XML.com: XML From the Inside Out
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Simple XML Processing With elementtree
by Uche Ogbuji | Pages: 1, 2


elementtree supports XML namespaces using a rather different mechanism from most XML processing APIs. The namespace is not maintained as a separate instance variable but is built into the element or attribute name using James Clark's notation. If you are not familiar with James Clark's article "XML Namespaces", you probably should be. Even if you are very familiar with XML namespaces, you may need to explain them to others, and this article is considered one of the best explanations of XML namespaces available. It also introduces a notation for expressing a namespace-qualified name. For example, the name of an element with namespace http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform and local name template is written {http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform}template. The sample document in Listing 4 (nsexample.xml) uses namespaces.

Listing 4 (nsexample.xml): a sample document with namespaces
<ClientInfo xmlns="http://fourthought.com/timelog"
    Fourthought, Inc
    Management Subcontracting

The following is the result of running listing 3 against this file.

$ python listing3.py nsexample.xml
Element: {http://fourthought.com/timelog}ClientInfo
                Text: '\n  '
                Element {http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/}Description
                Text: '\n  '
                Element {http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/}Title
                Text: '\n  '
                Element {http://fourthought.com/timelog}MinIncrement
                Text: '\n  '
                Element {http://fourthought.com/timelog}InvoiceNumber
                Text: '\n'
Element: {http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/}Description
                Text: '\n    Fourthought, Inc\n  '
Element: {http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/}Title
                Text: '\n    Management Subcontracting\n  '
Element: {http://fourthought.com/timelog}MinIncrement
                Text: '0.25'
Element: {http://fourthought.com/timelog}InvoiceNumber
                Text: '7777'  

You can see how the namespace is built into the tag name variables. One problem with elementtree's handling of namespaces is that the prefixes used in the original XML document are not preserved, as they are with DOM and the like. This is mostly an inconvenience: prefixes are strictly inconsequential in XML namespaces. But it can be enough of an annoyance that you should be aware of it. For example, I took the document in Listing 4 and ran it through the round-trip script (which just uses elementtree to read in a document and print it right back out again). I got the following result:

<ns0:ClientInfo xmlns:ns0="http://fourthought.com/timelog">
  <ns1:Description xmlns:ns1="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/">
    Fourthought, Inc
  <ns2:Title xmlns:ns2="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/">
    Management Subcontracting

This is identical to the original document according to the rules of XML namespaces, but you can see the lexical differences, including the generic prefixes and the change in location of the namespace declarations.


elementtree includes APIs for mutating documents. Suppose that I decide to change the body of the memo. Listing 5 is a script that does so.

Listing 5 (listing5.py): an example of mutation using elementtree
import sys
from elementtree.ElementTree import ElementTree, SubElement
doc = ElementTree(file="memo.xml")
#find the "body" element by tag name
body = doc.getroot().findall("body")[0]
#Remove all child elements, text (and attributes)
#Insert new lead text
body.text = "This is a new memo.  Send responses to \n"
new_element = SubElement(body, 'a', {'href': 'mailto:memos@spam.com'})
new_element.text = "memos@spam.com"
new_element.tail = "\nThanks.\n"
#write out the modified XML

I use getroot() to get the document (top-level) element and then the findall() method to find the body element, which I'll be manipulating. This latter method is similar to the get_elements_by_tag_name() functions I introduced in the last article. The method clear() eliminates any attributes, text, and child elements from an element. In effect it leaves me with a blank body element, which I can then repopulate by setting initial content. In this example I add content that includes an element, which I can do using the SubElement() factory function, which automatically appends the resulting element to a parent element. The tag name is a and I add attributes by passing in a dictionary. I complete the mutation by adding content to the new a element (as new_element.text) and to its parent, the body element (as new_element.tail). Finally, I write out the result, which looks like this:

<title>With Usura Hath no Man a House of Good Stone</title>
<date form="ISO-8601">2003-02-01</date>
<to>The Art World</to>
<body>This is a new memo.  Send responses to
<a href="mailto:memos@spam.com">memos@spam.com</a>

You can gain finer control over what is removed and added by using append(), insert() and remove(). You can set and remove attributes using the dictionary-like API for element objects. You can create comments by using the elementtree.ElementTree.Comment() factory function (although comments are not preserved when parsed from source documents). elementtree doesn't appear to offer any support for processing instructions. You can apply namespaces by using tags with Clark notation or by passing in an instance of the elementtree.ElementTree.QName class rather than a string for the tag.

Yet another tool in the box

elementtree is fast, pythonic and very simple to use. It is very handy when all you want to do is get in, do some rapid and simple XML processing, and get out. It also includes some handy tools for HTML processing. The module elementtree.TidyTools provides a wrapper for the popular HTML Tidy utility, which, among other things, can take all sorts of poorly structured HTML and convert it into valid XHTML. This makes possible the elementtree.TidyXMLTreeBuilder module, which can parse HTML and return an elementree instance of the resulting XHTML. If you do find elementtree useful, you may want to offer a donation to the effbot PayPal account linked from his downloads page.

Python-XML Happenings

It has been a busy month in the world of Python-XML development:

JAXML is a Python module to assist with generating XML, XHTML or HTML documents. It's maintained as part of Debian, but freely available on its own.

Daniel Veillard announced improvements to Python support in libxml (specifically, libxml2-2.5.0), including Python support for XmlTextReader, an API inspired by C# which combines the efficiency of SAX and the relative ease of DOM.

Robin Becker announced ReportLab Toolkit 1.17, a suite of tools for generating PDF reports, based on a series of XML technologies. See the ReportLab SourceForge page for more details.

PyXML 0.8.2 has been released. It now comes with Expat 1.95.6, which deals with many memory problems and other bugs in recent Expat releases. PyXML also supports more DOM Level 3 features in minidom (isWhitespaceInElementContent, schemaType, isIdDOMImplementationSource), and adds various bugfixes. I advise all users of PyXML to upgrade as soon as possible.

Python Object Model for XML (POM) is part of PyNMS, a Python library for network management applications. POM is a Pythonic variation on the DOM which, interestingly, includes integrated validation based on DTD. PyNMS also includes other, smaller XML tools.


Also in Python and XML

Processing Atom 1.0

Should Python and XML Coexist?

EaseXML: A Python Data-Binding Tool

More Unicode Secrets

Unicode Secrets

XElf 0.1 is a set of modules dedicated to XML processing for Python. It currently features a Python XOM implementation, including support for Namespaces and XMLBase. XOM is Elliotte Rusty Harold's XML object module for Java intended to improve upon DOM and JDOM.

Remi Delon announced the release of the 0.8 version of CherryPy, a Python-based tool for developing dynamic websites. It includes hooks for XML-RPC and XSLT.

Pete Ohler announced a small validating XML parser for Python called xmlite but neglected to make the module available. He seems willing to share the module, so contact him if you are interested.