Timing With Curl

By Susam Pal on 10 Jul 2010

Here is a command I use often while measuring why an HTTP request is taking too long:

curl -L -w "time_namelookup: %{time_namelookup}
time_connect: %{time_connect}
time_appconnect: %{time_appconnect}
time_pretransfer: %{time_pretransfer}
time_redirect: %{time_redirect}
time_starttransfer: %{time_starttransfer}
time_total: %{time_total}
" https://example.com/

Here is the same command written as a one-liner, so that I can copy it easily from this page with a triple-click whenever I need it in future:

curl -L -w "time_namelookup: %{time_namelookup}\ntime_connect: %{time_connect}\ntime_appconnect: %{time_appconnect}\ntime_pretransfer: %{time_pretransfer}\ntime_redirect: %{time_redirect}\ntime_starttransfer: %{time_starttransfer}\ntime_total: %{time_total}\n" https://example.com/

Here is how the output of the above command typically looks:

$ curl -L -w "namelookup: %{time_namelookup}\nconnect: %{time_connect}\nappconnect: %{time_appconnect}\npretransfer: %{time_pretransfer}\nstarttransfer: %{time_starttransfer}\ntotal: %{time_total}\n" https://example.com/
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
time_namelookup: 0.001403
time_connect: 0.245464
time_appconnect: 0.757656
time_pretransfer: 0.757823
time_redirect: 0.000000
time_starttransfer: 0.982111
time_total: 0.982326

In the output above, I have omitted most of the HTML output and replaced the omitted part with ellipsis for the sake of brevity.

The list below provides a description of each number in the output above. This information is picked straight from the manual page of curl 7.20.0. Here are the details:

An important thing worth noting here is that the difference in the numbers for time_appconnect and time_connect time tells us how much time is spent in SSL/TLS handshake. For a cleartext connection without SSL/TLS, this number is reported as zero. Here is an example output that demonstrates this:

$ curl -L -w "time_namelookup: %{time_namelookup}\ntime_connect: %{time_connect}\ntime_appconnect: %{time_appconnect}\ntime_pretransfer: %{time_pretransfer}\ntime_redirect: %{time_redirect}\ntime_starttransfer: %{time_starttransfer}\ntime_total: %{time_total}\n" http://example.com/
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
time_namelookup: 0.001507
time_connect: 0.247032
time_appconnect: 0.000000
time_pretransfer: 0.247122
time_redirect: 0.000000
time_starttransfer: 0.512645
time_total: 0.512853

Also note that time_redirect is zero in both outputs above. That is because no redirection occurs while visiting example.com. Here is another example that shows how the output looks when a redirection occurs:

$ curl -L -w "time_namelookup: %{time_namelookup}\ntime_connect: %{time_connect}\ntime_appconnect: %{time_appconnect}\ntime_pretransfer: %{time_pretransfer}\ntime_redirect: %{time_redirect}\ntime_starttransfer: %{time_starttransfer}\ntime_total: %{time_total}\n" https://susam.in/blog
time_namelookup: 0.001886
time_connect: 0.152445
time_appconnect: 0.465326
time_pretransfer: 0.465413
time_redirect: 0.614289
time_starttransfer: 0.763997
time_total: 0.765413

When faced with a potential latency issue in web services, this is often one of the first commands I run several times from multiple clients because the results form this command help to get a quick sense of the layer that might be responsible for the latency issue.