I've written a class that will start from a random Wikipedia page, then choose the first link in the main body, and then navigate following the links until it finds the Philosophy page. When I run the testCrawler() method, it crawls starting from 20 pages and then plots the lengths of all of the paths. This generally works but I just want to confirm that the code looks clean/intuitive.

Points of concern: As there are a vast amount of edge cases, I have multiple try/except blocks. Does this look unwieldy?

Also, the point of graphing the path lengths is to try to see what kind of distribution the path lengths form. If the graph looks like it's 'normal' can I assume normality? Or is there a better way to do this (an automated way)?

import requests
from lxml.html import fromstring
import json
from bs4 import BeautifulSoup,NavigableString, Tag
import sys
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import numpy as np


class Crawler():
    ''' Class used to crawl wikipedia pages starting from a random article.
    def __init__(self):
        self.baseUrl = "https://en.wikipedia.org"

    def reformatString(self,char,word):
        '''Remove passed in char from a string and convert its characters to lowercase
        word = word.lower()
        charIdx = word.find(char)
        if charIdx != -1:
            return word[:charIdx]
        return word
    def checkNameMatch(self,heading,string):
        '''Determine whether or not any part of the article heading is in the string and vice versa
        for i in range(len(string)):
            for j in range(len(heading)):
                if heading[j] in string[i] or string[i] in heading[j]:
                    return True
        return False

    def tokenize(self, word):
        '''Split the passed in 'word' on space characters and return a list of tokens
        tokens = []
        currWord = ""
        for i in range(len(word)):
            if word[i] == " " and i == len(word)-1:
                tokens.append(word.strip(" "))
                return tokens
            currWord += word[i]
            if word[i] == " " :
                currWord = ""
            if i == len(word)-1:
                return tokens

    def getValidLink(self, currResponse):
        '''Takes an html response and returns the first link in the main body of the article
        currRoot = BeautifulSoup(currResponse.text,"lxml")
        first = currRoot.select_one("#mw-content-text") #locate main body
        par = first.find_all("p",recursive = False,limit = 10)
        heading = currRoot.select_one("#firstHeading").text
        heading = self.reformatString('(',heading)
        firstParagraphFound = False
        headTokens = self.tokenize(heading)

        #Find which paragraph has the first link
        i = 0
        for i in range(len(par)):
            if par[i].b != None:
                bold = ""
                for string in par[i].find_all("b"):
                    bold += " " + string.text
                bold = self.reformatString('(', bold)
                boldTokens = self.tokenize(bold)
                headingMatch = self.checkNameMatch(headTokens,boldTokens)
                if headingMatch:
                    firstParagraphFound = True
                if headingMatch and par[i].a:
            if par[i].a != None:
                anchor = par[i].a.text
                if anchor:
                    anchor = self.reformatString('(', anchor)
                    aTokens = self.tokenize(anchor)
                    headingMatch = self.checkNameMatch(headTokens,aTokens)
                    if headingMatch:
            if firstParagraphFound and par[i].a:
            i += 1

        #if none of the paragraphs have a link and article contains only a list
        if i >= len(par)-1 and firstParagraphFound:
            ulist = first.find_all('ul')
                return ulist[0].li.a.attrs['href']
            except (IndexError, AttributeError):
                return None
        elif i >= len(par)-1:
            print "\nReached article with no main body\n"
            return None

        mainBodyIdx = i
        stack = []
        #Find the first link before or after parentheses 
        for child in par[mainBodyIdx].children:
            if isinstance(child,NavigableString):
                if "(" in child:
                if ")" in child:
                    except IndexError:
                        print "html malformed"
                        return None

            if isinstance(child, Tag) and child.name == "a" and not stack:
                link = child.attrs['href']

                link = self.reformatString('#',link)

                    return str(link)
                except KeyError:
                    print "\nReached article with no main body\n"
                    return None

    def crawlToPhilosophy(self, startUrl):
        '''Follow the path of each url until the philosophy page is reached and return the path.
        linkPath = []
        #Get first link
            initResponse = requests.get(startUrl)
        except requests.exceptions.RequestException as e:
            print "bad link: " + str(e)
            return None

        initLink = self.getValidLink(initResponse)
        if not initLink:
            return None
        linkPath.append(self.baseUrl +initLink)

