Introducing httpl i b

Before you can use httplib2, you'll need to install it. Visit and download the latest version. httplib2 is available for Python 2.x and Python 3.x;make sure you get the Python 3 version, named something like

Unzip the archive, open a terminal window, and go to the newly created httplib2 directory. On Windows, open the Start menu, select Run..., type cmd.exe and press ENTER.

c:\Users\pilgrim\Downloads> dir Volume in drive C has no label. Volume Serial Number is DED5-B4F8

Directory of c:\Users\pilgrim\Downloads


07/28/2009 12:33 PM


18,997 bytes

3 Dir(s) 61,496,684,544 bytes free c:\Users\pilgrim\Downloads> cd httplib2-python3-0.5.0

c:\Users\pilgrim\Downloads\httplib2-python3-0.5.0> c:\python31\python.exe install running install running build running build_py running install_lib creating c:\python31\Lib\site-packages\httplib2

copying build\lib\httplib2\ -> c:\python31\Lib\site-packages\httplib2

copying build\lib\httplib2\ -> c:\python31\Lib\site-packages\httplib2

byte-compiling c:\python31\Lib\site-packages\httplib2\ to iri2uri.pyc byte-compiling c:\python31\Lib\site-packages\httplib2\ to _init_.pyc running install_egg_info

Writing c:\python31\Lib\site-packages\httplib2-python3_0.5.0-py3.1.egg-info

On Mac OS X, run the application in your /Applications/Utilities/ folder. On Linux, run the Terminal application, which is usually in your Applications menu under Accessories or System.

[email protected]:~/Desktop$ unzip Archive: inflating: httplib2-python3-0.5.0/README inflating: httplib2-python3-0.5.0/ inflating: httplib2-python3-0.5.0/PKG-INFO

inflating: httplib2-python3-0.5.0/httplib2/ inflating: httplib2-python3-0.5.0/httplib2/ [email protected]:~/Desktop$ cd httplib2-python3-0.5.0/

[email protected]:~/Desktop/httplib2-python3-0.5.0$ sudo python3 install running install running build running build_py creating build creating build/lib.linux-x86_64-3.1 creating build/lib.linux-x86_64-3.1/httplib2

copying httplib2/ -> build/lib.linux-x86_64-3.1/httplib2

copying httplib2/ -> build/lib.linux-x86_64-3.1/httplib2

running install_lib creating /usr/local/lib/python3.1/dist-packages/httplib2

copying build/lib.linux-x86_64-3.1/httplib2/ -> /usr/local/lib/python3.1/dist-packag copying build/lib.linux-x86_64-3.1/httplib2/ -> /usr/local/lib/python3.1/dist-pack;

byte-compiling /usr/local/lib/python3.1/dist-packages/httplib2/ to iri2uri.pyc byte-compiling /usr/local/lib/python3.1/dist-packages/httplib2/ to _init_.pyc running install_egg_info

Writing /usr/local/lib/python3.1/dist-packages/httplib2-python3_0.5.0.egg-info To use httplib2, create an instance of the httplib2.Http class.

>>> import httplib2

>>> response, content = h.request('') @ >>> response.status ®

b"<?xml version='1.0' encoding='utf-8'?>\r\n<feed xmlns=" >>> len(content) 3070

1. The primary interface to httplib2 is the Http object. For reasons you'll see in the next section, you should always pass a directory name when you create an Http object. The directory does not need to exist; httplib2 will create it if necessary.

2. Once you have an Http object, retrieving data is as simple as calling the request() method with the address of the data you want. This will issue an HTTP GET request for that URL. (Later in this chapter, you'll see how to issue other HTTP requests, like POST.)

3. The request() method returns two values. The first is an httplib2.Response object, which contains all the HTTP headers the server returned. For example, a status code of 200 indicates that the request was successful.

4. The content variable contains the actual data that was returned by the HTTP server. The data is returned as a bytes object, not a string. If you want it as a string, you'll need to determine the character encoding and convert it yourself.

