How To Do HTTP Requests In PHP With cURL

Making HTTP requests is one of the most fundamental tasks that you can perform as a web developer. As such, it’s important to know how to do them properly in the language of your choice. Having recently made the jump to PHP, it took me a while to understand how these were done. However, now that I’ve familiarized myself with it, I thought I’d share other newcomers ๐Ÿค“ how to do HTTP requests in PHP with cURL, a built-in library.

What is cURL?

If you’ve spent some time in the web development sphere, you might have already heard of it. cURL, which stands for client URL, is an open-source command line tool that is used to transfer and receive data using internet protocols such as HTTP, HTTPS and FTP. Created by Daniel Stenberg in 1997, cURL is used in countless devices ranging from cars ๐Ÿš— and television sets to tablets and audio equipment. ๐Ÿ”‰

So where does PHP come into play? Well, PHP has a module called cURL PHP that allows us to access the functionality offered by this awesome tool. Let me show you next how to use it, ‘kay?

GIF of Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants rubbing his hands, indicating it's time to get started with the code section of the article how to do HTTP requests in PHP with cURL
Time to get started! ๐Ÿ˜‹

The Code

In this tutorial, I’ll be showing you how to do the 2 most common HTTP request methods: GET and POST. However, regardless of which method you opt for (even PUT and DELETE) , they will all follow the same steps.

  1. Initialize a cURL session
  2. Set the URL and other various options for the session
  3. Execute the request and save the response
  4. Close the session to free up resources

Seems pretty straightforward, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ So how would this look like with code?

<?php
    // 1. Open cURL session
    $ch = curl_init();

    // 2. Set options
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, "https://chunkbytes.com");
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1);

    // 3. Execute and save response
    $response = curl_exec($ch);

    // 4. Close cURL session
    curl_close($ch);
?>

Perhaps with the exception of the options setting (which we’ll get into next ๐Ÿ˜), everything appears to be quite straightforward. At the end of these 4 steps, you’re left with a variable $response that contains the response of our GET request. This may be JSON, a string or a complete HTML page.

Understanding options

Next to error handling, options are where you will be paying attention most of the time. Options are set with the curl_setopt(resource $ch, int $option, mixed $value) function, which takes three parameters: the cURL resource/session, the option and its corresponding value.

So you may be wondering: “So what kind of options can I set?” ๐Ÿค” Ahem…. maannnnyyyy! Too many to even go through one by one. Fortunately, you will only need a handful for most of your requests:

  • CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER – Return the response as a string instead of outputting it to the screen
  • CURLOPT_CONNECTTIMEOUT – The number of seconds to wait while trying to connect
  • CURLOPT_TIMEOUT – The number of seconds to allow cURL functions to execute
  • CURLOPT_URL – The URL to fetch
  • CURLOPT_CUSTOMREQUEST – Set custom request method such as PUT or DELETE. cURL defaults to GET
  • CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS – An array of the data to send in a request
  • CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER – An array of HTTP header fields to set

A handy trick

Now, it doesn’t take a genius ๐Ÿค“ to realize that you’ll be repeating curl_setopt() quite a bit if you need to set several options. Of course, the creators were well aware of this and have provided us two ways to cut down on the repetitiveness.

First, instead of setting the URL with curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, "chunkbytes.com"), we can pass in the URL immediately when initializing the cURL session, like so: $ch = curl_init("chunkbytes.com").

Second, we can use curl_setopt_array(resource $ch, array $options) to set multiple options at once. An example would look as follows.

curl_setopt_array($ch, [
    CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER => 1,
    CURLOPT_URL => "chunkbytes.com"
]);
Gotta love clean code! ๐Ÿ’ป

Receiving the response

As you surely noticed before, curl_exec($ch) is responsible for executing your HTTP request. In addition to that, it will return three different responses depending on the following conditions:

  • false if the request fails to execute
  • true if the request executes without error and CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER is set to false
  • The result (e.g JSON) if the request executes without error and CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER is set to true

Another useful function at your disposable is curl_getinfo($ch), which returns information about your request, such as the response code or total transaction time.

Error handling

Errors โŒ happen… there’s nothing you can do about it. But at the very least, you should know how to properly handle them with cURL. For this task, we have two functions: curl_error($ch) and curl_errno($ch). If applicable, the former returns the error message, while the latter returns the cURL error code. The most common way to use these two functions is with an if statement.

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

POST request

So far, all examples I’ve been showing you were GET requests. In fact, when no request method is specified, cURL simply defaults to GET. To tell cURL you would like execute a POST method, simply set the CURLOPT_POST option to true. However, I prefer to use the option CURLOPT_CUSTOMREQUEST as any method may be specified with it. One less option to remember! ๐Ÿ˜

Without further ado, let’s see how you would preform a proper POST request, with error and JSON handling.

<?php
// Initialize cURL resource
$ch = curl_init("https://chunkbytes.com/doesnotexist");

// Data to send
$payload = [
  "item1" => "value",
  "item2" => "value2"
];

// Header to send
$header = ['Content-Type:application/json'];

// Set cURL options
curl_setopt_array($ch, [
  CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER => 1,
  CURLOPT_CUSTOMREQUEST => "POST",
  CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS => json_encode($payload),
  CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER => $header
]);

// Execute the request and save the response
$response = curl_exec($ch);

// Check for errors
if (!$response) {
  die('Error: "' . curl_error($ch) . '" - Code: ' . curl_errno($ch));
}

// Decode the received JSON
$received_data = json_decode($response);

// Close session to clear up resources
curl_close($ch);

In this example, we attached a payload to our request. For this, we needed to encode our payload and set the appropriate headers in the options. If you’re not familiar with JSON handling in PHP, why not check out my article on this topic (shameless plug ๐Ÿ˜…).


Did you find what you came for? Want me to cover something else? Let me know in the comments below! Share, if you liked this post! This tutorial merely scratched the surface of what you can do with cURL. For more information, check out the documentation.

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