        #Follow path of links until the philosophy page is reached
        i = 0
        while True:
            if "philosophy" in  linkPath[i].lower():
                currResponse = requests.get(linkPath[i])
            except requests.exceptions.RequestException as e:
                print "bad link: " + str(e)
                return None 

            currLink = self.getValidLink(currResponse)
            if not currLink:
                return None
            newLink = self.baseUrl + currLink
            for i in range(len(linkPath)):
                if newLink in linkPath[i] : #loop found
                    print "loop found!"
                    return None
            i += 1

        return linkPath

    def testCrawl(self,url):
        '''Find paths starting from 20 different links'''
        i = 0
        crawlList = []
        while i < 20:
            path = self.crawlToPhilosophy(url)
            if path != None:
                i += 1

    def plotLengths(self,lens):
        '''Plot the distribution of path lengths'''
        idxs = [x for x in range(len(lens))]
        bins = [0,2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16]
        plt.hist(lens,bins,histtype = 'bar',rwidth = 0.6)
        plt.ylabel('Path Lengths')
        plt.title('Distribution of path lengths')

if __name__ == "__main__":
    url = "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random"
    crawler = Crawler()
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you want to gather statistics from much more than 20 starting pages, consider downloading all of Wikipedia instead of web crawling. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 0:32

1 Answer 1


Code Style Issues:

  • naming - this is the first thing that is easily noticeable - your variable and method names should not be named in the camel-case - follow the Python naming convention
  • testCrawl, even if renamed to a proper test_crawl is a terrible method name - especially given what it is actually doing - how about find_paths or find_paths_to_philosophy?..
  • there is an unused variable: idxs in the plotLengths() method
  • organize imports per PEP8:
  1. standard library imports
  2. related third party imports
  3. local application/library specific imports

All separated with a new line. And, remove unused imports:

import sys

from bs4 import BeautifulSoup, NavigableString, Tag
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import requests
  • when comparing to None, it is better to use is not instead of !=. For instance, if path != None: would become if path is not None:. Also, check if you can simply use the if path: thruthiness check here and in similar cases throughout the code
  • you can remove extra () in class definitions - e.g. class Crawler: instead of class Crawler():
  • docstrings should be enclosed in triple double-quotes, and, if they fit on a single line, start with an upper-case letter and end with a dot.
  • you should have a single newline between the class methods, two blank lines after the imports (PEP8 reference)
  • use print() as a function for Python 3 compatibility
  • inline comments should begin with a single space (reference)
  • you can improve the way you define bins, replacing:

    bins = [0,2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16]


    bins = range(0, BIN_COUNT + 1, 2)

    where BIN_COUNT = 16 (defining it as a "constant")

  • when getting element's attributes in BeautifulSoup, there is no need to use .attrs. You can simply treat an element as a dictionary. E.g. replacing:

    return ulist[0].li.a.attrs['href']


    return ulist[0].li.a['href']
  • when joining URL parts, it would be cleaner and more reliable to use urljoin() instead of string concatenation

  • it would probably be a good idea to define the "magic" number 20 as a constant, or allow to configure/change it when starting the crawling

Code Organization Issues:

  • there are some "separation of concerns" and Single Responsibility Principle issues - your Crawler class is responsible for too much unrelated things - for instance, the reformatString or plotLengths methods don't sound related to "crawling" - extract these methods

Performance Improvements:

  • since you are issuing multiple requests to the same domain, you can make use of requests.Session which will reuse the underlying TCP connection which will result into performance gains
  • I think you can also do better when parsing HTML - you always need a single part of the page. This made me think, if you can use the SoupStrainer to parse only part of the document

Note that even if you apply all the suggested changes, I think we would definitely need at least one more round of reviews (it is perfectly okay to post a new question with improved code asking for further improvements).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I had just been focusing mainly on getting the code to work since it was taking so long and I didn't focus on variable naming or style conventions. I added most of the changes, except I didn't do if path: b/c I think it caused a problem and I didn't use SoupStrainer b/c there are cases where I'm not just extracting a <p> tag. I posted a follow up question here. Thanks for all of the help! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 4:03

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