Web scraping with Julia

One of my grad school procrastination projects was learning how to brew beer. I started off using a website called Hopville to keep track of the recipes I brewed, until they were acquired in 2013 by Brewtoad. Both sites provided a really convenient way to play around with recipe ideas, learn from others, and keep track of how each step of each brew went which was really helpful as a beginner.

Now, just five years later, Brewtoad is shutting down.1 With no way to easily grab an archive of the dozens of recipes and brew logs I’ve saved on the site, and no public API.2 So, the only remaining option is to go through and download the HTML for each page, one-by-one. I could do that myself but I don’t have time for that think that’s a task more appropriate for a computer. So I wrote a Julia script to scrape a user’s recipes and brew logs.

One neat thing was that the sluggish brewtoad servers—never particularly snappy and now positively groaning under the weight of desperate users appending .xml to the ends of their recipes one by one before they’re gone forever on December 31—provide the perfect use case for @async:

function main(userid)
    recipes = recipe_links(userid)
    # wait for all recipes to finish processing before return
    @sync begin
        for recipe in recipes
            # fetch and process each recipe asynchronously
            @async process_recipe(recipe)

I was sure that this was too easy to work the first time but lo, no problems. The only fiddly bit is remembering to enclose all the @async calls in a @sync begin ... end block but I’d seen enough examples with that pattern to know what to do.

The library I used for HTML parsing was Gumbo.jl, which wraps Google’s Gumbo. This worked great for my purposes, but does not include any functionality for extracting desired elements from the result. If you look at my script you can see at least three different and rather clumsy ways I tried to roll my own selector queries:

  1. A for loop with lots of if/else

    for node in PreOrderDFS(page.root)
        node isa HTMLElement{:a} || continue
        class = get(attrs(node), "class", "")
        if class == "recipe-link"
            link = attrs(node)["href"]
            push!(recipelinks, link)
        elseif class == "next_page"
            push!(pages, baseurl * attrs(node)["href"])
            println("Next page: ", attrs(node)["href"])
  2. Iterators.filter

    title = Iterators.filter(n -> n isa HTMLText && 
                                 n.parent isa HTMLElement{:h1},
  3. a list comprehension. with an if clause

    brewlog_links = 
         for n
         in PreOrderDFS(brewlogs.root)
         if n isa HTMLElement{:a} && 
             occursin(r"brew-logs/", get(attrs(n), "href", ""))]

I’m not aesthetically thrilled with any of these but they all get the job done. If I get a chance I’ll go back and re-write it with Cascadia.jl,3 which I didn’t see until after I’d basically written the script but does provide a convenient way to query the parsed HTML.

Finally, at some point requests to brewtoad.com from HTTP.jl started to return 403: Forbidden, even while requests from a browser or even curl worked fine. So I had to use run curl for each request instead of using HTTP.jl just to finish downloading my own goddamn data.

If you, too, want to save your recipes and logs from oblivion, here’s how:

$ git clone https://github.com/kleinschmidt/brewtoad-scrape.jl.git

$ cd brewtoad-scrape.jl

$ julia --project=. -e "using Pkg; Pkg.instantiate()"

$ julia --project=. scrape.jl <userid>

  1. Probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve never given them any money and my sweet sweet content is sufficiently monetizable to run a sustainable business. Of course they never asked for any money, or made it clear in any way that they were in danger of shutting down. If they had I would likely have paid a few bucks a month and I suspect many others would too. ↩︎

  2. Their official suggestion is to “append .xml after your recipe URL to download a BeerXML file”. There’s no such export option for the brew logs though, which are at least as important to me. ↩︎

  3. “Inspired by, and mostly a direct translation of, the Cascadia CSS Selector library, written in Go, by @andybalhom.” ↩︎