I use the following script to download the result of a SEDE query and scrape a specific column from it using BeautifulSoup:

import json

def extract_column(soup, colname):
    Returns a generator of cell values in selected column.

    For simple columns like timestamp, a cell value can be simple,
    for example: 1414433013197

    For more complex columns like Post Link, a cell value can be an object,
    for example:

        "id": 68102,
        "title": "Bash Script - File Comment out & Notate"

    :param soup: a bs4 (BeautifulSoup) object
    :param colname: name of the SEDE column to extract
    :return: generator of cell values in selected column
    def get_column_index():
        for index, info in enumerate(columns):
            if info['name'] == colname:
                return index
        return -1

    for script in soup.findAll('script'):
        result_sets_col = 'resultSets'
        if result_sets_col in script.text:
            start = script.text.rindex('{', 0, script.text.index(result_sets_col))
            end = script.text.index('}', script.text.index('querySetId')) + 1
            data = json.loads(script.text[start:end])

            results = data[result_sets_col][0]
            columns = results['columns']
            rows = results['rows']

            column_index = get_column_index()
            if column_index > -1:
                for row in rows:
                    yield row[column_index]

Unit tests:

import os
import unittest

from bs4 import BeautifulSoup
from robosanta.stackexchange.sede import extract_column

BASE_DIR = os.path.dirname(__file__)

SEDE_OUTPUT_HTML = os.path.join(BASE_DIR, 'sede-output.html')
POST_ID_COLUMN = 'Post Link'
DATE_COLUMN = 'CreationDate'

def new_soup():
    with open(SEDE_OUTPUT_HTML) as fh:
        return BeautifulSoup(fh)

class TestGetColumn(unittest.TestCase):
    def extract_column(self, colname):
        return extract_column(new_soup(), colname)

    def extract_post_link(self):
        return self.extract_column(POST_ID_COLUMN)

    def extract_date(self):
        return self.extract_column(DATE_COLUMN)

    def test_row_count_of_post_link(self):
        self.assertEqual(ROW_COUNT, len(list(self.extract_post_link())))

    def test_first_post_link(self):
        expected = {
            'title': 'TinyMVC Model / Plugin how to implement?',
            'id': 12144,
        self.assertEqual(expected, next(self.extract_post_link()))

    def test_row_count_of_date(self):
        self.assertEqual(ROW_COUNT, len(list(self.extract_date())))

    def test_first_date(self):
        self.assertEqual(1338304381360, next(self.extract_date()))

    def test_nonexistent_column(self):
        with self.assertRaises(StopIteration):

if __name__ == '__main__':

You can find the content of sede-output.html (the test data) here.

I'm looking for any and all suggestions, especially concerning:

  • Improving the main implementation (the scraping)
  • Improving the way to test this
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would suggest taking a look at scrapy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Quill
    Dec 14, 2015 at 13:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Quill I think you should include your reasoning with suggestions like that. For example, do you see some obvious advantages of scrapy over beautifulsoup, concerning the code in question? \$\endgroup\$
    – janos
    Dec 14, 2015 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did not mean to say that scrapy is better, simply that it's worth taking a look at, even if to gain another perspective of operation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Quill
    Dec 14, 2015 at 14:14

2 Answers 2


get_column_index could just return None, then the test becomes if column_index:. However the bigger concern is it using the columns variable unexpectedly when it's only introduced much later in the code, i.e. not provided as a parameter. I'd change that and pass in columns explicitly because it's confusing even if the language allows it.

  • result_sets_col is being used as a constant, so it should follow constant naming convention, e.g. RESULT_SETS_COLUMN.
  • I'd introduce text = script.text to shorten it a bit.

Otherwise looks good. Unit tests are also nicely split.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't see your point about result_sets_col. It's not a constant. It's a local implementation detail. As for the sneaky usage, the language allows this, deliberately. It's a feature of functional languages to allow defining functions in local scope, and letting them access variables in their surrounding scope. In fact, adding the (redundant) column parameter results in a lint warning. Moving the get_column_index function outside doesn't really make sense, as I don't need it outside, it's an implementation detail of extract_column \$\endgroup\$
    – janos
    Dec 14, 2015 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't mean to move get_column_index outside, I agree with the implementation detail; columns is defined after the function and appears several levels deeper, so it really should be a different scope and not surrounding the function. \$\endgroup\$
    – ferada
    Dec 14, 2015 at 13:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ If I add columns as a parameter, its value will be exactly as is in the surrounding scope, and as such completely redundant. Actually I used that parameter at first, but that raised lint warnings, for shadowing the columns variable in the scope. I removed it to eliminate the warning, and because it's logical, and because I remembered examples in functional programming where this writing style is actually recommended, as opposed to redundancies. Btw you haven't addressed my response about the non-constant result_sets_col \$\endgroup\$
    – janos
    Dec 14, 2015 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ For result_sets_col it looks like it's used to define the 'resultSets' in one place, then reuse it. Even though it is not a global constant, it's certainly used as a constant here. I wanted to suggest that if it's used as a constant, it probably should be named like one. \$\endgroup\$
    – ferada
    Dec 14, 2015 at 14:59
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with ferada wrt result_sets_col; one other comment about it: since you're never changing it, set it outside the loop - unoptimized interpreters may not realize it can be moved outside the loops and will spend time executing it (or at least, considering executing it) every time through. \$\endgroup\$
    – pjz
    Dec 14, 2015 at 16:27

I'd test if not result_sets_col in script.text and continue in that case, to remove a level of nesting:

for script in soup.findAll('script'):
    result_sets_col = 'resultSets'
    if not result_sets_col in script.text:

    start = script.text.rindex('{', 0, script.text.index(result_sets_col))

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