User Guide

What is Wextracto?

Wextracto is a Python package designed to be the core of a web crawling/scraping system.

To understand how it fits in, let us look at the general architecture of a web crawling/scraping based on Wextracto.

digraph Wex {
    graph [rankdir=LR;fontname="Helvetica-Bold";fontsize=8];
    node [fixedsize=true;fontname="Helvetica-Bold";fontsize=12;width=1.0];
    Schedule -> Download [label=urls;fontcolor="#9A9A9A";fontsize=8];
    Wextracto [color=forestgreen;fontcolor=forestgreen];
    Download -> Wextracto [label=responses;fontcolor="#9A9A9A";fontsize=8];
    Wextracto -> Collate [label=data;fontcolor="#9A9A9A";fontsize=8];
    Wextracto -> Schedule [constraint=false;label=urls;fontcolor="#9A9A9A";fontsize=8];

This architecture has these components:

This component manages the URLs to be downloaded. The goal is to keep track which URLs you have downloaded and which URLs you have yet to download.
This component requests web pages and stores the responses for use by the Wextracto component.
This component reads the stored responses and extracts URLs and data. URLs are routed to the Schedule component.
This component receives data from the Wextracto component and organizes it ready for use. Organizing the data might involve storing it in a database.

Each of the other three components (Schedule, Download and Collate) can be implemented in multiple ways depending on the requirements of the crawl system. Keeping just the core in Wextracto gives better seperation of concerns


In the architecture diagram you can see Wextracto has three data flows. One incoming (responses) and two outgoing (urls and data).


Although Wextracto can download and extract in one go, it is designed to be used in system where the downloading is done separately from the extraction.

Having the download separate from extraction is generally helpful because:

  • it allows us to repeat the extraction process exactly for problem finding
  • it gives us easy access to large sample data sets
  • it can make the management of I/O in the system clearer

Wextracto can process responses that look like HTTP responses (headers then content). For example:

$ curl -D-
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Connection: keep-alive
Server: gunicorn/18.0
Date: Tue, 30 Dec 2014 19:32:18 GMT
Content-Type: application/json
Content-Length: 32
Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *
Access-Control-Allow-Credentials: true
Via: 1.1 vegur

  "origin": ""

Although most extractors will require the presence of a custom HTTP header, X-wex-request-url, that contains the requested URL. Any component preparing responses for processing using Wextracto should add this header.

A request can lead to multiple responses, each with their own URL. In the case where the response URL is not the same as the request URL an additional header, X-wex-url, that contains the responses URL.

Wextracto looks for responses such as these in files that have a .wexin extension. It can also read a .tar file containing files with the same extension.

URLs & Data

The handling of urls and data is described in the reference.