Lately, I found myself frustrated after having recursively downloaded parts of some websites via Wget. By chance, I discovered that one or two files had been skipped despite the program’s otherwise well working retry mechanism. It turns out that it is not trivial to fix the result of such a situation. What can you do when you have downloaded several dozen html files linking to hundreds (perhaps thousands) of other resources, with all the links neatly re-written to work offline… except for a few files that failed to download? A simple retry of the whole download is not feasible, as the -r (--recursive) option does not prevent re-downloading all the other correctly downloaded material again. It is not especially harmful per se, since those files will be overwritten with identical content, but still, it is a waste of time, bandwidth and server resources. And partial re-downloads of missing material do not play well with -k (--convert-links), also required for a download suitable for local browsing. The best solution, as always, would be to prevent the failures from happening in the first place.

Inspection of the logs revealed that the downloads failed with obscure error codes such as HTTP 503 (Service Unavailable). Investigating further, I found that the exact semantics of several HTTP result codes are server-specific (or rather, CDN- or webapp-specific). Hence, it is not entirely clear whether Wget should retry the retrieval in such cases. And indeed, it does not retry in case of a 503. In my case, the CDN apparently decided that servers were momentarily overloaded and denied my request in the name of load regulation, leaving me unhappy with an incomplete, broken download.

At any rate, I found it unfortunate that there was no way to force Wget to retry in these cases. Others, too, have seemingly arrived at the same conclusion. This led me to start poking around in the source code of Wget to see if I can modify its wired-in behaviour.

The answer is yes. Wget maintainer Tim Rühsen was kind to quickly respond and comment on my patch, merging it after a round of thoughtful review comments. As a byproduct of accepting my patch, a feature request open for eleven years has now been closed!

From the contributed usage documentation:


Consider given HTTP response codes as non-fatal, transient errors. Supply a comma-separated list of 3-digit HTTP response codes as argument. Useful to work around special circumstances where retries are required, but the server responds with an error code normally not retried by Wget. Such errors might be 503 (Service Unavailable) and 429 (Too Many Requests). Retries enabled by this option are performed subject to the normal retry timing and retry count limitations of Wget.

Using this option is intended to support special use cases only and is generally not recommended, as it can force retries even in cases where the server is actually trying to decrease its load. Please use wisely and only if you know what you are doing.

My patch has been part of the changes released as Wget version 1.19.1, so now (if you run that version or newer) you can just write something like:

wget --retry-on-http-error=503 ...

If there are multiple HTTP result codes for which you would like Wget to retry ignoring the “usual” retry semantics, list them comma-separated. I found it useful to test the behaviour by pointing Wget to a test service:

wget --retry-on-http-error=429,503,504

That URL will always answer with code 503; you can change the number in the URL to any other code to get that result code in the reply.

In real life, however, you really want to use this together with a sufficiently high --waitretry setting. You do not want to noticeably increase the load on the server, but then again, you don’t want to be the one suffering from an incomplete download either. So the best solution is to retry after a politely long wait. You might also want to use option -t (--tries) to change the allowed retry count.