Parsing HTML and XML data in R Programming Language

HTML and XML are two widely used data formats for structuring and organizing information on the web. As a data analyst or scientist, it is often necessary to extract and analyze data from HTML or XML documents. Luckily, R programming language provides powerful tools and packages for parsing and manipulating HTML and XML data.

Introduction to HTML and XML parsing

Parsing HTML or XML data refers to the process of extracting specific information or elements from these documents. Both HTML and XML have a hierarchical structure, known as the document object model (DOM), which consists of nodes representing different elements. By parsing the DOM, we can access and extract the desired data.

There are several packages in R that facilitate HTML and XML parsing. Here, we will discuss some popular ones:

  1. XML: XML is a widely used package in R for parsing XML documents. It provides functions to read, manipulate, and extract information from XML files. The package uses XPath expressions to navigate through the XML structure and extract data.
  2. rvest: rvest is a powerful package in R specifically designed for web scraping. It enables users to easily scrape data from HTML web pages. Using CSS selectors, rvest allows extraction of specific elements, attributes, or text from HTML documents.
  3. xml2: xml2 is another package for parsing and manipulating XML data in R. It provides functions to analyze and extract information from XML files. xml2 supports XPath and CSS selectors, making it a versatile tool for parsing XML documents.
  4. httr: Although primarily used for HTTP requests, httr package includes functions that can parse HTML content. It allows fetching and parsing HTML web pages using the GET() function. It also works in conjunction with rvest to extract desired data from the parsed HTML.

Parsing HTML with rvest package

To demonstrate HTML parsing with rvest, consider the following example:


url <- ""
page <- read_html(url)

# Extract the page title
title <- html_text(html_nodes(page, "title"))

# Extract all hyperlinks on the page
links <- html_attr(html_nodes(page, "a"), "href")

# Print the results

In this example, we first load the rvest package. We then specify the URL of the HTML page we want to parse. Using the read_html() function, we convert the HTML content into a parseable form.

Next, we use html_nodes() function to specify the elements we want to extract. In this case, we extract the title and hyperlinks of the page using appropriate CSS selectors. html_text() and html_attr() functions help us extract the text and attributes respectively, from the specified nodes.

Finally, we print the extracted title and links to the console.

Parsing XML with XML package

To parse XML data using the XML package, consider the following example:


xml_file <- "data.xml"
xml_data <- xmlParse(xml_file)

# Extract data using XPath expression
values <- xpathSApply(xml_data, "//element", xmlValue)

# Print the extracted values

In this example, we first load the XML package. We then specify the XML file we want to parse using the xmlParse() function.

Next, we use the xpathSApply() function to extract specific elements from the XML data. The XPath expression "//element" selects all 'element' nodes in the document, and xmlValue returns their values.

Finally, we print the extracted values to the console.


Parsing HTML and XML data is essential for extracting valuable information from web pages and other structured documents. R programming language offers various packages, such as rvest and XML, that simplify the parsing process. By utilizing the power of these packages and their respective functions, analysts and scientists can effectively extract and analyze data from HTML and XML documents.

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