11.4 urllib -- Open arbitrary resources by URL


This module provides a high-level interface for fetching data across the World Wide Web. In particular, the urlopen() function is similar to the built-in function open(), but accepts Universal Resource Locators (URLs) instead of filenames. Some restrictions apply -- it can only open URLs for reading, and no seek operations are available.

It defines the following public functions:

urlopen(url[, data])
Open a network object denoted by a URL for reading. If the URL does not have a scheme identifier, or if it has file: as its scheme identifier, this opens a local file; otherwise it opens a socket to a server somewhere on the network. If the connection cannot be made, or if the server returns an error code, the IOError exception is raised. If all went well, a file-like object is returned. This supports the following methods: read(), readline(), readlines(), fileno(), close(), info() and geturl().

Except for the info() and geturl() methods, these methods have the same interface as for file objects -- see section 2.2.8 in this manual. (It is not a built-in file object, however, so it can't be used at those few places where a true built-in file object is required.)

The info() method returns an instance of the class mimetools.Message containing meta-information associated with the URL. When the method is HTTP, these headers are those returned by the server at the head of the retrieved HTML page (including Content-Length and Content-Type). When the method is FTP, a Content-Length header will be present if (as is now usual) the server passed back a file length in response to the FTP retrieval request. A Content-Type header will be present if the MIME type can be guessed. When the method is local-file, returned headers will include a Date representing the file's last-modified time, a Content-Length giving file size, and a Content-Type containing a guess at the file's type. See also the description of the mimetools module.

The geturl() method returns the real URL of the page. In some cases, the HTTP server redirects a client to another URL. The urlopen() function handles this transparently, but in some cases the caller needs to know which URL the client was redirected to. The geturl() method can be used to get at this redirected URL.

If the url uses the http: scheme identifier, the optional data argument may be given to specify a POST request (normally the request type is GET). The data argument must in standard application/x-www-form-urlencoded format; see the urlencode() function below.

The urlopen() function works transparently with proxies which do not require authentication. In a Unix or Windows environment, set the http_proxy, ftp_proxy or gopher_proxy environment variables to a URL that identifies the proxy server before starting the Python interpreter. For example (the "%" is the command prompt):

% http_proxy=""
% export http_proxy
% python

In a Macintosh environment, urlopen() will retrieve proxy information from Internet Config.

Proxies which require authentication for use are not currently supported; this is considered an implementation limitation.

urlretrieve(url[, filename[, reporthook[, data]]])
Copy a network object denoted by a URL to a local file, if necessary. If the URL points to a local file, or a valid cached copy of the object exists, the object is not copied. Return a tuple (filename, headers) where filename is the local file name under which the object can be found, and headers is either None (for a local object) or whatever the info() method of the object returned by urlopen() returned (for a remote object, possibly cached). Exceptions are the same as for urlopen().

The second argument, if present, specifies the file location to copy to (if absent, the location will be a tempfile with a generated name). The third argument, if present, is a hook function that will be called once on establishment of the network connection and once after each block read thereafter. The hook will be passed three arguments; a count of blocks transferred so far, a block size in bytes, and the total size of the file. The third argument may be -1 on older FTP servers which do not return a file size in response to a retrieval request.

If the url uses the http: scheme identifier, the optional data argument may be given to specify a POST request (normally the request type is GET). The data argument must in standard application/x-www-form-urlencoded format; see the urlencode() function below.

Clear the cache that may have been built up by previous calls to urlretrieve().

quote(string[, safe])
Replace special characters in string using the "%xx" escape. Letters, digits, and the characters "_,.-" are never quoted. The optional safe parameter specifies additional characters that should not be quoted -- its default value is '/'.

Example: quote('/~connolly/') yields '/%7econnolly/'.

quote_plus(string[, safe])
Like quote(), but also replaces spaces by plus signs, as required for quoting HTML form values. Plus signs in the original string are escaped unless they are included in safe.

