “http” category as well as in “upload” or “auth” etc.

--help all

You can of course still get the old list of every single command line option by issuing curl --help all. Handy for grepping the list and more.

“important”

The meta category “important” is what we use for the options that we show when just curl --help is issued. Presumably those options should be the most important, in some ways.

Credits

Code by Emil Engler. Ideas and research by Dan Fandrich.

Reporting documentation bugs in curl got easier

After I watched a talk by Marcus Olsson about docs as code (at foss-sthlm on December 12 2019), I got inspired to provide links on the curl web site to make it easier for users to report bugs on documentation.

Starting today, there are two new links on the top right side of all libcurl API function call documentation pages.

File a bug about this page – takes the user directly to a new issue in the github issue tracker with the title filled in with the name of the function call, and the label preset to ‘documentation’. All there’s left is for the user to actually provide a description of the problem and pressing submit (and yeah, a github account is also required).

View man page source – instead takes the user over to browsing that particular man pages’s source file in the github source code repository.

Click the image for full resolution version.

Since this is also already live on the site, you can also browse the documentation there. Like for example the curl_easy_init man page.

If you find mistakes or omissions in the docs – no matter how big or small – feel free to try out these links!

Credits

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

libcurl video tutorial

I’ve watched how my thirteen year old son goes about to acquire information about things online. I am astonished how he time and time again deliberately chooses to get it from a video on YouTube rather than trying to find the best written documentation for whatever he’s looking for. I just have to accept that some people, even some descendants in my own family tree, prefer video as a source of information. And I realize he’s not alone.

So therefore, I bring you, the…

libcurl video tutorial

My intent is to record a series of short and fairly independent episodes, each detailing a specific libcurl area. A particular “thing”, feature, option or area of the APIs. Each episode is also thoroughly documented and all the source code seen on the video is available on the site so that viewers can either follow along while viewing, or go back to the code afterward as a reference. Or both!

I’ve done the four first episodes so far, and they range from five minutes to nineteen minutes a piece. I expect that it might take me a while to just complete the list of episodes I could come up with myself. I also hope and expect that readers and viewers will think of other areas that I could cover so the list of video episodes could easily expand over time.

Feedback

If you have comments on the episodes. If you have suggestion of what to improve or subjects to cover, head over to the libcurl-video-tutorials github page and file an issue or two!

Video setup

I use a Debian Linux installation to develop on. I figure it should be similar enough to many other systems.

Video wise, in each episode I show you my text editor for code, a terminal window for building the code, running what we build in the episode and also for looking up man page information etc. And a small image of myself. Behind those three squares, there’s a photo of a forest (taken by me).

I plan to make each episode use the same basic visuals.

In the initial “setup” episode I create a generic Makefile, which we can reuse in several (all?) other episodes to build the example code easily and swiftly. I’ve previously learned that people consider Makefiles difficult, or sometimes even magic, to work with so I wanted to get that out of the way from the start and then focus more directly on actual C code that uses libcurl.

Receive data episode

Here’s the “receive data” episode as an example of how this can look.

The link: https://bagder.github.io/libcurl-video-tutorials/

HTTP/3 Explained

I’m happy to tell that the booklet HTTP/3 Explained is now ready for the world. It is entirely free and open and is available in several different formats to fit your reading habits. (It is not available on dead trees.)

The book describes what HTTP/3 and its underlying transport protocol QUIC are, why they exist, what features they have and how they work. The book is meant to be readable and understandable for most people with a rudimentary level of network knowledge or better.

These protocols are not done yet, there aren’t even any implementation of these protocols in the main browsers yet! The book will be updated and extended along the way when things change, implementations mature and the protocols settle.

If you find bugs, mistakes, something that needs to be explained better/deeper or otherwise want to help out with the contents, file a bug!

It was just a short while ago I mentioned the decision to change the name of the protocol to HTTP/3. That triggered me to refresh my document in progress and there are now over 8,000 words there to help.

The entire HTTP/3 Explained contents are available on github.

If you haven’t caught up with HTTP/2 quite yet, don’t worry. We have you covered for that as well, with the http2 explained book.

Easier HTTP requests with h2c

I spend a large portion of my days answering questions and helping people use curl and libcurl. With more than 200 command line options it certainly isn’t always easy to find the correct ones, in combination with the Internet and protocols being pretty complicated things at times… not to mention the constant problem of bad advice. Like code samples on stackoverflow that repeats non-recommended patterns.

The notorious -X abuse is a classic example, or why not the widespread disease called too much use of the –insecure option (at a recent count, there were more than 118,000 instances of “curl –insecure” uses in code hosted by github alone).

