Implementing Web Sockets With cURL

WebSocket is an internet protocol that allow full-duplex communication between a client and a TCP/HTTP server. This means that data can be passed in both directions simultaneously. Unlike HTTP, in WebSocket protocol, the client doesn’t have to send a request in order to get responses. Incoming messages are handled by event handlers. HTML5 supports the javascript object WebSocket.  This object has the function ‘send’ that sends a message to the server, and event listener defined by the developer:

onOpen(evt) – Connection Opened.

onMessage(evt) – Message received.

onError(evt) – Error occured.

onClose – Connection Closed.

A little example can be found here.

How to do it with cURL?

cURL does not support the WebSocket protocol. It won’t process a request if the URL string begins with ‘ws://’. You should use ‘http://’ or ‘https://’ instead, and define request headers and cURL event listeners yourself. In cURL, you’ll define:

  •  A header function using the option ‘CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER’ to check if a connection has been established.
  •  A write function using ‘CURLOPT_WRITEFUNCTION’ to handle in-coming messages.
  •  A socket function using CURLOPT_OPENSOCKETFUNCTION to obtain an IO socket thru which to send messages to the server.

The WebSocket protocol is standardized by RFC 6455,

The following sections will discuss the parts of a C program implementing a Web Socket.

The Main Loop

This part creates a cURL handle by calling curl_easy_init(), defines headers, URL and callback functions using curl_easy_setopt(), and finally call ‘curl_easy_perform().

Following is an example:

  handle = curl_easy_init();
  // Add headers
  header_list_ptr = curl_slist_append(NULL , "HTTP/1.1 101 WebSocket Protocol Handshake");
  header_list_ptr = curl_slist_append(header_list_ptr , "Upgrade: WebSocket");
  header_list_ptr = curl_slist_append(header_list_ptr , "Connection: Upgrade");
  header_list_ptr = curl_slist_append(header_list_ptr , "Sec-WebSocket-Version: 13");
  header_list_ptr = curl_slist_append(header_list_ptr , "Sec-WebSocket-Key: x3JJHMbDL1EzLkh9GBhXDw==");
  curl_easy_setopt(handle, CURLOPT_URL, "");
  curl_easy_setopt(handle, CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER, header_list_ptr);
  curl_easy_setopt(handle, CURLOPT_OPENSOCKETFUNCTION, my_opensocketfunc);
  curl_easy_setopt(handle, CURLOPT_HEADERFUNCTION, my_func);
  curl_easy_setopt(handle, CURLOPT_WRITEFUNCTION, my_writefunc);

Obtaining a Socket

The socket is a resource used for sending messages to the server. Messages received from the server will be handled by the write function. Following is a function that returns the desired socket:

curl_socket_t my_opensocketfunc(void *clientp,
curlsocktype purpose,
struct curl_sockaddr *address){

return sock=socket(address->family, address->socktype, address->protocol);

The Request Header

The request header is defined in section 4.1 Client Requirements of RFC 6455.

The Response Header

The response header is defined in section 4.2.1. Reading the Client’s Opening Handshake of RFC 6455.

The response header fields should be checked by the header function. The format of a field is:

title: value <CRLF>

When the last field is received, the data contained in the first argument to the header function is a buffer of lenght two bytes,: <CRLF> i.e. byte 0x0d followed by 0x0a.

The structures of responses is defined here.

Sending and Receiving Messages

The format of messages is defined in section 5.2. Base Framing Protocol of RFC 6455.

A simple example is an unmask text message. In such a message the 1st byte will contain the hexadecimal value ‘0x81’. The 1st bit denotes that it is the final fragment, and the last 4 bits denotes a text message. The next byte will contain the length if shorter than 126 bytes. If the length is a 16bit number larger than 125 the byte will hold the value 0x7E, and the following 2 bytes the 16bit length. If the message is longer than 65,535 bytes, the 2nd byte will hold the value 0x7F, and the following 8 bytes will hold the length. The rest of the bytes are the payload data.

To send a message, use the C function ‘write’, as foolows:

write(sock, buff, length);

Incoming messages will be handle by the write function, given as the 3rd parameter to the curl_easy_setopt with the option ‘CURLOPT_WRITEFUNCTION’.

Read more about libcurl here.