^^ You probably only need one httplib2.Http object. There are valid reasons for creating more than one, but you should only do so if you know why you need them. "I need to request data from two different URLs" is not a valid reason. Re-use the Http object and just call the request() method twice.

14.5.1. a Short Digression To Explain Why httplib2 Returns Bytes Instead of Strings

Bytes. Strings. What a pain. Why can't httplib2 "just" do the conversion for you? Well, it's complicated, because the rules for determining the character encoding are specific to what kind of resource you're requesting. How could httplib2 know what kind of resource you're requesting? It's usually listed in the Content-Type HTTP header, but that's an optional feature of HTTP and not all HTTP servers include it. If that header is not included in the HTTP response, it's left up to the client to guess. (This is commonly called "content sniffing," and it's never perfect.)

If you know what sort of resource you're expecting (an XML document in this case), perhaps you could "just" pass the returned bytes object to the xml.etree.ElementTree.parse() function. That'll work as long as the XML document includes information on its own character encoding (as this one does), but that's an optional feature and not all XML documents do that. If an XML document doesn't include encoding information, the client is supposed to look at the enclosing transport — i.e. the Content-Type HTTP header, which can include a charset parameter.

But it's worse than that. Now character encoding information can be in two places: within the XML document itself, and within the Content-Type HTTP

1 support

header. If the information is in both places, which one wins? According to RFC 3023 (I swear I am not making this up), if the media type given in the ContentType HTTP header is application/xml, application/xml-dtd, application/ xml-external-parsed-entity, or any one of the subtypes of application/xml such as application/atom+xml or application/rss+xml or even application/ rdf+xml, then the encoding is

1. the encoding given in the charset parameter of the Content-Type HTTP header, or

2. the encoding given in the encoding attribute of the XML declaration within the document, or

On the other hand, if the media type given in the Content-Type HTTP header is text/xml, text/xml-external-parsed-entity, or a subtype like text/AnythingAtAll+xml, then the encoding attribute of the XML declaration within the document is ignored completely, and the encoding is

1 support

1. the encoding given in the charset parameter of the Content-Type HTTP header, or

2. us-ascii

And that's just for XML documents. For HTML documents, web browsers have constructed such byzantine rules for content-sniffing [PDF] that we're still trying to figure them all out.

"Patches welcome."

14.5.2. How httplib2 Handles Caching

Remember in the previous section when I said you should always create an httplib2.Http object with a directory name? Caching is the reason.

# continued from the previous example

>>> response2, content2 = h.request('http://diveintopython3 >>> response2.status 200

b"<?xml version='1.0' encoding='utf-8'?>\r\n<feed xmlns=" >>> len(content2) 3070

1. This shouldn't be terribly surprising. It's the same thing you did last time, except you're putting the result into two new variables.

2. The HTTP status is once again 200, just like last time.

3. The downloaded content is the same as last time, too.

So... who cares? Quit your Python interactive shell and relaunch it with a new session, and I'll show you.

# Please exit out of the interactive shell

# and launch a new one. >>> import httplib2

>>> response, content = h.request('') ® >>> len(content) @



1. Let's turn on debugging and see what's on the wire. This is the httplib2 equivalent of turning on debugging in http.client. httplib2 will print all the data being sent to the server and some key information being sent back.

2. Create an httplib2.Http object with the same directory name as before.

3. Request the same URL as before. Nothing appears to happen. More precisely, nothing gets sent to the server, and nothing gets returned from the server. There is absolutely no network activity whatsoever.

4. Yet we did "receive" some data — in fact, we received all of it.

5. We also "received" an HTTP status code indicating that the "request" was successful.

6. Here's the rub: this "response" was generated from httplib2's local cache. That directory name you passed in when you created the httplib2.Http object — that directory holds httplib2's cache of all the operations it's ever performed.

^^ If you want to turn on httplib2 debugging, you need to set a module-level constant (httplib2.debuglevel), then create a new httplib2.Http object. If you want to turn off debugging, you need to change the same module-level constant, then create a new httplib2.Http object.

