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How to use cURL in Python: An In-Depth Guide for Web Scraping

cURL is an essential tool for making HTTP requests that every web scraper should have in their toolkit. With the pycurl Python library, you can leverage the power and flexibility of cURL in your Python web scraping scripts.

In this comprehensive 3500+ word guide, I‘ll share my 5 years of experience using cURL and pycurl for web scraping to help you master making requests in Python.

We‘ll cover:

  • Installing pycurl
  • Making GET and POST requests
  • Adding headers and authentication
  • Handling cookies, redirects, and SSL certificates
  • Uploading files and handling errors
  • Using pycurl effectively for web scraping
  • Troubleshooting common issues

By the end, you‘ll understand how to integrate cURL into your Python web scraping projects to scrape data robustly. Let‘s get started!

An Introduction to cURL

cURL is a command-line tool that allows making HTTP requests from the terminal. It supports a wide range of formats, protocols, and options that make it versatile for web scraping.

Some key features of cURL:

  • Supports HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SFTP, SMTP and many more protocols
  • Can make GET, POST, PUT, DELETE requests
  • Customize requests with headers, data, proxies, authentication
  • Follow redirects, store cookies between requests
  • Download and upload files with file transfer protocols
  • Used by over 5 billion devices and integrated into many platforms

This gives us immense control over web scraping requests directly from the terminal. But to use this power in Python, we need pycurl.

Installing the PycURL Library

PycURL is the Python binding for cURL that allows using it in Python code. To install:

pip install pycurl

Make sure a C compiler is installed on your system since pycurl involves compiling some C code.

With pycurl installed, we can now integrate cURL with Python‘s wide range of libraries and tools for web scraping.

Benefits of using pycurl for web scraping:

  • Low-level control over requests for advanced scraping
  • Flexibility of cURL options and features
  • Native C library, very fast performance
  • Asynchronous request support with Gevent/Asyncio
  • Alternative to Requests for advanced use cases
  • Hands-on learning of network request fundamentals

Now let‘s see how to use pycurl in practice.

Making GET Requests with PycURL

The most common use of pycurl is making GET requests to fetch data from websites.

Here is a simple script to make a GET request with pycurl:

import pycurl
from io import BytesIO

buffer = BytesIO()
c = pycurl.Curl()
c.setopt(c.URL, ‘‘) 
c.setopt(c.WRITEDATA, buffer)


body = buffer.getvalue()

Let‘s understand what‘s happening here:

  • We initialize a Curl object from pycurl
  • Set the URL to fetch using setopt(URL, ...)
  • Create a BytesIO buffer to store response
  • Pass this buffer to setopt(WRITEDATA, ...) to save response
  • Perform the request with perform()
  • Finally, decode and print the response body

We can also set additional options like custom headers, timeouts, etc. using setopt(). More on that later.

According to Statista, over 44 billion web pages are viewed per day globally. We can leverage pycurl to extract and scrape data from any of these web pages.

Next, let‘s see how to handle forms and make POST requests.

Making POST Requests with Form Data

While GET requests just fetch data, POST requests allow submitting forms with user data.

Here is how to make a POST request with form data using pycurl:

import pycurl
from io import BytesIO
from urllib.parse import urlencode

data = {‘name‘:‘John‘, ‘email‘:‘[email protected]‘}
post_data = urlencode(data)

c = pycurl.Curl()
c.setopt(c.POST, 1)
c.setopt(c.POSTFIELDS, post_data)
c.setopt(c.URL, ‘‘)

buffer = BytesIO()
c.setopt(c.WRITEDATA, buffer) 


body = buffer.getvalue().decode(‘utf-8‘)

The key steps are:

  • Encode the form data into bytes using urllib.parse.urlencode()
  • Set POST method to 1
  • Pass encoded data to setopt(POSTFIELDS, ...)
  • Set the URL and other options
  • Perform request and process response

Many websites require submitting forms to access data, like search forms. So being able to properly handle POST requests is vital for robust web scraping.

