How to Encode URL with cURL

Table of Contents


cURL, short for Client URL, is a powerful command-line tool and library for transferring data with URLs. It supports a wide range of protocols, including HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, FTPS, SCP, SFTP, LDAP, and more. When working with URLs in cURL, it’s essential to encode them properly to ensure that special characters are represented correctly.

In this article, we will explore how to encode URLs with cURL, providing step-by-step instructions along with relevant coding examples.

URL Encoding Basics

URL encoding, also known as percent-encoding, is a mechanism for converting reserved and unsafe characters in a URL into a format that can be transmitted over the internet. The encoding is done by replacing each unsafe character with a percentage sign (%) followed by two hexadecimal digits.

For example:

  • Space (‘ ‘) becomes ‘%20’
  • Ampersand (‘&’) becomes ‘%26’
  • Question mark (‘?’) becomes ‘%3F’

Encoding URLs with cURL

1. Basic cURL Command

To make a cURL request with an encoded URL, use the following basic syntax:


Replace <HTTP_METHOD> with the HTTP method you want to use (e.g., GET, POST) and <ENCODED_URL> with the properly encoded URL.

2. Manual URL Encoding

You can manually encode a URL using the --data-urlencode option for cURL. This is useful when you want to encode specific parameters in the URL.

curl -X GET --data-urlencode "param1=value 1" --data-urlencode "param2=value&2" ""

3. Using urlencode in Shell

You can leverage the shell’s urlencode function to encode URLs directly in the command line. This function is not native to all shells, but it is commonly available.

urlencode() {
  python -c "import sys, urllib.parse as ul; print(ul.quote(sys.argv[1]))" "$1"

url=" 1¶m2=value&2"
encoded_url=$(urlencode "$url")

curl -X GET "$encoded_url"

In this example, the urlencode function uses Python to perform URL encoding, and then cURL is used to make the request.

4. Using jq and Perl

If you have jq (a lightweight and flexible command-line JSON processor) and Perl installed, you can use the following approach:

url=" 1¶m2=value&2"
encoded_url=$(echo "$url" | jq -s -R -r @uri)

curl -X GET "$encoded_url"

Here, jq is used to apply URL encoding, and cURL is used to make the request.

Advanced URL Encoding with cURL

5. URL Encoding Query Parameters

When dealing with query parameters in a URL, it’s important to encode each parameter individually. Use the --data-urlencode option for each parameter in your cURL command.

curl -X GET --data-urlencode "param1=value 1" --data-urlencode "param2=value&2" ""

This command ensures that each parameter is correctly encoded, preventing issues with special characters.

6. Batch URL Encoding with Bash Arrays

If you have multiple parameters to encode, you can use Bash arrays to simplify the process. This method is especially useful when dealing with a large number of parameters.

# Define an array of parameters
params=("param1=value 1" "param2=value&2" "param3=value3")

# URL encode each parameter
for param in "${params[@]}"; do
  encoded_params+=("--data-urlencode $param")

# Combine encoded parameters and make the cURL request
eval curl -X GET "${encoded_params[@]}" "$url"

This approach automates the URL encoding of multiple parameters, enhancing the maintainability of your cURL commands.

7. Dealing with Special Characters

Sometimes, URLs contain characters that need special attention, such as the ‘@’ symbol. To handle these cases, use single quotes around the URL to prevent unwanted interpretation by the shell.

url="[email protected]"
encoded_url=$(urlencode "$url")

# Use single quotes to prevent issues with special characters
curl -X GET "$encoded_url"

8. Handling Authentication Information

If your URL includes authentication information, such as a username and password, it’s crucial to encode these details. The --user option in cURL allows you to include the credentials securely.


# URL encode username and password
encoded_username=$(urlencode "$username")
encoded_password=$(urlencode "$password")

# Make the cURL request with authentication
curl -X GET --user "$encoded_username:$encoded_password" "$url"


Mastering URL encoding with cURL is essential for building robust and secure scripts and applications that interact with web resources. The advanced techniques covered in this article provide flexibility and efficiency when working with URLs, enabling you to handle various scenarios effectively. Whether dealing with query parameters, special characters, or authentication information, applying proper URL encoding ensures smooth communication between your application and web servers.

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