Fetching Website Data into Memory

Receive data directly into memory by creating a data task from a URL session.


For small interactions with remote servers, you can use the URLSessionDataTask class to receive response data into memory (as opposed to using the URLSessionDownloadTask class, which stores the data directly to the file system). A data task is ideal for uses like calling a web service endpoint.

You use a URL session instance to create the task. If your needs are fairly simple, you can use the shared instance of the URLSession class. If you want to interact with the transfer through delegate callbacks, you’ll need to create a session instead of using the shared instance. You use a URLSessionConfiguration instance when creating a session, also passing in a class that implements URLSessionDelegate or one of its subprotocols. Sessions can be reused to create multiple tasks, so for each unique configuration you need, create a session and store it as a property.

Once you have a session, you create a data task with one of the dataTask() methods. Tasks are created in a suspended state, and can be started by calling resume().

Receive Results with a Completion Handler

The simplest way to fetch data is to create a data task that uses a completion handler. With this arrangement, the task delivers the server’s response, data, and possibly errors to a completion handler block that you provide. Figure 1 shows the relationship between a session and a task, and how results are delivered to the completion handler.

Figure 1

Creating a completion handler to receive results from a task

Figure showing a URL Session creating a URL Session Data Task. The task then sends the original request, retrieved data, or an error to the completion handler.

To create a data task that uses a completion handler, call the dataTask(with:) method of URLSession. Your completion handler needs to do three things:

  1. Verify that the error parameter is nil. If not, a transport error has occurred; handle the error and exit.

  2. Check the response parameter to verify that the status code indicates success and that the MIME type is an expected value. If not, handle the server error and exit.

  3. Use the data instance as needed.

Listing 1 shows a startLoad() method for fetching a URL’s contents. It starts by using the URLSession class’s shared instance to create a data task that delivers its results to a completion handler. After checking for local and server errors, this handler converts the data to a string, and uses it to populate a WKWebView outlet. Of course, your app might have other uses for fetched data, like parsing it into a data model.

Listing 1

Creating a completion handler to receive data-loading results

func startLoad() {
    let url = URL(string: "")!
    let task = URLSession.shared.dataTask(with: url) { data, response, error in
        if let error = error {
        guard let httpResponse = response as? HTTPURLResponse,
            (200...299).contains(httpResponse.statusCode) else {
        if let mimeType = httpResponse.mimeType, mimeType == "text/html",
            let data = data,
            let string = String(data: data, encoding: .utf8) {
            DispatchQueue.main.async {
                self.webView.loadHTMLString(string, baseURL: url)

Receive Transfer Details and Results with a Delegate

For a greater level of access to the task’s activity as it proceeds, when creating the data task, you can set a delegate on the session, rather than providing a completion handler. Figure 2 shows this arrangement.

Figure 2

Implementing a delegate to receive results from a task

Figure showing a URLSession creating a URLSessionDataTask. The session calls back to the delegate with progress updates, retrieved data, authentication challenges, etc.

With this approach, portions of the data are provided to the urlSession(_:dataTask:didReceive:) method of URLSessionDataDelegate as they arrive, until the transfer finishes or fails with an error. The delegate also receives other kinds of events as the transfer proceeds.

You need to create your own URLSession instance when using the delegate approach, rather than using the URLSession class’s simple shared instance. Creating a new session allows you to set your own class as the session’s delegate, as shown in Listing 2.

Declare that your class implements one or more of the delegate protocols (URLSessionDelegate, URLSessionTaskDelegate, URLSessionDataDelegate, and URLSessionDownloadDelegate). Then create the URL session instance with the initializer init(configuration:delegate:delegateQueue:). You can customize the configuration instance used with this initializer. For example, it’s a good idea to set waitsForConnectivity to true. That way, the session waits for suitable connectivity, rather than failing immediately if the required connectivity is unavailable.

Listing 2

Creating a URLSession that uses a delegate

private lazy var session: URLSession = {
    let configuration = URLSessionConfiguration.default
    configuration.waitsForConnectivity = true
    return URLSession(configuration: configuration,
                      delegate: self, delegateQueue: nil)

Listing 3 shows a startLoad() method that uses this session to start a data task, and uses delegate callbacks to handle received data and errors. This listing implements three delegate callbacks:

Listing 3

Using a delegate with a URL session data task

var receivedData: Data?

func startLoad() {
    loadButton.isEnabled = false
    let url = URL(string: "")!
    receivedData = Data()
    let task = session.dataTask(with: url)

// delegate methods

func urlSession(_ session: URLSession, dataTask: URLSessionDataTask, didReceive response: URLResponse,
                completionHandler: @escaping (URLSession.ResponseDisposition) -> Void) {
    guard let response = response as? HTTPURLResponse,
        let mimeType = response.mimeType,
        mimeType == "text/html" else {

func urlSession(_ session: URLSession, dataTask: URLSessionDataTask, didReceive data: Data) {

func urlSession(_ session: URLSession, task: URLSessionTask, didCompleteWithError error: Error?) {
    DispatchQueue.main.async {
        self.loadButton.isEnabled = true
        if let error = error {
        } else if let receivedData = self.receivedData,
            let string = String(data: receivedData, encoding: .utf8) {
            self.webView.loadHTMLString(string, baseURL: task.currentRequest?.url)

The various delegate protocols offer methods beyond those shown in the above code, for handling authentication challenges, following redirects, and other special cases. Using a URL Session, in the URLSession discussion, describes the various callbacks that may occur during a transfer.

See Also

First Steps

Uploading Data to a Website

Post data from your app to servers.

Downloading Files in the Background

Create tasks that download files while your app is inactive.

class URLSession

An object that coordinates a group of related network data transfer tasks.

class URLSessionConfiguration

A configuration object that defines behavior and policies for a URL session.

class URLSessionTask

A task, like downloading a specific resource, performed in a URL session.