The joys of screenscraping

A while back, I ran across a great HackDiary entry extolling the virtues of using TagSoup and XPATH to do screenscraping from the web. TagSoup is a library that coerces all the ugly nasty HTML you find out in the wild into well-formed (although not necessarily valid) XML. While there’s no guarantee that the results are semantically the same as the input, it lets you use all your nice XML tools like XPATH to extract data. The entry does a great job of showing you how to use TagSoup with Xalan. However, the JDK has been updated with it’s own XPATH parser so it’s no longer necessary to import the Xalan library. Below is a code sample for using TagSoup and the default XPATH parser to retrieve the stock price of Google from Google Finance. Note that the whole “MutableNamespaceContext” implementation is just a workaround for a missing JDK method as documented in JDK Bug 5101859. If that bug gets fixed, the code could be simplified substantially.

The usual disclaimers apply about this all being sample quality code. All error handling has been punted to keep the example length short, but you’d never really want to do that. Also, I’m having trouble preserving indenting in this HTML View, I’ll work on that. This code assumes JDK 1.5. Click through for the code itself.

Does this code support the argument that Java is WAY too verbose? Absolutely.

 * Demo of screenscraping using TagSoup and XPATH as described at 
 * This example class downloads the content of a page from Google
 * Finance and parses it for the Google stock price. It completely
 * omits all error handling for brevity. Also a lot of objects
 * should be cached and re-used if you were really going to call
 * this multiple times.
 @author Oliver Roup <>

import java.util.ArrayList;
import java.util.HashMap;
import java.util.Iterator;
import java.util.List;
import java.util.Map;

import javax.xml.namespace.NamespaceContext;
import javax.xml.transform.OutputKeys;
import javax.xml.transform.Result;
import javax.xml.transform.Source;
import javax.xml.transform.Transformer;
import javax.xml.transform.TransformerFactory;
import javax.xml.transform.dom.DOMResult;
import javax.xml.transform.dom.DOMSource;
import javax.xml.transform.sax.SAXTransformerFactory;
import javax.xml.transform.sax.TransformerHandler;
import javax.xml.xpath.XPath;
import javax.xml.xpath.XPathConstants;
import javax.xml.xpath.XPathFactory;

import org.w3c.dom.Node;
import org.w3c.dom.NodeList;
import org.xml.sax.InputSource;

// The Tagsoup library.
import org.ccil.cowan.tagsoup.Parser;

public class QueryHtml {

  public static void main(String[] argsthrows Exception {

    // Get the page and coerce it to an XML DOM. This loads the whole
    // thing into memory so massive pages should be cut down first
    // using SAX or something similar.
    Node node = getHtmlUrlNode("");

    // Create a mutable namespace context. This should really be provided
    // by the JDK, but the default implementation does not allow new entries
    // to be added.
    MutableNamespaceContext nc = new MutableNamespaceContext();

    // Set the prefix "html" to correspond to the xhtml namespace.
    // This can be called multiple times with different prefixes.

    // This is the query we run against the DOM coereced from the web page.
    // If the HTML changes in a relevant way, it will break this query. 
    final String QUERY = "/html:html/html:body/html:table[2]/html:tr" 

    // Run the xpath query against the DOM.
    NodeList result = xPathQuery(node, QUERY, nc);
    // Print out the result.

   @param urlString The URL of the page to retrieve
   @return A Node with a well formed XML doc coerced from the page.
   @throws Exception if something goes wrong. No error handling at all
   * for brevity.
  public static Node getHtmlUrlNode(String urlStringthrows Exception {

    SAXTransformerFactory stf = 
    TransformerHandler th = stf.newTransformerHandler();

    // This dom result will contain the results of the transformation
    DOMResult dr = new DOMResult();

    Parser parser = new Parser();

    URL url = new URL(urlString);
      URLConnection urlConn = url.openConnection();
      InputStream stream = urlConn.getInputStream();
    // This is where the magic happens to convert HTML to XML
    parser.parse(new InputSource(stream));
    return dr.getNode();
   @param node An XML DOM Tree for query
   @param query An XPATH query to run against the DOM Tree
   @param nc The namespaceContext that maps prefixes to XML namespace
   @return A list of nodes that result from running the query against
   * the node.
   @throws Exception If anything goes wrong. No error handling for brevity
  public static NodeList xPathQuery(Node node, String query, 
      NamespaceContext ncthrows Exception {
    XPathFactory xpf = XPathFactory.newInstance();
    XPath xpath = xpf.newXPath();
    return (NodeListxpath.evaluate(query, node, XPathConstants.NODESET);

   @param node A node to be dumped to a string
   @param omitDeclaration A boolean whether to omit the XML declaration
   @return A string representation of the node.
   @throws Exception If anything goes wrong. Error handling omitted.
  public static String dumpNode(Node node, boolean omitDeclaration
    throws Exception {
    Transformer xformer = 
    if (omitDeclaration) {
      xformer.setOutputProperty(OutputKeys.OMIT_XML_DECLARATION, "yes");
    StringWriter sw = new StringWriter();
    Result result = new StreamResult(sw);
    Source source = new DOMSource(node);
    xformer.transform(source, result);
    return sw.toString();

/** There is a bug in the JDK which omits the setNamespace declaration
 * from implementations of NamespaceContext. We have to create our
 * own implementation to work around it. Documented here:
 @author Oliver Roup <>
class MutableNamespaceContext implements NamespaceContext {

  private Map map;

  public MutableNamespaceContext() {
    map = new HashMap();

  public void setNamespace(String prefix, String namespaceURI) {
    map.put(prefix, namespaceURI);

  public String getNamespaceURI(String prefix) {
    return map.get(prefix);

  public String getPrefix(String namespaceURI) {
    for (String prefix : map.keySet()) {
      if (map.get(prefix).equals(namespaceURI)) {
        return prefix;
    return null;

  public Iterator getPrefixes(String namespaceURI) {
    List prefixes = new ArrayList();
    for (String prefix : map.keySet()) {
      if (map.get(prefix).equals(namespaceURI)) {
    return prefixes.iterator();

3 thoughts on “The joys of screenscraping

  1. Pingback: hackdiary

  2. The screenscraping example is simply great. Here’s a short hint about the inner class MutableNamespaceContext, concerning the faulty jdk setNamespace problem. I couldn’t just use it as it was cause it wouldn’t compile. So I changed the first lines to:

    class MutableNamespaceContext implements NamespaceContext {

    private Map map;
    public MutableNamespaceContext() {
    map = new HashMap();

  3. Oh, somehow my post must have been cut a little bit…. and now this explains that Olivers code had been somehow parsed and cut too! My intention was to point out that you have to define the Map Object at the beginning of the inner class Java5 specific to make the code compile and I guess this was, what Oliver actually had implemented anyway. If I would write this down one more time, it would be cut again, so just exchange the dollar signs in the following code with the mathematical signs for and ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’… let’s hope that the dollar signs are not gonna be erased ;-)

    class MutableNamespaceContext implements NamespaceContext {

    private Map$String, String$ map;
    public MutableNamespaceContext() {
    map = new HashMap$String, String$();