Replace "%xx" escapes by their single-character equivalent.

Example: unquote('/%7Econnolly/') yields '/~connolly/'.

Like unquote(), but also replaces plus signs by spaces, as required for unquoting HTML form values.

urlencode(query[, doseq])
Convert a mapping object or a sequence of two-element tuples to a ``url-encoded'' string, suitable to pass to urlopen() above as the optional data argument. This is useful to pass a dictionary of form fields to a POST request. The resulting string is a series of key=value pairs separated by "&" characters, where both key and value are quoted using quote_plus() above. If the optional parameter doseq is present and evaluates to true, individual key=value pairs are generated for each element of the sequence. When a sequence of two-element tuples is used as the query argument, the first element of each tuple is a key and the second is a value. The order of parameters in the encoded string will match the order of parameter tuples in the sequence.

The public functions urlopen() and urlretrieve() create an instance of the FancyURLopener class and use it to perform their requested actions. To override this functionality, programmers can create a subclass of URLopener or FancyURLopener, then assign that an instance of that class to the urllib._urlopener variable before calling the desired function. For example, applications may want to specify a different User-Agent: header than URLopener defines. This can be accomplished with the following code:

class AppURLopener(urllib.FancyURLopener):
    def __init__(self, *args):
        self.version = "App/1.7"
        urllib.FancyURLopener.__init__(self, *args)

urllib._urlopener = AppURLopener()

class URLopener([proxies[, **x509]])
Base class for opening and reading URLs. Unless you need to support opening objects using schemes other than http:, ftp:, gopher: or file:, you probably want to use FancyURLopener.

By default, the URLopener class sends a User-Agent: header of "urllib/VVV", where VVV is the urllib version number. Applications can define their own User-Agent: header by subclassing URLopener or FancyURLopener and setting the instance attribute version to an appropriate string value before the open() method is called.

Additional keyword parameters, collected in x509, are used for authentication with the https: scheme. The keywords key_file and cert_file are supported; both are needed to actually retrieve a resource at an https: URL.

class FancyURLopener(...)
FancyURLopener subclasses URLopener providing default handling for the following HTTP response codes: 301, 302 or 401. For 301 and 302 response codes, the Location: header is used to fetch the actual URL. For 401 response codes (authentication required), basic HTTP authentication is performed. For 301 and 302 response codes, recursion is bounded by the value of the maxtries attribute, which defaults 10.

The parameters to the constructor are the same as those for URLopener.

Note: When performing basic authentication, a FancyURLopener instance calls its prompt_user_passwd() method. The default implementation asks the users for the required information on the controlling terminal. A subclass may override this method to support more appropriate behavior if needed.


  • Currently, only the following protocols are supported: HTTP, (versions 0.9 and 1.0), Gopher (but not Gopher-+), FTP, and local files.  

  • The caching feature of urlretrieve() has been disabled until I find the time to hack proper processing of Expiration time headers.

  • There should be a function to query whether a particular URL is in the cache.

  • For backward compatibility, if a URL appears to point to a local file but the file can't be opened, the URL is re-interpreted using the FTP protocol. This can sometimes cause confusing error messages.

  • The urlopen() and urlretrieve() functions can cause arbitrarily long delays while waiting for a network connection to be set up. This means that it is difficult to build an interactive Web client using these functions without using threads.

  • The data returned by urlopen() or urlretrieve() is the raw data returned by the server. This may be binary data (e.g. an image), plain text or (for example) HTML . The HTTP protocol provides type information in the reply header, which can be inspected by looking at the Content-Type: header. For the Gopher protocol, type information is encoded in the URL; there is currently no easy way to extract it. If the returned data is HTML, you can use the module htmllib to parse it.

  • This module does not support the use of proxies which require authentication. This may be implemented in the future.

  • Although the urllib module contains (undocumented) routines to parse and unparse URL strings, the recommended interface for URL manipulation is in module urlparse .

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