HTTP authentication

Each HTTP request can be made authenticated. If a server or a proxy wants the user to provide proof that they have the correct credentials to access a URL or perform an action, it can send back a HTTP response code that informs the client that it needs to provide a correct HTTP authentication header in the request to be allowed.

A server that requires authentication sends back a 401 response code and an associated WWW-Authenticate: header that lists all the authentication methods that the server supports.

An HTTP proxy that requires authentication sends back a 407 response code and an associated Proxy-Authenticate: header that lists all the authentication methods that the proxy supports.

It might be worth to note that most web sites of today do not require HTTP authentication for login etc, but they will instead ask users to login on web pages and then the browser will issue a POST with the user and password etc, and then subsequently maintain cookies for the session.

To tell curl to do an authenticated HTTP request, you use the -u, --user option to provide user name and password (separated with a colon). Like this:

curl --user daniel:secret http://example.com/

This will make curl use the default "Basic" HTTP authentication method. Yes, it is actually called Basic and it is truly very basic. To explicitly ask for the basic method, use --basic.

The Basic authentication method sends the user name and password in clear text over the network (base64 encoded) and should be avoided for HTTP transport.

When asking to do a HTTP transfer using a single (specified or implied), authentication method, curl will insert the authentication header already in the first request on the wire.

If you'd rather have curl first test if the authentication is really required, you can ask curl to figure that out and then automatically use the most safe method it knows about with --anyauth. This makes curl try the request unauthenticated, and then switch over to authentication if necessary:

curl --anyauth --user daniel:secret http://example.com/

and the same concept works for HTTP operations that may require authentication:

curl --proxy-anyauth --proxy-user daniel:secret http://example.com/ \
     --proxy http://proxy.example.com:80/

curl typically (a little depending on how it was built) speaks several other authentication methods as well, including Digest, Negotiate and NTLM. You can ask for those methods too specifically:

curl --digest --user daniel:secret http://example.com/
curl --negotiate --user daniel:secret http://example.com/
curl --ntlm --user daniel:secret http://example.com/

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