Software Development with Linux

Parsing XHTML in C A libxml2 tutorial

TUE, 01 DEC 2009

Parsing (X)HTML in C is often seen as a difficult task.  It's true that C isn't the easiest language to use to develop a parser.  Fortunately, libxml2's HTMLParser module come to the rescue.  So, as promised, here's a small tutorial explaining how to use libxml2's HTMLParser to parse (X)HTML.

First, you need to create a parser context.  You have many functions for doing that, depending on how you want to feed data to the parser.  I'll use htmlCreatePushParserCtxt(), since it work with memory buffers.

htmlParserCtxtPtr parser = htmlCreatePushParserCtxt(NULL, NULL, NULL, 0, NULL, 0);

Then, you can set many options on that parser context.


We are now ready to parse an (X)HTML document.

// char * data : buffer containing part of the web page
// int len : number of bytes in data
// Last argument is 0 if the web page isn't complete, and 1 for the final call.
htmlParseChunk(parser, data, len, 0);

Once you've pushed it all your data, you can call that function again with a NULL buffer and '1' as the last argument.  This will ensure that the parser have processed everything.

Finally, how to get the data you parsed?  That's easier than it seems.  You simply have to walk the XML tree created. 

void walkTree(xmlNode * a_node)
  xmlNode *cur_node = NULL;
  xmlAttr *cur_attr = NULL;

  for (cur_node = a_node; cur_node; cur_node = cur_node->next) {
     // do something with that node information, like... printing the tag's name and attributes
    printf("Got tag : %sn", cur_node->name);
    for (cur_attr = cur_node->properties; cur_attr; cur_attr = cur_attr->next) {
      printf("  -> with attribute : %sn", cur_attre->name);



And that's it!  Isn't that simple enough?  From there, you can do any kind of stuff, like finding all referenced images (by looking at "img" tag) and fetching them, or anything you can think of doing.

Also, you should know that you can walk the XML tree anytime, even if you haven't parsed the whole (X)HTML document yet.

If you have to parse (X)HTML in C, you should use libxml2's HTMLParser.  It will save you a lot of time.