Sending HTTP requests with curl

HTTP (and HTTPS) is by far the most used protocol out of the ones curl supports. curl can be used to issue just about any HTTP request you can think of, even if it isn’t always immediately obvious exactly how to do it.

h2c to the rescue!

h2c is a new command line tool and associated web service, that when passed a complete HTTP request dump, converts that into a corresponding curl command line. When that curl command line is then run, it will generate exactly(*) the HTTP request you gave h2c.

h2c stands for “headers to curl”.

Many times you’ll read documentation somewhere online or find a protocol/API description showing off a full HTTP request. “This is what the request should look like. Now send it.” That is one use case h2c can help out with.

Example use

Here we have an HTTP request that does Basic authentication with the POST method and a small request body. Do you know how to tell curl to send it?

The request:

POST /receiver.cgi HTTP/1.1
Host: example.com
Authorization: Basic aGVsbG86eW91Zm9vbA==
Accept: */*
Content-Length: 5
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded

hello

I save the request above in a text file called ‘request.txt’ and ask h2c to give the corresponding curl command line:

$ ./h2c < request.txt
curl --http1.1 --header User-Agent: --user "hello:youfool" --data-binary "hello" https://example.com/receiver.cgi

If we add “–trace-ascii dump” to that command line, run it, and then inspect the dump file after curl has completed, we can see that it did indeed issue the HTTP request we asked for!

Web Site

Maybe you don’t want to install another command line tool written by me in your system. The solution is the online version of h2c, which is hosted on a separate portion of the official curl web site:

https://curl.haxx.se/h2c/

The web site lets you paste a full HTTP request into a text form and the page then shows the corresponding curl command line for that request.

h2c “as a service”

Inception alert: you can also use the web version of h2c by sending over a HTTP request to it using curl. You’ll then get nothing but the correct curl command line output on stdout.

To send off the same file we used above:

curl --data-urlencode http@request.txt https://curl.haxx.se/h2c/

or of course if you rather want to pass your HTTP request to curl on stdin, that’s equally easy:

cat request.txt | curl --data-urlencode http@- https://curl.haxx.se/h2c/

Early days, you can help!

h2c was created just a few days ago. I’m sure there are bugs, issues and quirks to iron out. You can help! Files issues or submit pull-requests!

(*) = barring bugs, there are still some edge cases where the exact HTTP request won’t be possible to repeat, but where we instead will attempt to do “the right thing”.

curl: read headers from file

Starting in curl 7.55.0 (since this commit), you can tell curl to read custom headers from a file. A feature that has been asked for numerous times in the past, and the answer has always been to write a shell script to do it. Like this:

#!/bin/sh
while read line; do
  args="$args -H '$line'";
done
curl $args $URL

That’s now a response of the past (or for users stuck on old curl versions). We can now instead tell curl to read headers itself from a file using the curl standard @filename way:

$ curl -H @headers https://example.com

… and this also works if you want to just send custom headers to the proxy you do CONNECT to:

$ curl --proxy-headers @headers --proxy proxy:8080 https://example.com/

(this is a pure curl tool change that doesn’t affect libcurl, the library)

curl man page disentangled

The nroff formatted source file to the man page for the curl command line tool was some 110K and consisted of more than 2500 lines by the time this overhaul, or disentanglement if you will, started. At the moment of me writing this, the curl version in git right now, supports 204 command line options.

Working with such a behemoth of a document has gotten a bit daunting to people and the nroff formatting itself is quirky and esoteric. For some time I’ve also been interested in creating some sort of system that would allow us to generate a single web page for each individual command line option. And then possibly allow for expanded descriptions in those single page versions.

To avoid having duplicated info, I decided to create a new system in which we can document each individual command line option in a separate file and from that collection of hundreds of files we can generate the big man page, we can generate the “curl –help” output and we can create all those separate pages suitable for use to render web pages. And we can automate some of the nroff syntax to make it less error-prone and cause less sore eyes for the document editors!

With this system we also get a unified handling of things added in certain curl versions, affecting only specific protocols or dealing with references like “see also” mentions. It gives us a whole lot of meta-data for the command line options if you will and this will allow us to do more fun things going forward I’m sure.

You’ll find the the new format documented, and you can check out the existing files to get a quick glimpse on how it works. As an example, look at the –resolve documentation source.

Today I generated the first full curl.1 replacement and pushed to git, but eventually that file will be removed from git and instead generated at build time by the regular build system. No need to commit a generated file in the long term.