Easy Web Scraping with Python

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A little over a year ago I wrote an article on web scraping using Node.js. Today I'm revisiting the topic, but this time I'm going to use Python, so that the techniques offered by these two languages can be compared and contrasted.

The Problem

As I'm sure you know, I attended PyCon in Montréal earlier this month. The video recordings of all the talks and tutorials have already been released on YouTube, with an index available at pyvideo.org.

I thought it would be useful to know what are the most watched videos of the conference, so we are going to write a scraping script that will obtain the list of available videos from pyvideo.org and then get viewer statistics from each of the videos directly from their YouTube page. Sounds interesting? Let's get started!

The Tools

There are two basic tasks that are used to scrape web sites:

  1. Load a web page to a string.
  2. Parse HTML from a web page to locate the interesting bits.

Python offers two excellent tools for the above tasks. I will use the awesome requests to load web pages, and BeautifulSoup to do the parsing.

We can put these two packages in a virtual environment:

$ mkdir pycon-scraper
$ virtualenv venv
$ source venv/bin/activate
(venv) $ pip install requests beautifulsoup4

If you are using Microsoft Windows, note that the virtual environment activation command above is different, you should use venv\Scripts\activate.

Basic Scraping Technique

The first thing to do when writing a scraping script is to manually inspect the page(s) to scrape to determine how the data can be located.

To begin with, we are going to look at the list of PyCon videos at http://pyvideo.org/category/50/pycon-us-2014. Inspecting the HTML source of this page we find that the structure of the video list is more or less as follows:

<div id="video-summary-content">
    <div class="video-summary">    <!-- first video -->
        <div class="thumbnail-data">...</div>
        <div class="video-summary-data">
                <strong><a href="#link to video page#">#title#</a></strong>
    <div class="video-summary">    <!-- second video -->

So the first task is to load this page, and extract the links to the individual pages, since the links to the YouTube videos are in these pages.

Loading a web page using requests is extremely simple:

import requests
response = requests.get('http://pyvideo.org/category/50/pycon-us-2014')

That's it! After this function returns the HTML of the page is available in response.text.

The next task is to extract the links to the individual video pages. With BeautifulSoup this can be done using CSS selector syntax, which you may be familiar if you work on the client-side.

To obtain the links we will use a selector that captures the <a> elements inside each <div> with class video-summary-data. Since there are several <a> elements for each video we will filter them to include only those that point to a URL that begins with /video, which is unique to the individual video pages. The CSS selector that implements the above criteria is div.video-summary-data a[href^=/video]. The following snippet of code uses this selector with BeautifulSoup to obtain the <a> elements that point to video pages:

import bs4
soup = bs4.BeautifulSoup(response.text)
links = soup.select('div.video-summary-data a[href^=/video]')

Since we are really interested in the link itself and not in the <a> element that contains it, we can improve the above with a list comprehension:

links = [a.attrs.get('href') for a in soup.select('div.video-summary-data a[href^=/video]')]

And now we have a list of all the links to the individual pages for each session!

The following script shows a cleaned up version of all the techniques we have learned so far:

import requests
import bs4

root_url = 'http://pyvideo.org'
index_url = root_url + '/category/50/pycon-us-2014'

def get_video_page_urls():
    response = requests.get(index_url)
    soup = bs4.BeautifulSoup(response.text)
    return [a.attrs.get('href') for a in soup.select('div.video-summary-data a[href^=/video]')]


If you run the above script you will get a long list of URLs as a result. Now we need to parse each of these to get more information about each PyCon session.

Scraping Linked Pages

The next step is to load each of the pages in our URL list. If you want to see how these pages look, here is an example: http://pyvideo.org/video/2668/writing-restful-web-services-with-flask. Yes, that's me, that is one of my sessions!

From these pages we can scrape the session title, which appears at the top. We can also obtain the names of the speakers and the YouTube link from the sidebar that appears on the right side below the embedded video. The code that gets these elements is shown below:

def get_video_data(video_page_url):
    video_data = {}
    response = requests.get(root_url + video_page_url)
    soup = bs4.BeautifulSoup(response.text)
    video_data['title'] = soup.select('div#videobox h3')[0].get_text()
    video_data['speakers'] = [a.get_text() for a in soup.select('div#sidebar a[href^=/speaker]')]
    video_data['youtube_url'] = soup.select('div#sidebar a[href^=http://www.youtube.com]')[0].get_text()

A few things to note about this function:

  • The URLs returned from the scraping of the index page are relative, so the root_url needs to be prepended.
  • The session title is obtained from the <h3> element inside the <div> with id videobox. Note that [0] is needed because the select() call returns a list, even if there is only one match.
  • The speaker names and YouTube links are obtained in a similar way to the links in the index page.

