Skip to main content

Python: Some Notes on lxml

I wrote a webcrawler that uses lxml, XPath, and Beautiful Soup to easily pull data from a set of poorly formatted Web pages. In summary, it works, and I'm quite happy :)

The script needs to pull data from hundreds of Web pages, but not millions, so I opted to use threads. The script actually takes the list of things to look for as a set of XPath expressions on the command line, which makes it super flexible. Let me give you some hints for the parts that I found difficult.

First of all, here's how to install it. If you're using Ubuntu, then:
apt-get install libxslt1-dev libxml2-dev
# I also have python-dev, build-essentials, etc. installed.
easy_install lxml
easy_install BeautifulSoup
If you're using MacPorts, do
port install py25-lxml
easy_install BeautifulSoup
The FAQ states that if you use MacPorts, you may encounter difficulties because you will have multiple versions of libxml and libxslt installed. For instance, the following may segfault:
python -c "import webbrowser; from lxml import etree, html"
Whereas the following shouldn't:
env DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH=/opt/local/lib \
python -c "import webbrowser; from lxml import etree, html"
You also have to be careful of thread safety issues. I was sharing an effectively read-only instance of the etree.XPath class between multiple threads, but that ended up causing bus errors. Ah, the joys of extensions written in C! It's a good reminder that the safest way to do multithreaded programming is to have each thread live in its own process ;)

lxml permits access to regular expressions from within XPath expressions. That's super useful. I had a hard time getting it working though. I forgot to pass in the right XML namespace in one part of the code. For some reason, I wasn't getting an error message. (As a general rule, I love it when software fails fast and complains loudly when I do something stupid.) Furthermore, my knowledge of XSLT was weak enough that I had a really hard time figuring out how to combine the XPath expression with the regex. Anyway, here's how to create an etree.XPath instance containing a regex:
from lxml import etree
XPATH_NAMESPACES = dict(re='http://exslt.org/regular-expressions')
xpath = etree.XPath("re:replace(//title/text(), 'From', '', 'To')",
namespaces=XPATH_NAMESPACES)
match = xpath(tree)
Anyway, lxml is frickin' awesome, and so is BeautifulSoup. Together, I can take really, really crappy HTML, and access it seemlessly.

Comments

jjinux said…
See also: http://blog.ianbicking.org/2008/12/10/lxml-an-underappreciated-web-scraping-library/
taocode said…
I had trouble getting libxml2/libxslt and lxml working on my Mac OS X (10.5). I wrote what worked for me at: taocode.blogspot.com
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the tip. Helped me parse XML produced by lshw. https://gist.github.com/4554484.

Popular posts from this blog

Ubuntu 20.04 on a 2015 15" MacBook Pro

I decided to give Ubuntu 20.04 a try on my 2015 15" MacBook Pro. I didn't actually install it; I just live booted from a USB thumb drive which was enough to try out everything I wanted. In summary, it's not perfect, and issues with my camera would prevent me from switching, but given the right hardware, I think it's a really viable option. The first thing I wanted to try was what would happen if I plugged in a non-HiDPI screen given that my laptop has a HiDPI screen. Without sub-pixel scaling, whatever scale rate I picked for one screen would apply to the other. However, once I turned on sub-pixel scaling, I was able to pick different scale rates for the internal and external displays. That looked ok. I tried plugging in and unplugging multiple times, and it didn't crash. I doubt it'd work with my Thunderbolt display at work, but it worked fine for my HDMI displays at home. I even plugged it into my TV, and it stuck to the 100% scaling I picked for the othe

ERNOS: Erlang Networked Operating System

I've been reading Dreaming in Code lately, and I really like it. If you're not a dreamer, you may safely skip the rest of this post ;) In Chapter 10, "Engineers and Artists", Alan Kay, John Backus, and Jaron Lanier really got me thinking. I've also been thinking a lot about Minix 3 , Erlang , and the original Lisp machine . The ideas are beginning to synthesize into something cohesive--more than just the sum of their parts. Now, I'm sure that many of these ideas have already been envisioned within Tunes.org , LLVM , Microsoft's Singularity project, or in some other place that I haven't managed to discover or fully read, but I'm going to blog them anyway. Rather than wax philosophical, let me just dump out some ideas: Start with Minix 3. It's a new microkernel, and it's meant for real use, unlike the original Minix. "This new OS is extremely small, with the part that runs in kernel mode under 4000 lines of executable code.&quo

Haskell or Erlang?

I've coded in both Erlang and Haskell. Erlang is practical, efficient, and useful. It's got a wonderful niche in the distributed world, and it has some real success stories such as CouchDB and jabber.org. Haskell is elegant and beautiful. It's been successful in various programming language competitions. I have some experience in both, but I'm thinking it's time to really commit to learning one of them on a professional level. They both have good books out now, and it's probably time I read one of those books cover to cover. My question is which? Back in 2000, Perl had established a real niche for systems administration, CGI, and text processing. The syntax wasn't exactly beautiful (unless you're into that sort of thing), but it was popular and mature. Python hadn't really become popular, nor did it really have a strong niche (at least as far as I could see). I went with Python because of its elegance, but since then, I've coded both p