cURL Requests with PHP

Introduction

cURL allows transfer of data across a wide variety of protocols, and is a very powerful system. It's widely used as a way to send data across websites, including things like API interaction and oAuth. cURL is unrestricted in what it can do, from the basic HTTP request, to the more complex FTP upload or interaction with an authentication enclosed HTTPS site. We'll be looking at the simple difference between sending a GET and POST request and dealing with the returned response, as well as highlighting some useful parameters.

Basics

Before we can do anything with a cURL request, we need to first instantiate an instance of cURL - we can do this by calling the function curl_init();, which returns a cURL resource. This function takes one parameter which is the URL that you want to send the request to, however, in our case, we'll hold off doing that for now and set it an alternatively way later.

Settings

Once we've got a cURL resource, we can begin to assign some settings, below is a list of some of the core ones that I set

We can set a setting by using the curl_setopt() method, which takes three parameters, the cURL resource, the setting and the value. So, to set the URL that we're sending the request to as http://testcURL.com:

$curl = curl_init();
curl_setopt($curl, CURLOPT_URL, 'http://testcURL.com');

As mentioned, we can set the URL by sending a parameter through when getting the cURL resource:

$curl = curl_init('http://testcURL.com');

It is possible to set multiple settings at one time by passing through an array of settings and values to the function curl_setopt_array():

$curl = curl_init();
curl_setopt_array($curl, array(
    CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER => 1,
    CURLOPT_URL => 'http://testcURL.com'
));

Sending request

When all of the options are sent, and the request is ready to send, we can call the curl_exec() method which will execute the cURL request. This function can return three different things:

Using the previous example, where we are wanting to get the result back, we would use the following:

$result = curl_exec($curl);

With $result now containing the response from the page - which might be JSON, a string or a full blown site's HTML.

Close Request

When you've sent a request and got the result back, you should look to close the cURL request so that you can free up some system resources, this is as simple as calling the curl_close() method which as with all other functions takes the resource as its parameter.

GET Request

A GET request is the default request method that is used, and is very straight forward to use, infact all of the examples so far have been GET requests. If you want to send parameters along in the request you simply append them to the URL as a query string such as http://testcURL.com/?item1=value&item2=value2.

So for example to send a GET request to the above URL and return the result we would use:

// Get cURL resource
$curl = curl_init();
// Set some options - we are passing in a useragent too here
curl_setopt_array($curl, array(
    CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER => 1,
    CURLOPT_URL => 'http://testcURL.com/?item1=value&item2=value2',
    CURLOPT_USERAGENT => 'Codular Sample cURL Request'
));
// Send the request & save response to $resp
$resp = curl_exec($curl);
// Close request to clear up some resources
curl_close($curl);

POST Request

The sole difference between the POST and GET request syntax is the addition of one setting, two if you want to send some data. We'll be setting CURLOPT_POST to true and sending an array of data through with the setting CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS

So for example switching the above GET request to be a POST request, we would use the following code:

// Get cURL resource
$curl = curl_init();
// Set some options - we are passing in a useragent too here
curl_setopt_array($curl, array(
    CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER => 1,
    CURLOPT_URL => 'http://testcURL.com',
    CURLOPT_USERAGENT => 'Codular Sample cURL Request',
    CURLOPT_POST => 1,
    CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS => array(
        item1 => 'value',
        item2 => 'value2'
    )
));
// Send the request & save response to $resp
$resp = curl_exec($curl);
// Close request to clear up some resources
curl_close($curl);

There you have a POST request that will work the same as our GET request above and return the response back to the script so that you can use it as you want.

Errors

As much as we all hate errors, you really need to take care to account for any eventuality with cURL as ultimately you will not have control over the site(s) that you are sending your request to, you cannot guarantee that the response will be in the format that you want, or that the site will even be available.

There are a few functions that you can use to handle errors and these are:

An example usage would be:

if(!curl_exec($curl)){
    die('Error: "' . curl_error($curl) . '" - Code: ' . curl_errno($curl));
}

You might want to look at using the setting CURLOPT_FAILONERROR as true if you want any HTTP response code greater than 400 to cause an error, instead of returning the page HTML.

curl_exec($theEnd);

cURL is a behemoth, and has many many possibilities. Some sites might only serve pages to some user agents, and when working with APIs, some might request you send a specfici user agent, this is something to be aware of. If you want to have a play with some cURL requests, why not have a go at playing with oAuth with Instagram.

Tags: PHP, cURL