Wget vs. cURL: 6 Key Differences and When to Use Each


Wget vs. cURL: 6 Key Differences and When to Use Each

Being comfortable with the command-line interface is crucial to mastering any Linux distro. Two of the most common commands you may see are wget and cURL. These both have a similar function, downloading data through a web portal, but where do they differ? Whether you’re a novice to Linux or a seasoned professional, just wanting to learn a little more about your tools, it is definitely worth finding out the differences between the two.

Though they have a similar function, these are two very different command-line utilities. So, with this in mind, let’s explore where you might use these two, how they work, and what the actual differences are between the two of them.

Wget vs. cURL: Side-by-Side Comparison

FunctionSending HTTP requests through the command line, downloading data, scraping web dataSending HTTP requests through the command line, downloading data, scraping web data
Commercial SupportNoYes
FTP TransfersFTP support for uploads and downloadsFTP support for uploads, downloads, and interfacing with Kerberos-protected FTP servers
HTTP TransfersHTTP and HTTPS supportHTTP and HTTPS support
IPv6 SupportYesYes
LDAP SupportNoYes
POP3 SupportNoYes
Download ManagementRecursive downloads, retry failed transfersRetry failed transfers
Telnet SupportNoYes
SSH SupportNoNo
cURL is a full function Linux-based utility for downloading data from the web.


Wget vs. cURL: What’s the Difference?

At first glance, both utilities fulfill a similar function. Both deliver HTTP requests through the command line without the use of a web browser or other utilities. However, wget and cURL have different origins, and there are some rather stark differences between the two as far as their actual function. They both are quite useful, so let’s see where they excel and differ.


Both wget and cURL can connect through the HTTP protocol. Both also have support for HTTPS, the more common variant of the HTTP protocol. Off the bat, the two utilities have rather robust support for web scraping or just requesting to download a payload.

Wget is an older utility, and as such, doesn’t have support for hosts configured to use the newer IPv6 protocol. IPv6 itself isn’t as widespread as the previous IPv4, but having the option for an enterprise setting would greatly increase its utility. It also lacks support for downloading payloads through mail-oriented protocols like POP3 and IMAP. This might be due to the constraints of the utility or its age. The more modern wget2 strives to solve some of these issues.

cURL is functionally similar to wget but has far more robust support for a variety of connection protocols. The aforementioned restriction on mail-based protocols does not apply to cURL. In fact, cURL fully supports mail-oriented protocols. You can also connect to hosts configured to use the IPv6 protocol. cURL itself is built for personal and business use, so it has a great deal more flexibility for the common protocols you’ll expect to use on a day-to-day basis. This is further extended by its support for Telnet clients. Telnet itself is an older protocol and is no longer suggested due to its lack of security. However, for businesses with legacy networks or workstations, cURL can readily request transfers or scrape data from these machines.


Wget is a utility developed as part of the GNU core packages included in any Linux distro. Its core licensing utilizes the GNU Public License, and there is no business support. Your business can certainly use wget in an official capacity; just don’t expect support from the GNU Foundation if anything goes awry. However, a lack of support contracts hasn’t really hampered the adoption of Linux-based operating systems in enterprise settings.

cURL, by comparison, utilizes MIT licensing. There are readily available support contracts for business use. These are offered by wolfSSL, and the lead developer of cURL, Daniel Stenberg. This lends it a certain level of stability. While wget is certainly common in business usage, if anything goes wrong, it is up to the IT staffers to fix it. With cURL, if anything goes wrong, you have dedicated support staff who specialize in that particular piece of software. This is great for quick resolutions and provides a safety net of sorts for mission-critical systems.

Use Cases

So, with all this in mind, where would you use wget or cURL? If you’re just looking to download a payload quickly, then wget is the way to go. It is far less robust and is an older utility, as previously covered. Therefore, you can’t really expect much in the way of useful metrics. When downloading a file, you get the progress and the resultant output is wherever you point the download to go.

cURL provides a far richer text output and displays in-depth information when downloading something. If you’re familiar with other Linux-based utilities, it’s like the difference between Telnet and SSH. Any professional wouldn’t use Telnet to administer server-based functions, but it is safe enough for a quick file swap. You would use SSH for the actual work process, as it is more secure and more modern.

You can think of the differences between wget and cURL in the same way. Wget is a great way to just download a file. If you’re looking to actively keep an eye on your transfers, or handle transfers between multiple different network protocols, then cURL is the only choice.

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) graphic
Both wget and cURL support FTP downloads, but also offer so much more.


Wget vs. cURL: Must-Know Facts

Facts About Wget

  • One of the core utilities of the GNU utility set
  • Great for simple file transfers
  • One of the older network-based utilities in the Linux ecosystem

Facts About cURL

  • Robust and rich data support for file transfers
  • Supports a wider variety of network protocols
  • Has an active support contract system for businesses

Wget vs. cURL: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Choose?

There are several utilities in Linux-based operating systems that have some degree of overlap. Yes, wget and cURL serve a very similar function. Where they differ is quite apparent, however. Wget lacks support for other network protocols, has no support contract, and is less feature-rich. cURL, by comparison, has robust data available, can interact with encrypted servers, and has Telnet support.

There really isn’t a better or best choice, it more depends on what you need at the moment. If you’re looking just to download a simple file, then wget is the way to go. If you’re looking to handle batch transfers to your database server and need an in-depth display of the transfer’s progress, then cURL is the best choice for the job.

There isn’t a better or best choice here, as some jobs require different tools than others. You certainly wouldn’t use an impact gun to tighten a loose nut on a bicycle, just like you’d likely reach for something else to tighten the bolts on an internal combustion engine. So use the tool you need.

Wget vs. cURL: 6 Key Differences and When to Use Each FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can you use wget over TLS?

Wget lacks any sort of support for TLS. The best use cases for wget rely more on basic HTTP and FTP network protocols. If you’re looking for more secure transfers for more robust support for other network protocols that are in common use in an enterprise environment, then cURL is the better choice.

Can you use cURL to download a simple file?

You certainly can use cURL as a simple download utility. It might be a bit cumbersome for downloading a simple file, but it can handle this function with ease once you’re more comfortable with it. However, cURL doesn’t excel as a simple download manager, but more as a file transfer utility when you need to call upon multiple network protocols across multiple hosts.

Is wget used in a business setting?

We use wget and many other older utilities in business settings on a regular basis. It certainly isn’t the most robust or secure means of handling file transfers, but if you’re just looking to download something quickly, it works well. It likely isn’t called upon for handling file transfers between servers, for example, as it lacks crucial support for encrypted network protocols. If you don’t mind transferring data on the clearnet, this might be less of a concern.

Does wget have email support?

It does not. If you need to work with POP3 or IMAP, cURL has support for both.

Can cURL connect through SSH?

cURL has no support for SSH. It can work with Telnet, but you’ll want to use other utilities for encrypted transmissions if that is a concern.

To top