Now all that remains is to scrape the views count from the YouTube page for each video. This is actually very simple to write as a continuation of the above function. In fact, it is so simple that while we are at it, we can also scrape the likes and dislikes counts:

def get_video_data(video_page_url):
    # ...
    response = requests.get(video_data['youtube_url'])
    soup = bs4.BeautifulSoup(response.text)
    video_data['views'] = int(re.sub('[^0-9]', '',
    video_data['likes'] = int(re.sub('[^0-9]', '',
    video_data['dislikes'] = int(re.sub('[^0-9]', '', 
    return video_data

The soup.select() calls above capture the stats for the video using selectors for the specific id names used in the YouTube page. But the text of the elements need to be processed a bit before it can be converted to a number. Consider an example views count, which YouTube would show as "1,344 views". To remove the text after the number the contents are split at whitespace and only the first part is used. This first part is then filtered with a regular expression that removes any characters that are not digits, since the numbers can have commas in them. The resulting string is finally converted to an integer and stored.

To complete the scraping the following function invokes all the previously shown code:

def show_video_stats():
    video_page_urls = get_video_page_urls()
    for video_page_url in video_page_urls:
        print get_video_data(video_page_url)

Parallel Processing

The script up to this point works great, but with over a hundred videos it can take a while to run. In reality we aren't doing so much work, what takes most of the time is to download all those pages, and during that time the script is blocked. It would be much more efficient if the script could run several of these download operations simultaneously, right?

Back when I wrote the scraping article using Node.js the parallelism came for free with the asynchronous nature of JavaScript. With Python this can be done as well, but it needs to be specified explicitly. For this example I'm going to start a pool of eight worker processes that can work concurrently. This is surprisingly simple:

from multiprocessing import Pool

def show_video_stats(options):
    pool = Pool(8)
    video_page_urls = get_video_page_urls()
    results = pool.map(get_video_data, video_page_urls)

The multiprocessing.Pool class starts eight worker processes that wait to be given jobs to run. Why eight? It's twice the number of cores I have on my computer. While experimenting with different sizes for the pool I've found this to be the sweet spot. Less than eight make the script run slower, more than eight do not make it go faster.

The pool.map() call is similar to the regular map() call in that it invokes the function given as the first argument once for each of the elements in the iterable given as the second argument. The big difference is that it sends all these to run by the processes owned by the pool, so in this example eight tasks will run concurrently.

The time savings are considerable. On my computer the first version of the script completes in 75 seconds, while the pool version does the same work in 16 seconds!

The Complete Scraping Script

The final version of my scraping script does a few more things after the data has been obtained.

I've added a --sort command line option to specify a sorting criteria, which can be by views, likes or dislikes. The script will sort the list of results in descending order by the specified field. Another option, --max takes a number of results to show, in case you just want to see a few entries from the top. Finally, I have added a --csv option which prints the data in CSV format instead of table aligned, to make it easy to export the data to a spreadsheet.

The complete script is available for download at this location: https://gist.github.com/miguelgrinberg/5f52ceb565264b1e969a.

Below is an example output with the 25 most viewed sessions at the time I'm writing this:

