Shane Vitarana more brain > blog.html

Screen Scraping Wikipedia with Hpricot

Wikipedia is one of the few sites that should have an API but doesn't. It's a shame, considering it is one of the best sources for free quality content. Due to this limitation, we have to resort to the pre-historic art of screen scraping. why's Hpricot is my favorite tool to do this. It uses a fast HTML scanner written in C using Ragel, the same technology that makes Mongrel so fast. It allows you to parse HTML using either CSS selectors or XPath, in a similar vein to jQuery.

The few Wikipedia clients out there only output data in Wikitext format or clear text. I wanted something that will reproduce the content with basic styling intact, so it can be republished in a similar fashion to Here is the code to do this:

require 'hpricot'
require 'open-uri'

items_to_remove = [
  "#contentSub",        #redirection notice
  "div.messagebox",     #cleanup data
  "#siteNotice",        #site notice
  "#siteSub",           #"From Wikipedia..."
  "table.infobox",      #sidebar box
  "#jump-to-nav",       #jump-to-nav
  "div.editsection",    #edit blocks
  "table.toc",          #table of contents 
  "#catlinks"           #category links

doc = Hpricot open('wikipedia url')
@article = (doc/"#content").each do |content|
  #change /wiki/ links to point to full wikipedia path
  (content/:a).each do |link|
    unless link.attributes['href'].nil?
      if (link.attributes['href'][0..5] == "/wiki/")
        link.attributes['href'].sub!('/wiki/', '')

  #remove unnecessary content and edit links
  items_to_remove.each { |x| (content/x).remove }

  #replace links to create new entries with plain text
  (content/"").each do |link|
    link.parent.insert_before Hpricot.make(link.attributes['title']), link

puts @article.inner_html

For comparison, here is a Wikiepdia article scraped using this script, and its cousin at Here is the original Wikipedia article. There are still a few things to be worked out, like filtering out Javascript and working with other languages. But I will leave that as an exercise for the reader!

If you are going to use this script, please don't forget to give credit to Wikipedia and include a link to the original article. It looks like it already does add a Notes section with a link-back which isn't on the original site. It must be checking the user agent of the browser and adding the line if it detects an unknown browser. You still have to include a link to the GNU Free Documentation License.

Update: __why_ makes some suggestions to improve this script, and adds a new method swap which eliminates the ugly end.remove syntax.