Web Scraping using Xpath and Chrome Extension: Scraping using the import.io service


FIXME - Finish write up of this section.

Going back to the Ontario MPP example.

So we have a list of MPPs, which each have an URL to a detail page. What if we want a spreadsheet that includes some of the information from that detail page.

We can write a first scraper to get the URLs (we did so before) Then a second one for the detailed information.

Scraper cannot do that. We need to use a bit more advanced tools.

import.io is a fairly powerful web-based scraping tool that has a nice graphical interface to define what elements to scrape from a page.

They have a number of plans, the free one allows users to scrape up to 500 URLs per month.

Step 1: Scrape a list of URLs

Once we have logged in to import.io, we can create a new scraper in minutes. Let’s add one on the Ontario MPPs list URL. After a short while, an interface pops with the data that import.io thinks we are interested in scraping. We can toggle from that list view to an overlay of the original web page that allows us to graphically select the data to scrape:

Screenshot of import.io scraping Ontario MPP list

We can see that the MPP name has been captured, including the hyperlink to the detailed page. This is nice for on-screen display, but if we want to reuse that URL, we need it to be in its own column.

Let’s add another column and select the MPP name again, making sure to capture the underlying HTML (including the hyperlink). Then, in the “Data” tab, we can select the “Output HTML” for that new column to see the unformatted data that is being scraped. To further extract only the URL, we have to use a Regular Expression on that column:

Using a regular expression on import.io

The expression


matches everything that is between the double quotes following the href keyword. It is stored into a temporary variable called $1 which we can reuse on the next line to output the desired data.

Remembering that the URLs on that page are relative to the list page, we further need to concatenate http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/members/ in front of the scraped URLs to get absolute URLs. The resulting expression is


We are now ready to try out our scraper. This is done by clicking on the red “Run URLs” button. Once the scraper has run, we can preview the results directly in the browser:

Previewing the results of a scrape on import.io

The data can also be downloaded in JSON or CSV format for reuse.

Step 2: Scrape data on the detail view pages

OK now for the 2nd step

We want to use those URLs to harvest data from pages like http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/members/members_detail.do?locale=en&ID=7085

Let’s create a second import.io scraper using that URL

Select the data we are interested in. Say, the email address, the current title, the political party.

Might work for one, what about others? Can we be sure the data is at the same place?

Let’s try it out. import.io allows us to run a scraper on multiple URLs. Let’s put 2-3 in that box.

Run, preview.

We see that some data has not been captured correctly.

Let’s investigate.

Show source / inspect. Use XPath to query elements



Selecting data to scrape on import.io


It’s actually after the second H2 element.


Selecting data to scrape on import.io

Try it out on multiple URLs. Once we are confident, we can chain scrapers.

Selecting data to scrape on import.io

Use the output of one scraper to drive the other:

Selecting data to scrape on import.io

Selecting data to scrape on import.io