http2 in curl

The curl project has been providing experimental http2 support since September 2013.

In the spirit of curl, we intend to support just about every aspect of http2 that we possibly can. curl is often used as a test tool and tinkerer's way to poke on web sites and we intend to keep that up for http2 as well.

curl uses the separate library nghttp2 for the http2 frame layer functionality. curl requires nghttp2 1.0 or later.

Note that currently on linux curl and libcurl are not always delivered with HTTP/2 protocol support enabled.

11.1. HTTP 1.x look-alike

Internally, curl will convert incoming http2 headers to HTTP 1.x style headers and provide them to the user, so that they will appear very similar to existing HTTP. This allows for an easier transition for whatever is using curl and HTTP today. Similarly curl will convert outgoing headers in the same style. Give them to curl in HTTP 1.x style and it will convert them on the fly when talking to http2 servers. This also allows users to not have to bother or care very much with which particular HTTP version that is actually used on the wire.

11.2. Plain text, insecure

curl supports http2 over standard TCP via the Upgrade: header. If you do an HTTP request and ask for HTTP 2, curl will ask the server to update the connection to http2 if possible.

11.3. TLS and what libraries

curl supports a wide range of different TLS libraries for its TLS back-end, and that is still valid for http2 support. The challenge with TLS for http2's sake is the ALPN support and to some extent NPN support.

Build curl against modern versions of OpenSSL or NSS to get both ALPN and NPN support. Using GnuTLS or PolarSSL you will get ALPN support but not NPN.

11.4. Command line use

To tell curl to use http2, either plain text or over TLS, you use the --http2 option (that is “dash dash http2”). curl defaults to HTTP/1.1 for HTTP: URLs so the extra option is necessary when you want http2 for that. For HTTPS URLs, curl will attempt to use http2.

11.5. libcurl options

11.5.1 Enable HTTP/2

Your application would use https:// or http:// URLs like normal, but you set curl_easy_setopt's CURLOPT_HTTP_VERSION option to CURL_HTTP_VERSION_2 to make libcurl attempt to use http2. It will then do a best effort and do http2 if it can, but otherwise continue to operate with HTTP 1.1.

11.5.2 Multiplexing

As libcurl tries to maintain existing behaviors to a far extent, you need to enable HTTP/2 multiplexing for your application with the CURLMOPT_PIPELINING option. Otherwise it will continue using one request at a time per connection.

Another little detail to keep in mind is that if you ask for several transfers at once with libcurl, using its multi interface, an application can very well start any number of transfers at once and if you then rather have libcurl wait a little to add them all over the same connection rather than opening new connections for all of them at once, you use the CURLOPT_PIPEWAIT option for each individual transfer you rather wait.

11.5.3 Server push

libcurl 7.44.0 and later supports HTTP/2 server push. You can take advantage of this feature by setting up a push callback with the CURLMOPT_PUSHFUNCTION option. If the push is accepted by the application, it'll create a new transfer as an CURL easy handle and deliver content on it, just like any other transfer.

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