You may know jq process json files in command line. At some point I was looking for the simplicity of such a swiss-knife tool for XML/HTML, mostly for simple usages that don't require me to resort to a full-fledged scripting language such as python or dabbing in regular expressions that will never work because of a carriage return at an unexpected place, and guess what? It exists!
This tool is Xidel. It is a bit more than that as it also allows downloading files, which enables extra features such as navigating a site following specific links. You can find more about it in the list of examples given in the project website, which is a nice introduction to the possibilities of the tool.
However, I mainly use it for simple cases, where I mix-and-match the best of both worlds: a graphical client (such as firefox), and a CLI tool, which in this case is Xidel.
To do this, we will see a simple use case, where filtering by hand can be a bit tedious. Let us assume that we want to obtain the URL list of pdf versions of Victor Hugo's novels in French from Wikisource if available.
Now, we can simply select the “Romans” section as it is and copy it. Normally
you can check that you indeed have the html in your clipboard by typing
wl-paste -t text/html on wayland or
xclip -selection clipboard -o -t
text/html on X11 if you have xclip installed. In the following we will assume a
Wayland environment with
wl-clipboard, but it should also work
xclip (not tested, please let me know how it behaves).
Now that's good, but we now need to filter and parse it, we can start with a simple test:
wl-paste -t text/html | xidel -e '//a/@href'
Which will show us the target of each links in our selection. To explain the
syntax, the option
xidel to extract the content that is passed as
input, which is either a
or following the XPath syntax to parse
the DOM tree. In the
above example we used the latter, to obtain every anchors (
//a) and then their
href attribute with
From there we can see that pdf versions contains the string… “pdf”.
Now, we can see another nice part of XPath, is that we can filter using
wl-paste -t text/html | xidel -e '//a/@href[contains(., "pdf")]'
The last magical part here, is the dot notation, which refers to the current item “value”. I’m not the most familiar with the subtleties here, and you can refer to this stackoverflow short answer or long answer just above for more details.
You can also edit the way the filtering is done, for instance if the anchors you are targeting are named “Download”, you can obtain the links with:
wl-paste -t text/html | xidel -e '//a[contains(., "Download")]/@href'
If you want strict equality because there are “Download PDF” and “Download epub” links for instance:
wl-paste -t text/html | xidel -e '//a[text()="Download PDF"]/@href'
To go further, you can also pass HTTP headers and cookies to
xidel via the
--load-cookies options respectively. It is also possible to
--follow/-f command to hop in the pages that matches (using the same
syntax as above) to obtain a link from it… or event directly download it with
--download option and so on.
In this blogpost we only look at a local version of pre-filtered content using you web browser, but the possibilities are endless!