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Showing Or Saving An Image Retrieved Via cURL



As a developer cURL can be a very handy for numerous reasons. In my case I have used it for my plugin Twitter Stream, but here we are going to look at a little tip I stumbled across while playing with cURL.
cURL is used to make a connection to an external source to retrieve the content at the source. What most people new to cURL don’t realize is that it can be used to retrieve any content, including images.

Display An Image In Browser After Retrieval Via cURL

Let’s take a look at an example of displaying a image in browser after using cURL to grab it.

//The cURL stuff…
$ch = curl_init();


curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, ‘’);
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_HEADER, 0);
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1);
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_BINARYTRANSFER,1);
$picture = curl_exec($ch);
//Display the image in the browser
header(‘Content-type: image/jpeg’);
echo $picture;

Yes, believe it or not it is actually that simple. Example of cURL grabbing an image and it being displayed in browser.

Let’s also go through what is going on a little. First we initialize cURL, we set the URL, then we tell it we don’t want the header information. We tell it we want to return the information, and we also state we want the transfer to be binary. We then execute it & store the result in a variable, and close/destroy the cURL connection/handler.
Finally we tell the browser that the content we are going to hand it is a jpeg image. You could of course use a MIME type grabbed from the image. Then we echo the binary information inside the variable, that is then interpreted as an image thanks to the content type.

Saving An Image Retrieved Via cURL

Let’s take a look at how to save the image instead of sending it to the browser.

//cURL code is exactly the same as before…
//Save image…


$fh = fopen(‘filename.jpg’, ‘x’);
fwrite($fh, $picture);

A little more complicated that the previous example, but if you are familiar with PHP file operations it’s still very simple. I can’t really give an example for this one, as you won’t be able to see the result. Trust me though, it works. ;)

Let’s go through this one a little too. The cURL section is exactly the same as before so we don’t need to cover that. First we use fopen to create a file handler & tell PHP what file to write too. xtells PHP to create the file if it doesn’t exist, but to error out if it does already exist. Then we usefwrite to write the raw binary data held in the variable $picture to the file. We then close & destroy the file handler by using fclose.

Possible Uses

One of the main reasons to use cURL to save or display a remote image is that some servers/hosts have allow_url_fopen turned off. This means functions like fopen can’t open files held on external servers.
You could go into the whole copyright issue of displaying other people’s images etc, but I’m not going to get started on my thoughts about that. Just be careful with this kind of script & use it with care.
I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial. If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to leave them below.

1 Comment

  1. Nice

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