You previously requested the data at this URL. That request was successful (status: 200). That response included not only the feed data, but also a set of caching headers that told anyone who was listening that they could cache this resource for up to 24 hours (Cache-Control: max-age=86400, which is 24 hours measured in seconds). httplib2 understand and respects those caching headers, and it stored the previous response in the .cache directory (which you passed in when you create the Http object). That cache hasn't expired yet, so the second time you request the data at this URL, httplib2 simply returns the cached result without ever hitting the network.

I say "simply," but obviously there is a lot of complexity hidden behind that simplicity. httplib2 handles HTTP caching automatically and by default. If for some reason you need to know whether a response came from the cache, you can check response.fromcache. Otherwise, it Just Works.

Now, suppose you have data cached, but you want to bypass the cache and re-request it from the remote server. Browsers sometimes do this if the user specifically requests it. For example, pressing F5 refreshes the current page, but pressing Ctrl + F5 bypasses the cache and re-requests the current page from the remote server. You might think "oh, I'll just delete the data from my local cache, then request it again." You could do that, but remember that there may be more parties involved than just you and the remote server. What about those intermediate proxy servers? They're completely beyond your control, and they may still have that data cached, and will happily return it to you because (as far as they are concerned) their cache is still valid.


What's on

the wire?





Instead of manipulating your local cache and hoping for the best, you should use the features of HTTP to ensure that your request actually reaches the remote server.

# continued from the previous example

>>> response2, content2 = h.request('', ... headers={'cache-control':'no-cache'}) ® connect: (, 80) ®

send: b'GET /examples/feed.xml HTTP/1.1 Host: user-agent: Python-httplib2/$Rev: 259 $ accept-encoding: deflate, gzip cache-control: no-cache' reply: 'HTTP/1.1 200 OK' „further debugging information omitted... >>> response2.status 200


'content-location': '', 'accept-ranges': 'bytes',

'expires': 'Wed, 03 Jun 2009 00:40:26 GMT', 'vary': 'Accept-Encoding', 'server': 'Apache',

'content-type': 'application/xml'}

1. httplib2 allows you to add arbitrary HTTP headers to any outgoing request. In order to bypass all caches (not just your local disk cache, but also any caching proxies between you and the remote server), add a no-cache header in the headers dictionary.

2. Now you see httplib2 initiating a network request. httplib2 understands and respects caching headers in both directions — as part of the incoming response and as part of the outgoing request. It noticed that you added the no-cache header, so it bypassed its local cache altogether and then had no choice but to hit the network to request the data.

3. This response was not generated from your local cache. You knew that, of course, because you saw the debugging information on the outgoing request. But it's nice to have that programmatically verified.

4. The request succeeded;you downloaded the entire feed again from the remote server. Of course, the server also sent back a full complement of HTTP headers along with the feed data. That includes caching headers, which httplib2 uses to update its local cache, in the hopes of avoiding network access the next time you request this feed. Everything about HTTP caching is designed to maximize cache hits and minimize network access. Even though you bypassed the cache this time, the remote server would really appreciate it if you would cache the result for next time.

14.5.3. How httplib2 Handles Last-Modified and ETag Headers

The Cache-Control and Expires caching headers are called freshness indicators. They tell caches in no uncertain terms that you can completely avoid all network access until the cache expires. And that's exactly the behavior you saw in the previous section: given a freshness indicator, httplib2 does not generate a single byte of network activity to serve up cached data (unless you explicitly bypass the cache, of course).

But what about the case where the data might have changed, but hasn't? HTTP defines Last-Modified and Etag headers for this purpose. These headers are called validators. If the local cache is no longer fresh, a client can send the validators with the next request to see if the data has actually changed. If the data hasn't changed, the server sends back a 304 status code and no data. So there's still a round-trip over the network, but you end up downloading fewer bytes.

