3 little hacks for parsing web content with Python and Beautiful Soup

Over the past two weeks, I made great progress in collecting data for a new research project of mine. I had to deal with substantial amounts of web content and had to parse it in order to use it for some analyses. I typically rely on Python and its library Beautiful Soup for such jobs and the more I use it, the more I appreciate the little things. Here are the top three new hacks:

1. Getting rid of HTML tags

I had to extract raw text from web content I scraped. The content I wanted was hidden in a complete mess of HTML tags like this:

</span></div><br><div class=”comment”>
<span class=”commtext c00″>&gt; &quot;the models are 100% explainable&quot;<p>In my experience this is largely illusory. People think they understand what the model is saying but forget that everything is based on assuming the model is a correct description of reality.<p>

Getting the “real” text out of it can be tricky. One way is to use regular expressions, but this can become unmanageable given the variety of HTML tags.

Here comes a little hack: use BeautifulSoup’s built-in text extraction function.


from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

soup = BeautifulSoup(webcontent, "html.parser")

comment = soup.get_text()

 

2. No clue what you’re looking for? Prettify your output first

Before I do extract anything, I have a look at the web content–soup helps you get through the code salad with some function called “prettify” to make it readable:


from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

soup = BeautifulSoup(textstring, "html.parser")

print soup.prettify()

 

where “name” is the filename.

3. Extracting URLs from <a> tags

Sometimes you find a link like this and want to extract its URL:

Here’s the code:


from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

soup = BeautifulSoup(textstring, "html.parser")

a=soup.findAll("a")

url=a[1]["href"].lower().strip()

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How to scrape the data behind interactive web graphs

Sometimes we are interested in obtaining data that is behind web graphs like the ones here (e.g., produced through highcharts.js or something related). Sometimes the data points can be obtained by eyeballing, but there are also cases where we need hundreds or thousands of such graphs or where data is so fine-grained that it is impossible to simply spot it. In such a case, we are interested in an automatic procedure which scrapes these graphs. Unfortunately, such charts are tricky to scrape, because data is loaded dynamically in the background.

One trick to obtain the data is to inspect the website using your browser’s built-in developer tools. For example, in Chrome:

  1. Open the website which contains the graph.
  2. Right-click somewhere on the website and press “Inspect”.
  3. In the new window, proceed to the “Network” tab. This tab provides an overview of network transactions between your computer and the website.
  4. Look out for files with a “.json” ending–these are the ones which contain the graph data.json2
  5. Inspect the file by clicking on the “Headers” tab. We need the location of the file on the web server which should be somewhere in the general information.tempsnip
  6. Now we can pull the data into Python and work with the data right away using:
url = "http://pathToJSONfile"
x = requests.get(url).json()