Extra Loop

A Ruby library for extracting structured data from websites and web based APIs. Supports most common document formats (i.e. HTML, XML, CSV, and JSON), and comes with a handy mechanism for iterating over paginated datasets.


gem install extraloop


A basic scraper that fetches the top 25 websites from Alexa's daily top 100 list:

alexa_scraper = ExtraLoop::ScraperBase.
    extract(:site_name, "h2").
    extract(:url, "h2 a").
    extract(:description, ".description").
  on(:data) { |data| { |record| puts record.site_name } }


An iterative Scraper that fetches URL, title, and publisher from some 110 Google News articles mentioning the keyword 'Egypt'.

results = []

  set_iteration(:start, (1..101).step(10)).
  loop_on("h3") { |nodes| nodes.map(&:parent) }.
    extract(:title, "h3.r a").
    extract(:url, "h3.r a", :href).
    extract(:source, "br") { |node| node.next.text.split("-").first }.
  on(:data) { |data, response| data.each { |record| results << record } }.

Scraper initialisation signature

#new(urls, scraper_options, http_options)
  • urls - single url, or array of several urls.
  • scraper_options - hash of scraper options (see below).
  • http_options - hash of request options for Typheous::Request#initialize (see API documentation for details).

scraper options:

  • format - Specifies the scraped document format; needed only if the Content-Type in the server response is not the correct one. Supported formats are: 'html', 'xml', 'json', and 'csv'.
  • async - Specifies whether the scraper's HTTP requests should be run in parallel or in series (defaults to false). Note: currently only GET requests can be run asynchronously.
  • log - Logging options hash:
    • loglevel - a symbol specifying the desired log level (defaults to :info).
    • appenders - a list of Logging.appenders object (defaults to Logging.appenders.sterr).


ExtraLoop allows to fetch structured data from online documents by looping through a list of elements matching a given selector. For each matched element, an arbitrary set of fields can be extracted. While the loop_on method sets up such loop, the extract method extracts a specific piece of information from an element (e.g. a story's title) and stores it into a record's field.

# looping over a set of document elements using a CSS3 (or XPath) selector

# looping 

loop_on { |doc| doc.search('div.post') }

# using both a selector and a proc (the matched element list is passed in to the proc as its first argument )

loop_on('div.post') { |posts| posts.reject { |post| post.attr(:class) == 'sticky' } }

Both the loop_on and the extract methods may be called with a selector, a block or a combination of the two. By default, when parsing DOM documents, extract will call Nokogiri::XML::Node#text(). Alternatively, extract also accepts an attribute name and a block. The latter is evaluated in the context of the current iteration's element.

# extract a story's title 
extract(:title, 'h3')

# extract a story's url
extract(:url, "a.link-to-story", :href)

# extract a description text, separating paragraphs with newlines 
extract(:description, "div.description") { |node| node.css("p").map(&:text).join("\n") }

Extracting data from JSON Documents

While processing an HTTP response, ExtraLoop tries to automatically detect the scraped document format by looking at the ContentType header sent by the server. This value can be overriden by providing a :format key in the scraper's initialization options. When format is JSON, the document is parsed using the yajl JSON parser and converted into a hash. In this case, both the loop_on and the extract methods still behave as illustrated above, except it does not support CSS3/XPath selectors.

When working with JSON data, you can just use a block and have it return the document elements you want to loop on.

# Fetch a portion of a document using a proc
loop_on  { |data| data['query']['categorymembers'] })

Alternatively, the same loop can be defined by passing an array of keys pointing at a hash value located at several levels of depth down into the parsed document structure.

# Same as above, using a hash path
loop_on(['query', 'categorymembers'])

When fetching fields from a JSON document fragment, extract will often not need a block or an array of keys. If called with only one argument, it will in fact try to fetch a hash value using the provided field name as key.

# current node:
# {
#  'from_user' => "johndoe", 
#  'text' => 'bla bla bla',
#  'from_user_id'..
# }

# >> extract(:from_user)
# => "johndoe"

Iteration methods

The IterativeScraper class comes with two methods that allow scrapers to loop over paginated content.


  • iteration_parameter - A symbol identifying the request parameter that the scraper will use as offset in order to iterate over the paginated content.
  • array_or_range_or_block - Either an explicit set of values or a block of code. If provided, the block is called with the parsed document object as its first argument. The block should return a non empty array, which will determine the value of the offset parameter during each iteration. If the block fails to return a non empty array, the iteration stops.


The second iteration method, #continue_with, allows to continue an interation as long as a block of code returns a truthy, non-nil value (to be assigned to the iteration parameter).

  • iteration_parameter - the scraper' iteration parameter.
  • &block - An arbitrary block of ruby code, its return value will be used to determine the value of the next iteration's offset parameter.

Running tests

ExtraLoop uses rspec and rr as its testing framework. The test suite can be run by calling the rspec executable from within the spec directory:

cd spec
rspec *