Alternative functions for file_get_contents()

Like many others I’ve used the native PHP function file_get_contents() to receive the content from a remote file because the functions is very easy to use. But is it the best way to do that? I see many scripts using that function and even WordPress plugins are using this function while WordPress has a native function to receive remote content.

While debugging some website, I’ve noticed that I get trouble using file_get_contents() if I use the 5G firewall rules for the remote site I tried to access. This native PHP function doesn’t send any USER AGENT information and that’s why a 5G rules has blocked the access. There are also other reasons to use other functions: Missing response codes, no option to add additional headers and limitations from your hosting provider are just a view of them. 

The file_get_contents() CURL alternative

I like CURL a lot, because there are so many options you can use. Do you ever tried to access password protected directory or FTP transport?

The simple function below is a good replacement for the PHP function file_get_contents() and accepts exact the same URL parameter.

function file_get_contents_curl($url) {
    $ch = curl_init();
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_AUTOREFERER, TRUE);
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_HEADER, 0);
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1);
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_USERAGENT, 'Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/31.0.1650.63 Safari/537.36');
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, $url);
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION, TRUE);
    $data = curl_exec($ch);
    $retcode = curl_getinfo($ch, CURLINFO_HTTP_CODE);
    if ($retcode == 200) {
        return $data;
    } else {
        return null;

Maybe your like to change check for the $retcode to accept other HTTP response codes as valid values:

if (in_array($retcode, array('200', '304'))) {

The WordPress variant for file_get_contents()

I mentioned before there is a native WordPress function that is able to do the same as file_get_contents(). The function wp_remote_get() is works almost the same and accepts some additional arguments.

<?php $args = array(
    'timeout'     => 5,
    'redirection' => 5,
    'httpversion' => '1.0',
    'user-agent'  => 'WordPress/' . $wp_version . '; ' . get_bloginfo( 'url' ),
    'blocking'    => true,
    'headers'     => array(),
    'cookies'     => array(),
    'body'        => null,
    'compress'    => false,
    'decompress'  => true,
    'sslverify'   => true,
    'stream'      => false,
    'filename'    => null
); ?>

The response is not a string but some array. This example shows how to get the returned headers and body (content).

$response = wp_remote_get( '', array( 'timeout' => 120, 'httpversion' => '1.1' ) );
if( is_array($response) ) {
  $header = $response['headers']; // array of http header lines
  $body = $response['body']; // use the content

For myself there is no reason to use file_get_contents() in any future project. How about you, do you go for “quick and dirty” or do you prefer the secure and comfortable way?