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libcurl internals
libcurl is never finished and is not just an off-the-shelf product. It is a living project that is improved and modified on almost a daily basis. We depend on skilled and interested hackers to fix bugs and to add features.
This chapter is meant to describe internal details to aid keen libcurl hackers to learn some basic concepts on how libcurl works internally and thus possibly where to look for problems or where to add things when you want to make the library do something new.

Easy handle and connections

When reading the source code there are some useful basics that are good to know and keep in mind:
  • 'data' is the variable name we use all over to refer to the easy handle (struct Curl_easy) for the transfer being worked on. No other name should be used for this and nothing else should use this name. The easy handle is the main object identifying a transfer. A transfer typically uses a connection at some point and typically only one at a time. There's a data->conn pointer that identifies the connection that is currently used by this transfer. A single connection can be used over time and even concorrently by several transfers (and thus easy handles) when multiplexed connections are used.
  • conn is the variable name we use all over the internals to refer to the current connection the code works on (struct connectdata).
  • result is the usual name we use for a CURLcode variable to hold the return values from functions and if that return value is different than zero, it is an error and the function should clean up and return (usually passing on the same error code to its parent function).

Everything is multi

libcurl offers a few different APIs to do transfers; where the primary differences are the synchronous easy interface versus the non-blocking multi interface. The multi interface itself can then be further used either by using the event-driven socket interface or the "normal" perform interface.
Internally however, everything is written for the event-driven interface. Everything needs to be written in non-blocking fashion so that functions are never waiting for data in loop or similar. Unless they are the "surface" functions that have that expressed functionality.
The function curl_easy_perform() which performs a single transfer synchronously, is itself just a wrapper function that internally will setup and use the multi interface itself.

Everything is state machines

To facilitate that non-blocking nature, the curl source is full of state machines. Work on as much data as there is and drive the state machine to where it can go based on what's available and allow the functions to continue from that point later on when more data arrives that then might drive the state machine further.
There are such states in many different levels for a given transfer and the code for each particular protocol may have its own set of state machines.
One of the primary states is the main transfer "mode" the easy handle holds, which says if the current transfer is resolving, waiting for a resolve, connecting, waiting for a connect, issuing a request, doing a transfer etc (see the CURLMstate enum in lib/multihandle.h). Every transfer done with libcurl has an associated easy handle and every easy handle will exercise that state machine.
Last modified 10d ago