Welcome to Sinew

Sinew collects structured data from web sites (screen scraping). It provides a Ruby DSL built for crawling, a robust caching system, and integration with Nokogiri. Though small, this project is the culmination of years of effort based on crawling systems built at several different companies.

Sinew is distributed as a ruby gem:

$ gem install sinew

or in your Gemfile:

gem 'sinew'

Table of Contents

Sinew 2 (May 2018)

I am pleased to announce the release of Sinew 2.0, a complete rewrite of Sinew for the modern era. Enhancements include:

  • Remove dependencies on active_support, curl and tidy. We use HTTParty now.
  • Much easier to customize requests in .sinew files. For example, setting User-Agent or Bearer tokens.
  • More operations like post_json or the generic http. These methods are thin wrappers around HTTParty.
  • New end-of-run report.
  • Tests, rubocop, vscode settings, travis, etc.

Breaking change

Sinew uses a new format for cached responses. Old Sinew 1 cache directories must be removed before running Sinew again. Sinew 2 might choke on Sinew 1 cache directores when reading head/. This is not tested or supported.

Quick Example

Here's an example for collecting the links from

# get the url
get ""

# use nokogiri to collect links
noko.css("ul li a").each do |a|
  row = { }
  row[:url] = a[:href]
  row[:title] = a.text

  # append a row to the csv

If you paste this into a file called sample.sinew and run sinew sample.sinew, it will create a sample.csv file containing the href and text for each link.

How it Works

There are three main features provided by Sinew.

The Sinew DSL

Sinew uses recipe files to crawl web sites. Recipes have the .sinew extension, but they are plain old Ruby. The Sinew DSL makes crawling easy. Use get to make an HTTP GET:

get ""
get "", q: "charles darwin"

Once you've done a get, you have access to the document in a few different formats. In general, it's easiest to use noko to automatically parse and interact with the results. If Nokogiri isn't appropriate, you can fall back to regular expressions run against raw or html. Use json if you are expecting a JSON response.

get ""

# pull out the links with nokogiri
links = noko.css("a").map { |i| i[:href] }
puts links.inspect

# or, use a regex
links = html[/<a[^>]+href="([^"]+)/, 1]
puts links.inspect

CSV Output

Recipes output CSV files. To continue the example above:

get ""
noko.css("a").each do |i|
  row = { }
  row[:href] = i[:href]
  row[:text] = i.text
  csv_emit row

Sinew creates a CSV file with the same name as the recipe, and csv_emit(hash) appends a row. The values of your hash are converted to strings:

  1. Nokogiri nodes are converted to text
  2. Arrays are joined with "|", so you can separate them later
  3. HTML tags, entities and non-ascii chars are removed
  4. Whitespace is squished


Requests are made using HTTParty, and all responses are cached on disk in ~/.sinew. Error responses are cached as well. Each URL will be hit exactly once, and requests are rate limited to one per second. Sinew tries to be polite.

The files in ~/.sinew have nice names and are designed to be human readable. This helps when writing recipes. Sinew never deletes files from the cache - that's up to you!

Because all requests are cached, you can run Sinew repeatedly with confidence. Run it over and over again while you build up your recipe.

DSL Reference

Making requests

  • get(url, query = {}) - fetch a url with HTTP GET. URL parameters can be added using `query.
  • post(url, form = {}) - fetch a url with HTTP POST, using form as the URL encoded POST body.
  • post_json(url, json = {}) - fetch a url with HTTP POST, using json as the POST body.
  • http(method, url, options = {}) - use this for more complex requests

Parsing the response

These variables are set after each HTTP request.

  • raw - the raw response from the last request
  • html - like raw, but with a handful of HTML-specific whitespace cleanups
  • noko - parse the response as HTML and return a Nokogiri document
  • xml - parse the response as XML and return a Nokogiri document
  • json - parse the response as JSON, with symbolized keys
  • url - the url of the last request. If the request goes through a redirect, url will reflect the final url.
  • uri - the URI of the last request. This is useful for resolving relative URLs.

Writing CSV

  • csv_header(keys) - specify the columns for CSV output. If you don't call this, Sinew will use the keys from the first call to csv_emit.
  • csv_emit(hash) - append a row to the CSV file


Writing Sinew recipes is fun and easy. The builtin caching means you can iterate quickly, since you won't have to re-fetch the data. Here are some hints for writing idiomatic recipes:

  • Sinew doesn't (yet) check robots.txt - please check it manually.
  • Prefer Nokogiri over regular expressions wherever possible. Learn CSS selectors.
  • In Chrome, $ in the console is your friend.
  • Fallback to regular expressions if you're desperate. Depending on the site, use either raw or html. html is probably your best bet. raw is good for crawling Javascript, but it's fragile if the site changes.
  • Learn to love String#[regexp], which is an obscure operator but incredibly handy for Sinew.
  • Laziness is useful. Keep your CSS selectors and regular expressions simple, so maybe they'll work again the next time you need to crawl a site.
  • Don't be afraid to mix CSS selectors, regular expressions, and Ruby:
noko.css("table")[4].css("td").select { |i| i[:width].to_i > 80 }.map(&:text)
  • Debug your recipes using plain old puts, or better yet use ap from awesome_print.
  • Run sinew -v to get a report on every csv_emit. Very handy.
  • Add the CSV files to your git repo. That way you can version them and get diffs!


  • Caching is based on URL, so use caution with cookies and other forms of authentication
  • Almost no support for international (non-english) characters


2.0.5 (unreleased)

  • Supports multiple proxies (--proxy host1,host2,...)

2.0.4 (May 2018)

  • Handle and cache more errors (too many redirects, connection failures, etc.)
  • Support for adding uri.scheme in generate_cache_key
  • Added status code, a peer to uri, raw, etc.

2.0.3 (May 2018)

  • & now normalizes to & (not and)

2.0.2 (May 2018)

  • Support for --limit, --proxy and the xml variable
  • Dedup - warn and ignore if row[:url] has already been emitted
  • Auto gunzip if contents are compressed

2.0.1 (May 2018)

  • Support for legacy cached head files from Sinew 1

2.0.0 (May 2018)

  • Complete rewrite. See above.

1.0.3 (June 2012)



This extension is licensed under the MIT License.