(venv) $ python pycon-scraper.py --sort views --max 25 --workers 8
Views  +1  -1 Title (Speakers)
 3002  27   0 Keynote - Guido Van Rossum (Guido Van Rossum)
 2564  21   0 Computer science fundamentals for self-taught programmers (Justin Abrahms)
 2369  17   0 Ansible - Python-Powered Radically Simple IT Automation (Michael Dehaan)
 2165  27   6 Analyzing Rap Lyrics with Python (Julie Lavoie)
 2158  24   3 Exploring Machine Learning with Scikit-learn (Jake Vanderplas, Olivier Grisel)
 2065  13   0 Fast Python, Slow Python (Alex Gaynor)
 2024  24   0 Getting Started with Django, a crash course (Kenneth Love)
 1986  47   0 It's Dangerous to Go Alone: Battling the Invisible Monsters in Tech (Julie Pagano)
 1843  24   0 Discovering Python (David Beazley)
 1672  22   0 All Your Ducks In A Row: Data Structures in the Standard Library and Beyond
 1558  17   1 Keynote - Fernando Pérez (Fernando Pérez)
 1449   6   0 Descriptors and Metaclasses - Understanding and Using Python's More Advanced Features
 1402  12   0 Flask by Example (Miguel Grinberg)
 1342   6   0 Python Epiphanies (Stuart Williams)
 1219   5   0 0 to 00111100 with web2py (G. Clifford Williams)
 1169  18   0 Cheap Helicopters In My Living Room (Ned Jackson Lovely)
 1146  11   0 IPython in depth: high productivity interactive and parallel python (Fernando Perez)
 1127   5   0 2D/3D graphics with Python on mobile platforms (Niko Skrypnik)
 1081   8   0 Generators: The Final Frontier (David Beazley)
 1067  12   0 Designing Poetic APIs (Erik Rose)
 1064   6   0 Keynote - John Perry Barlow (John Perry Barlow)
 1029  10   0 What Is Async, How Does It Work, And When Should I Use It? (A. Jesse Jiryu Davis)
  981  11   0 The Sorry State of SSL (Hynek Schlawack)
  961  12   2 Farewell and Welcome Home: Python in Two Genders (Naomi Ceder)
  958   6   0 Getting Started Testing (Ned Batchelder)


I hope you have found this article useful as an introduction to web scraping with Python. I have been pleasantly surprised with the use of Python, the tools are robust and powerful, and the fact that the asynchronous optimizations can be left for the end is great compared to JavaScript, where there is no way to avoid working asynchronously from the start.


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  • #51 Rob Lineberger said

    Very useful tutorial, thanks!

  • #52 Tushar said

    I got this error
    Warning (from warnings module):
    File "C:\Python27\lib\site-packages\bs4__init__.py", line 166
    UserWarning: No parser was explicitly specified, so I'm using the best available HTML parser for this system ("lxml"). This usually isn't a problem, but if you run this code on another system, or in a different virtual environment, it may use a different parser and behave differently.

    To get rid of this warning, change this:

    BeautifulSoup([your markup])

    to this:

    BeautifulSoup([your markup], "lxml")

    And I put "lxml" as said. But when I printed the list it was empty.

  • #53 Mani Teja Varma said

    Hi ,I am working on scrapping web sites and After scrapping there is no need for storing the data . What I need to do is just to compute and present it in the form of website. So ,What my concern is that which method should I use for computing and presenting the data ? Does MySQL or other dbms satisfy it and work with efficiency ? If not does using classes and stacks work good with speed transmission instead of communicating with sql system ? Else which one is suitable ? .Thank you in advance.

  • #54 Miguel Grinberg said

    @Mani: no point in using a SQL database if you don't need to store the information. Just keep it in memory until you render the page with the results.

  • #55 Julio Guzman said

    Estimado Miguel,

    Muchas gracias por este nuevo tutorial. Al parecer la pagina de pyvideos cambió porque no guarda URLs el código que tienes. Voy a tratar de actualizarlo y te lo envío.

  • #56 Raj said

    I am working on flask to create small application,
    i tried to create new tab but not working with flask , so finally i created with javascript (onclick) i used
    basic my need is onclick submit button i want open newtab.

    is it possible with flask ????

  • #57 Miguel Grinberg said

    @Raj: Flask does not run in the browser, you can't control the browser environment with it. The best you can do is to put the Javascript logic in the Flask templates.

  • #58 pvlbzn said

    For people who doing this tutorial in 2016 and later, use the following link http://web.archive.org/web/20141223165210/http://pyvideo.org/category/50/pycon-us-2014 . It is a snapshot of the page as it was back in the day when Miguel wrote this great tutorial.

    Thank you Miguel!

  • #59 Claire said

    I've been following your blog for sometime and find it really helpful. For scraping Javascript rendered pages (example: href has a javascript:setEvent(event) that I want to click on), would you recommend using something like Selenium, or Scrapy with Splash? I love the speed of Scrapy, but it's limited in what it can do with JS rendered elements, and for larger projects, I'm worried about the speed of Selenium clicking around links and then parsing info once those links load.

  • #60 Miguel Grinberg said

    @Claire: I honestly try to avoid scraping data that is rendered via JavaScript, because there aren't any great solutions. If you can figure out what API calls the browser makes to obtain the data (maybe by looking at the Network tab in the JavaScript console) you may be able to figure out how to obtain the data directly.

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