WebClient vs HttpClient vs HttpWebRequest



Just when I was starting to get used to call WebServices through WSDL – like I showed here and here – I had to call a RESTful API. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you’re like me a week ago. Let’s just say that:

  • a WSDL API uses SOAP to exchange XML-encoded data
  • a REST API uses HTTP to exchange JSON-encoded data

That’s a whole new paradigm. Instead of GetObject() and SetObject() methods you have a single url api/object that may receive either an HTTP GET request or an HTTP POST request.

The .NET framework offers you three different classes to consume REST APIs: HttpWebRequest, WebClient, HttpClient. To worsen your analysis paralysis the open-source community created yet another library called RestSharp. Fear not, I’ll ease your choice.

In the beginning there was… HttpWebRequest


This is the standard class that the .NET creators originally developed to consume HTTP requests. Using HttpWebRequest gives you control over every aspect of the request/response object, like timeouts, cookies, headers, protocols. Another great thing is that HttpWebRequest class does not block the user interface thread. For instance, while you’re downloading a big file from a sluggish API server, your application’s UI will remain responsive.

However, with great power comes great complexity. In order to make a simple GET you need at least five lines of code; we’ll see WebClient does it in two.

HttpWebRequest http = (HttpWebRequest)WebRequest.Create("http://example.com");
WebResponse response = http.GetResponse();

MemoryStream stream = response.GetResponseStream();
StreamReader sr = new StreamReader(stream);
string content = sr.ReadToEnd();

The number of ways you can make a mistake with HttpWebRequest is truly astounding. Only use HttpWebRequest if you require the additional low-level control that it offers.

WebClient. Simple.


WebClient is a higher-level abstraction built on top of HttpWebRequest to simplify the most common tasks. Using WebClient is potentially slower (on the order of a few milliseconds) than using HttpWebRequest directly. But that “inefficiency” comes with huge benefits: it requires less code, is easier to use, and you’re less likely to make a mistake when using it. That same request example is now as simple as:

var client = new WebClient();
var text = client.DownloadString("http://example.com/page.html");

Note: the using statements from both examples were omitted for brevity. You should definitely dispose your web request objects properly.

Don’t worry, you can still specify timeouts, just make sure you follow this workaround.

HttpClient, the best of both worlds


HttpClient provides powerful functionality with better syntax support for newer threading features, e.g. it supports the await keyword. It also enables threaded downloads of files with better compiler checking and code validation. For a complete listing of the advantages and features of this class make sure you read this SO answer.

The only downfall is that it requires .NET Framework 4.5, which many older or legacy machines might not have.

Wait, a new contestant has appeared!


Since HttpClient is only available for the .NET 4.5 platform the community developed an alternative. Today, RestSharp is one of the only options for a portable, multi-platform, unencumbered, fully open-source HTTP client that you can use in all of your applications.

It combines the control of HttpWebRequest with the simplicity of WebClient.


  • HttpWebRequest for control
  • WebClient for simplicity and brevity
  • RestSharp for both on non-.NET 4.5 environments
  • HttpClient for both + async features on .NET 4.5 environments
  • Pavan Kumar P.T

    One of the biggest drawback to HttpClient is the testability of the codebase. It does not support IHttpClient and its almost impossible to test in a clean simple way without using expensive test tools such as TypeMock etc. I would not recommend anyone using HttpClient and purely rely on RestSharp which suites for more than 99% of the cases. Now if it does not suite we have control over the codebase. We just have to implement and perform a pull request in github!

  • Raphael Espanha

    Excelente Diogo. Muito obrigado! Continua!

  • SimonGentrey

    For those who have to use .NET 2.0 for some applications, like me, it’s worth noting that RestSharp is for .NET 3.5 upwards. So for .NET 2.0 it’s WebClient vs HttpWebRequest. The following Stackoverflow answer, http://stackoverflow.com/a/8237452/216440 , mentions that WebClient runs on the UI thread so can block the UI while processing data. HttpWebRequest runs on a different thread so won’t have that problem. Just another thing to take into consideration.

  • Rasik Bihari

    Great article. Clears lot of doubts and clear cut distinction as to why these multiple flavors exist.


    When i load the website, the google analytics part is not getting loaded. How to load the same? what we can choose and how to do that?
    Need help on this

  • Sadhana Aitha

    i need to request http web request to wcf rest service. but i should not wait for responce i should continue my flow. can any one please ans to this

  • Andrei

    That’s a nice article. I wonder if someone had the same problem as me. I am trying to use HttpClient (windows phone 8.1) to send some data to my backend (using PUT method). I am doing it in a background process, and when I turn off the phone, the HttpClient fails to access the host (getting “Not found”). The background process works fine, and when I turn the phone on, the http request starts working again. Any idea what could be wrong?

  • It seems all of these clients are very basic. I don’t think any of them even supports GZip decoding? HttpClient doesn’t even send the headers for this 🙁

  • Mats Magnem

    I have encountered a post on StackOverflow where it shows that the HttpClient has a memory leak when used in a short-lived object in a long-living app (not able to link from here, but search “HttpClientHandler / HttpClient Memory Leak”). There are ways around this, but does anyone know if this is also an issue for RestSharp?

  • Thank you!!! I’ll share your post

  • Dinesh

    Wow.. Thank you!!!

  • Great, quick overview — gave me the background and caught me up quickly. Thanks!

  • I chose RestSharp because of portability, simplicity, and community documentation.