>>> response, content = h.request('') ®

connect: (, 80)

Host: accept-encoding: deflate, gzip user-agent: Python-httplib2/$Rev: 259 $'

{'-content-encoding': 'gzip', 'accept-ranges': 'bytes', 'connection': 'close', 'content-length': '6657',

'content-location': '',

'etag': "'7f806d-1a01-9fb97900"\ 'last-modified': 'Tue, 02 Jun 2009 02:51:48 GMT',

'vary': 'Accept-Encoding,User-Agent'} >>> len(content) ®


1. Instead of the feed, this time we're going to download the site's home page, which is HTML. Since this is the first time you've ever requested this page, httplib2 has little to work with, and it sends out a minimum of headers with the request.

2. The response contains a multitude of HTTP headers... but no caching information. However, it does include both an ETag and Last-Modified header.

3. At the time I constructed this example, this page was 6657 bytes. It's probably changed since then, but don't worry about it.

# continued from the previous example

>>> response, content = h.request('') ® connect: (, 80) send: b'GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: if-none-match: "7f806d-1a01-9fb97900" ®

if-modified-since: Tue, 02 Jun 2009 02:51:48 GMT ®

accept-encoding: deflate, gzip user-agent: Python-httplib2/$Rev: 259 $'



1. You request the same page again, with the same Http object (and the same local cache).

2. httplib2 sends the ETag validator back to the server in the If-None-Match header.

3. httplib2 also sends the Last-Modified validator back to the server in the If-Modified-Since header.

4. The server looked at these validators, looked at the page you requested, and determined that the page has not changed since you last requested it, so it sends back a 304 status code and no data.

5. Back on the client, httplib2 notices the 304 status code and loads the content of the page from its cache.

6. This might be a bit confusing. There are really two status codes — 304 (returned from the server this time, which caused httplib2 to look in its cache), and 200 (returned from the server last time, and stored in httplib2's cache along with the page data). response.status returns the status from the cache.

7. If you want the raw status code returned from the server, you can get that by looking in response.dict, which is a dictionary of the actual headers returned from the server.

8. However, you still get the data in the content variable. Generally, you don't need to know why a response was served from the cache. (You may not even care that it was served from the cache at all, and that's fine too. httplib2 is smart enough to let you act dumb.) By the time the request() method returns to the caller, httplib2 has already updated its cache and returned the data to you.

14.5.4. How http21ib Handles Compression

HTTP supports several types of compression; the two most common types are gzip and deflate. http1ib2 supports both of these.


"We have

both kinds

of music,





>>> response, content = h.request('') connect: (, 80) send: b'GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: accept-encoding: deflate, gzip ®

user-agent: Python-httplib2/$Rev: 259 $' reply: 'HTTP/1.1 200 OK' >>> print(dict(response.items()))

'accept-ranges': 'bytes', 'connection': 'close', 'content-length': '6657',

'content-location': '',

'vary': 'Accept-Encoding,User-Agent'}

1. Every time httplib2 sends a request, it includes an Accept-Encoding header to tell the server that it can handle either deflate or gzip compression.

2. In this case, the server has responded with a gzip-compressed payload. By the time the request() method returns, httplib2 has already decompressed the body of the response and placed it in the content variable, If you're curious about whether or not the response was compressed, you can check response['-content-encoding']; otherwise, don't worry about it.

14.5.5. How httplib2 Handles Redirects

HTTP defines two kinds of redirects: temporary and permanent. There's nothing special to do with temporary redirects except follow them, which httplib2 does automatically.

>>> response, content = h.request('') ® connect: (, 80)

Host: accept-encoding: deflate, gzip user-agent: Python-httplib2/$Rev: 259 $'

send: b'GET /examples/feed.xml HTTP/1.1 @

Host: accept-encoding: deflate, gzip user-agent: Python-httplib2/$Rev: 259 $'

1. There is no feed at this URL. I've set up my server to issue a temporary redirect to the correct address.

2. There's the request.

3. And there's the response: 302 Found. Not shown here, this response also includes a Location header that points to the real URL.

4. httplib2 immediately turns around and "follows" the redirect by issuing another request for the URL given in the Location header:

"Following" a redirect is nothing more than this example shows. httplib2 sends a request for the URL you asked for. The server comes back with a response that says "No no, look over there instead." httplib2 sends another request for the new URL.

