using "sockets" or "scraping" in php

I have heard that it is possible to log into other sites using php on a server...i've seen it referred to as scraping or opening a socket, neither of which I am familiar with (not sure if they're the same thing)

to clarify, i want to automate certain processes that take waaay to long to do manually...
so, i want to:

1. open a connection with a website (let's say Paypal)
2. enter my username and password and "click" the submit button
3. go to the "send payments" page
4. enter all the required info for a payment (taken from my database)
5. submit the payment form
6. repeat from step 3 for the next row in my database

I want to do all of this using php (preferably set up as a CRON job)

is this possible?
can i see a sample script?
how are cookies/sessions handled?

Who is Participating?
Richard QuadlingConnect With a Mentor Senior Software DeveloperCommented:
There are many ways to achieve this.

Personally, with a site like PayPal, I would go down their developers API route. Far safer and supported.

For other sites, which don't require security, you can use functions like file_get_contents() to read a page.

If you need more advanced GETting and POSTing, then you can use cURL, sockets or stream_contexts (my preference).

With a stream_context, you setup things like protocol, cookies, etc. for your communication to site x. THen all comms (using normal file_get_contents() again) take with the request the cookies or POSTed data or even file uploads.

But, for sites like PayPal, use their API.
sjamal_hsjAuthor Commented:
so, with stream_context, can you show me a quick sample script of how you would set up the post variables and then submit them to a site?

as an example, lets say the site uses the form i've included as a code snippet

also, once i log in using stream_context, my file_get_contents() will then return the page for a logged in user?
<form name="login" action="login.php" method="post">
  <input type="text" name="username" id="user" /><br>
  <input type="password" name="pwd" id="pwd1" /><br>
  <input type="submit" name="submitBtn" value="Login" />

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Richard QuadlingSenior Software DeveloperCommented:
Something like this ...
$data = array ('username' => 'some_username', 'pwd' => 'some_pwd', 'submitBtn' => 'Login');
$data = http_build_query($data);
$context_options = array (
        'http' => array (
            'method' => 'POST',
            'header'=> "Content-type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded\r\n"
                . "Content-Length: " . strlen($data) . "\r\n",
            'content' => $data
$context = context_create_stream($context_options)
$HTML = file_get_contents('http://url', FILE_BINARY, $context);

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