20.5. urllib — Open arbitrary resources by URL


The urllib module has been split into parts and renamed in Python 3.0 to urllib.request, urllib.parse, and urllib.error. The 2to3 tool will automatically adapt imports when converting your sources to 3.0. Also note that the urllib.urlopen() function has been removed in Python 3.0 in favor of urllib2.urlopen().

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.


When opening HTTPS URLs, it is not attempted to validate the server certificate. Use at your own risk!

20.5.1. High-level interface

urllib.urlopen(url[, data[, proxies]])

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 (without universal newlines); otherwise it opens a socket to a server somewhere on the network. If the connection cannot be made 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(), getcode() and geturl(). It also has proper support for the iterator protocol. One caveat: the read() method, if the size argument is omitted or negative, may not read until the end of the data stream; there is no good way to determine that the entire stream from a socket has been read in the general case.

Except for the info(), getcode() and geturl() methods, these methods have the same interface as for file objects — see section File Objects 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.

The getcode() method returns the HTTP status code that was sent with the response, or None if the URL is no HTTP 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 be 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, or ftp_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="http://www.someproxy.com:3128"
% export http_proxy
% python

The no_proxy environment variable can be used to specify hosts which shouldn’t be reached via proxy; if set, it should be a comma-separated list of hostname suffixes, optionally with :port appended, for example cern.ch,ncsa.uiuc.edu,some.host:8080.

In a Windows environment, if no proxy environment variables are set, proxy settings are obtained from the registry’s Internet Settings section.

In a Mac OS X environment, urlopen() will retrieve proxy information from the OS X System Configuration Framework, which can be managed with Network System Preferences panel.

Alternatively, the optional proxies argument may be used to explicitly specify proxies. It must be a dictionary mapping scheme names to proxy URLs, where an empty dictionary causes no proxies to be used, and None (the default value) causes environmental proxy settings to be used as discussed above. For example:

# Use http://www.someproxy.com:3128 for http proxying
proxies = {'http': 'http://www.someproxy.com:3128'}
filehandle = urllib.urlopen(some_url, proxies=proxies)
# Don't use any proxies
filehandle = urllib.urlopen(some_url, proxies={})
# Use proxies from environment - both versions are equivalent
filehandle = urllib.urlopen(some_url, proxies=None)
filehandle = urllib.urlopen(some_url)

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

Changed in version 2.3: Added the proxies support.

Changed in version 2.6: Added getcode() to returned object and support for the no_proxy environment variable.

Deprecated since version 2.6: The urlopen() function has been removed in Python 3.0 in favor of urllib2.urlopen().

urllib.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 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.

Changed in version 2.5: urlretrieve() will raise ContentTooShortError when it detects that the amount of data available was less than the expected amount (which is the size reported by a Content-Length header). This can occur, for example, when the download is interrupted.

The Content-Length is treated as a lower bound: if there’s more data to read, urlretrieve() reads more data, but if less data is available, it raises the exception.

You can still retrieve the downloaded data in this case, it is stored in the content attribute of the exception instance.

If no Content-Length header was supplied, urlretrieve() can not check the size of the data it has downloaded, and just returns it. In this case you just have to assume that the download was successful.


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 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:

import urllib

class AppURLopener(urllib.FancyURLopener):
    version = "App/1.7"

urllib._urlopener = AppURLopener()

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

20.5.2. Utility functions

urllib.quote(string[, safe])

Replace special characters in string using the %xx escape. Letters, digits, and the characters '_.-' are never quoted. By default, this function is intended for quoting the path section of the URL.The optional safe parameter specifies additional characters that should not be quoted — its default value is '/'.

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

urllib.quote_plus(string[, safe])

Like quote(), but also replaces spaces by plus signs, as required for quoting HTML form values when building up a query string to go into a URL. Plus signs in the original string are escaped unless they are included in safe. It also does not have safe default to '/'.


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.

urllib.urlencode(query[, doseq])

Convert a mapping object or a sequence of two-element tuples to a “percent-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. 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 value element in itself can be a sequence and in that case, if the optional parameter doseq is evaluates to True, individual key=value pairs separated by '&' are generated for each element of the value sequence for the key. The order of parameters in the encoded string will match the order of parameter tuples in the sequence. The urlparse module provides the functions parse_qs() and parse_qsl() which are used to parse query strings into Python data structures.


Convert the pathname path from the local syntax for a path to the form used in the path component of a URL. This does not produce a complete URL. The return value will already be quoted using the quote() function.


Convert the path component path from an percent-encoded URL to the local syntax for a path. This does not accept a complete URL. This function uses unquote() to decode path.


This helper function returns a dictionary of scheme to proxy server URL mappings. It scans the environment for variables named <scheme>_proxy for all operating systems first, and when it cannot find it, looks for proxy information from Mac OSX System Configuration for Mac OS X and Windows Systems Registry for Windows.

20.5.3. URL Opener objects

class urllib.URLopener([proxies[, **x509]])

Base class for opening and reading URLs. Unless you need to support opening objects using schemes other than http:, ftp:, 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 class attribute version to an appropriate string value in the subclass definition.