# continued from the previous example

'content-location': '', @ 'accept-ranges': 'bytes',

'expires': 'Thu, 04 Jun 2009 02:21:41 GMT', 'vary': 'Accept-Encoding', 'server': 'Apache',

'last-modified': 'Wed, 03 Jun 2009 02:20:15 GMT', 'connection': 'close',

'date': 'Wed, 03 Jun 2009 02:21:41 GMT', 'content-type': 'application/xml'}

1. The response you get back from this single call to the request() method is the response from the final URL.

2. httplib2 adds the final URL to the response dictionary, as content-location. This is not a header that came from the server;it's specific to httplib2.

3. Apropos of nothing, this feed is compressed.

4. And cacheable. (This is important, as you'll see in a minute.)

The response you get back gives you information about the final URL. What if you want more information about the intermediate URLs, the ones that eventually redirected to the final URL? httplib2 lets you do that, too.

# continued from the previous example

'content-location': '', 'expires': 'Thu, 04 Jun 2009 02:21:41 GMT', 'server': 'Apache', 'connection': 'close',

'location': '', 'cache-control': 'max-age=86400', 'date': 'Wed, 03 Jun 2009 02:21:41 GMT', 'content-type': 'text/html; charset=iso-8859-1'} >>> type(response) ®

<class 'httplib2.Response'> >>> type(response.previous) <class 'httplib2.Response'>

>>> response.previous.previous ®

1. The response.previous attribute holds a reference to the previous response object that httplib2 followed to get to the current response object.

2. Both response and response.previous are httplib2.Response objects.

3. That means you can check response.previous.previous to follow the redirect chain backwards even further. (Scenario: one URL redirects to a second URL which redirects to a third URL. It could happen!) In this case, we've already reached the beginning of the redirect chain, so the attribute is None.

What happens if you request the same URL again?

# continued from the previous example

>>> response2, content2 = h.request('') ® connect: (, 80)

Host: accept-encoding: deflate, gzip user-agent: Python-httplib2/$Rev: 259 $'


1. Same URL, same httplib2.Http object (and therefore the same cache).

2. The 302 response was not cached, so httplib2 sends another request for the same URL.

3. Once again, the server responds with a 302. But notice what didn't happen: there wasn't ever a second request for the final URL, cached (remember the Cache-Control header that you saw in the previous example). Once httplib2 received the 302 Found code, it checked its cache before issuing another request. The cache contained a fresh copy of, so there was no need to re-request it.

4. By the time the request() method returns, it has read the feed data from the cache and returned it. Of course, it's the same as the data you received last time.

In other words, you don't have to do anything special for temporary redirects. httplib2 will follow them automatically, and the fact that one URL redirects to another has no bearing on httplib2's support for compression, caching, ETags, or any of the other features of HTTP.

Permanent redirects are just as simple.

# continued from the previous example

>>> response, content = h.request('') ®

connect: (, 80)

send: b'GET /examples/feed-301.xml HTTP/1.1

Host: accept-encoding: deflate, gzip user-agent: Python-httplib2/$Rev: 259 $'

reply: 'HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently' ®


1. Once again, this URL doesn't really exist. I've set up my server to issue a permanent redirect to

2. And here it is: status code 301. But again, notice what didn't happen: there was no request to the redirect URL. Why not? Because it's already cached locally.

3. httplib2 "followed" the redirect right into its cache.

But wait! There's more!

# continued from the previous example >>> response2, content2 = h.request('http: >>> response2.fromcache True

>>> content2 == content True') ®

1. Here's the difference between temporary and permanent redirects: once httplib2 follows a permanent redirect, all further requests for that URL will transparently be rewritten to the target URL without hitting the network for the original URL. Remember, debugging is still turned on, yet there is no output of network activity whatsoever.

2. Yep, this response was retrieved from the local cache.

3. Yep, you got the entire feed (from the cache).

HTTP. It works.

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