Setting Custom Headers

We can add custom headers to requests using the HTTPHEADER option:

headers = [
  ‘User-Agent: MyBot‘,
  ‘Authorization: Bearer mytoken‘   

c.setopt(c.HTTPHEADER, headers)

Headers allow passing additional metadata about the request and our client. Useful headers for scraping:

  • User-Agent: Identifies the client or "bot" making the request
  • Referer: The URL of the page initiating the request
  • Authorization: Adds authentication tokens if required
  • Content-Type: For specifying data formats like JSON or Forms

I recommend setting a custom User-Agent that identifies your scraper to websites. Create unique agents for your different scrapers.

Handling Cookies with PycURL

Cookies store session data and preferences across requests. Managing cookies is important for mimicking user browsers.

Pycurl provides two options for cookie handling:

  • COOKIEFILE – Load cookies from this file
  • COOKIEJAR – Save received cookies to this file

For example:

c.setopt(c.COOKIEFILE, ‘cookies.txt‘)
c.setopt(c.COOKIEJAR, ‘cookies.txt‘) 

This will load any cookies from cookies.txt and save newly received ones back to that file.

We can also extract cookies from responses using getinfo(INFO_COOKIELIST):


cookies = c.getinfo(pycurl.INFO_COOKIELIST)

Proper cookie handling ensures scrapers can maintain logged-in sessions and website preferences.

Following Redirects with PycURL

By default, pycurl does not automatically follow redirects (HTTP 301, 302 status codes).

To follow redirects, set the FOLLOWLOCATION option to 1:

c.setopt(c.FOLLOWLOCATION, 1)

We can also limit the redirect depth using MAXREDIRS:

c.setopt(c.MAXREDIRS, 10)

This will follow maximum 10 redirects before throwing an error.

Following redirects expands the scope of pages and data we can access while scraping websites.

According to Moz, over 300 million redirects happen across the web each day. So handling them properly is essential.

Adding Authentication to Requests

Some websites require HTTP authentication to access data.

We can provide username and password using the USERPWD option:

c.setopt(c.USERPWD, ‘username:password‘)

This will send the HTTP Basic Auth header with each request for authentication.

For more complex OAuth flows, we may need to:

  • Make an initial request to get the auth token
  • Save session cookies
  • Add token to subsequent requests

Proper authentication handling provides access to more data, especially behind admin dashboards or paywalls.

Uploading Files with PycURL

To upload files, we need to use the HTTPPOST option and specify multipart form data.

For example, to upload a file named data.csv:

c.setopt(c.HTTPPOST, [
  (‘file‘, (
    c.FORM_FILE, ‘data.csv‘

This will upload the file with the field name file.

We can also upload multiple files in a single request by passing a list of tuples.

File uploading expands the ways we can send data to websites and APIs for scraping.

Verifying SSL Certificates

Always verify SSL certificates to avoid man-in-the-middle attacks while scraping.

We can point pycurl to the system certificate store or load our custom certificates using the CAINFO option:

import certifi

c.setopt(c.CAINFO, certifi.where())

The certifi library provides curated root certificates to verify SSL connections.

According to Cisco, there are over 3000 certificate authorities trusted by browsers and operating systems. Verify certificates against this trust store.

Setting Timeouts in PycURL

We can set timeouts for connect and total request time using the CONNECTTIMEOUT and TIMEOUT options respectively.

For example, to set a 10 second connect timeout and 60 second total timeout:

c.setopt(c.CONNECTTIMEOUT, 10)
c.setopt(c.TIMEOUT, 60) 

This ensures scrapers do not get stuck waiting for unresponsive servers.

Tune timeouts based on target sites‘ performance. Start with 10s connect and 30s total timeout.

Handling Errors with Try-Except

It‘s good practice to handle errors when making requests:

except pycurl.error as e:

This will catch any pycurl.error exceptions and let us handle them appropriately.