The optional proxies parameter should be a dictionary mapping scheme names to proxy URLs, where an empty dictionary turns proxies off completely. Its default value is None, in which case environmental proxy settings will be used if present, as discussed in the definition of urlopen(), above.

Additional keyword parameters, collected in x509, may be used for authentication of the client when using the https: scheme. The keywords key_file and cert_file are supported to provide an SSL key and certificate; both are needed to support client authentication.

URLopener objects will raise an IOError exception if the server returns an error code.

open(fullurl[, data])

Open fullurl using the appropriate protocol. This method sets up cache and proxy information, then calls the appropriate open method with its input arguments. If the scheme is not recognized, open_unknown() is called. The data argument has the same meaning as the data argument of urlopen().

open_unknown(fullurl[, data])

Overridable interface to open unknown URL types.

retrieve(url[, filename[, reporthook[, data]]])

Retrieves the contents of url and places it in filename. The return value is a tuple consisting of a local filename and either a mimetools.Message object containing the response headers (for remote URLs) or None (for local URLs). The caller must then open and read the contents of filename. If filename is not given and the URL refers to a local file, the input filename is returned. If the URL is non-local and filename is not given, the filename is the output of tempfile.mktemp() with a suffix that matches the suffix of the last path component of the input URL. If reporthook is given, it must be a function accepting three numeric parameters. It will be called after each chunk of data is read from the network. reporthook is ignored for local URLs.

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.


Variable that specifies the user agent of the opener object. To get urllib to tell servers that it is a particular user agent, set this in a subclass as a class variable or in the constructor before calling the base constructor.

class urllib.FancyURLopener(...)

FancyURLopener subclasses URLopener providing default handling for the following HTTP response codes: 301, 302, 303, 307 and 401. For the 30x response codes listed above, the Location header is used to fetch the actual URL. For 401 response codes (authentication required), basic HTTP authentication is performed. For the 30x response codes, recursion is bounded by the value of the maxtries attribute, which defaults to 10.

For all other response codes, the method http_error_default() is called which you can override in subclasses to handle the error appropriately.


According to the letter of RFC 2616, 301 and 302 responses to POST requests must not be automatically redirected without confirmation by the user. In reality, browsers do allow automatic redirection of these responses, changing the POST to a GET, and urllib reproduces this behaviour.

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


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.

The FancyURLopener class offers one additional method that should be overloaded to provide the appropriate behavior:

prompt_user_passwd(host, realm)

Return information needed to authenticate the user at the given host in the specified security realm. The return value should be a tuple, (user, password), which can be used for basic authentication.

The implementation prompts for this information on the terminal; an application should override this method to use an appropriate interaction model in the local environment.

exception urllib.ContentTooShortError(msg[, content])

This exception is raised when the urlretrieve() function detects that the amount of the downloaded data is less than the expected amount (given by the Content-Length header). The content attribute stores the downloaded (and supposedly truncated) data.

New in version 2.5.

20.5.4. urllib Restrictions

  • Currently, only the following protocols are supported: HTTP, (versions 0.9 and 1.0), 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 (such as 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. If the returned data is HTML, you can use the module htmllib to parse it.

  • The code handling the FTP protocol cannot differentiate between a file and a directory. This can lead to unexpected behavior when attempting to read a URL that points to a file that is not accessible. If the URL ends in a /, it is assumed to refer to a directory and will be handled accordingly. But if an attempt to read a file leads to a 550 error (meaning the URL cannot be found or is not accessible, often for permission reasons), then the path is treated as a directory in order to handle the case when a directory is specified by a URL but the trailing / has been left off. This can cause misleading results when you try to fetch a file whose read permissions make it inaccessible; the FTP code will try to read it, fail with a 550 error, and then perform a directory listing for the unreadable file. If fine-grained control is needed, consider using the ftplib module, subclassing FancyURLopener, or changing _urlopener to meet your needs.

  • 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.

20.5.5. Examples

Here is an example session that uses the GET method to retrieve a URL containing parameters:

>>> import urllib
>>> params = urllib.urlencode({'spam': 1, 'eggs': 2, 'bacon': 0})
>>> f = urllib.urlopen("http://www.musi-cal.com/cgi-bin/query?%s" % params)
>>> print f.read()

The following example uses the POST method instead:

>>> import urllib
>>> params = urllib.urlencode({'spam': 1, 'eggs': 2, 'bacon': 0})
>>> f = urllib.urlopen("http://www.musi-cal.com/cgi-bin/query", params)
>>> print f.read()

The following example uses an explicitly specified HTTP proxy, overriding environment settings:

>>> import urllib
>>> proxies = {'http': 'http://proxy.example.com:8080/'}
>>> opener = urllib.FancyURLopener(proxies)
>>> f = opener.open("http://www.python.org")
>>> f.read()

The following example uses no proxies at all, overriding environment settings:

>>> import urllib
>>> opener = urllib.FancyURLopener({})
>>> f = opener.open("http://www.python.org/")
>>> f.read()