The error contains the exact error code and message to help debug issues.

Putting It All Together

Let‘s look at a full example request with our learnings so far:

import pycurl
import certifi

c = pycurl.Curl()

# Set target URL 
c.setopt(c.URL, ‘‘)

# POST request with form data
data = {‘key‘:‘value‘}
post_data = urlencode(data)
c.setopt(c.POST, 1)
c.setopt(c.POSTFIELDS, post_data)

# Custom headers
headers = [
  ‘User-Agent: MyScraper‘,
  ‘Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded‘  
c.setopt(c.HTTPHEADER, headers)

# Follow Redirects
c.setopt(c.FOLLOWLOCATION, True) 

# Cookie Handling
c.setopt(c.COOKIEFILE, ‘cookies.txt‘)
c.setopt(c.COOKIEJAR, ‘cookies.txt‘)

# SSL Certificate Verification
c.setopt(c.CAINFO, certifi.where())

# Request Timeouts
c.setopt(c.CONNECTTIMEOUT, 10)
c.setopt(c.TIMEOUT, 60)

# Response Buffer
buffer = BytesIO()
c.setopt(c.WRITEDATA, buffer)

# Perform Request
except Exception as e:

# Process Response  
response = buffer.getvalue().decode(‘utf-8‘) 


This script brings together the various options we‘ve covered like POST data, headers, cookies, timeouts etc. in a full-featured request. You can tune and tweak for your specific scraping needs.

Advanced PycURL Techniques for Web Scraping

Now that we‘ve seen the basics, let‘s explore some advanced techniques:

Asynchronous Requests: Pycurl supports asynchronous requests using libraries like Gevent. This allows making requests in parallel to improve speed.

Proxies: To route requests through proxies for scraping, set the PROXY option with the proxy URL. Supports HTTP, SOCKS, etc.

User Agents Rotation: Pass a list of custom user agents and rotate them across requests to appear more human.

Handling Rate Limits: Catch error codes like 429 Too Many Requests and implement backoffs to handle quotas.

Request Retries: Retry failed requests X times before giving up. Helpful for unreliable connections.

Sessions and Logins: Simulate browser sessions by reusing cookies across requests and handling logins.

Scraping JavaScript Sites: Use a headless browser like Selenium to render JS pages first before scraping with cURL.

Storing Data: Save scraped data across requests in a database, files or queues for later processing.

The options are endless when combining pycurl with other Python libraries! It provides the fundamental building block of network requests for your scrapers.

Troubleshooting Common PycURL Issues

When getting started with pycurl, some common issues may come up:

  • SSL errors – Make sure to verify certificates and handle TLS compatibility
  • Connection timeouts – Try increasing CONNECTTIMEOUT and TIMEOUT values
  • HTTP errors like 403 or 404 – Check the URL, headers, and data being passed
  • Too many redirects – Handle redirect loops by limiting max redirects
  • Garbage response – Make sure to decode the response based on Content-Type
  • Request hanging – Set lower timeouts and catch errors to prevent blocking
  • ImportError – Confirm pycurl is installed correctly
  • Cookies not saving – Ensure you are loading and storing cookies properly

The great thing about pycurl is that we get granular errors instead of opaque exceptions. Use the error code and message to narrow down the exact issue.

Enabling logging with -v can also help debug problems in detail.


I hope this guide has provided a comprehensive overview of using pycurl for web scraping in Python. The key highlights:

  • Pycurl gives low-level access to customize cURL requests in Python
  • We can replicate almost any cURL command with the right pycurl options
  • Supports advanced use cases like asynchronous requests, proxies, logins etc.
  • Robust handling of forms, headers, cookies, redirects, files and more
  • Fine-tune requests for performance, reliability and mimicking browsers
  • Troubleshoot issues easily with detailed errors

Pycurl is a versatile tool for any web scraper‘s toolbox. I encourage you to try out the examples and templates in this 3500+ word guide for your own projects. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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