Chapter 22. Structured Text: HTML

Most documents on the Web use HTML, the HyperText Markup Language. Markup is the insertion of special tokens, known as tags, in a text document to give structure to the text. HTML is an application of the large, general standard known as SGML, the Standard General Markup Language. In practice, many of the Web's documents use HTML in sloppy or incorrect ways. Browsers have evolved many practical heuristics over the years to try and compensate for this, but even so, it still often happens that a browser displays an incorrect web page in some weird way.

Moreover, HTML was never suitable for much more than presenting documents on a screen. Complete and precise extraction of the information in the document, working backward from the document's presentation, is often unfeasible. To tighten things up again, HTML has evolved into a more rigorous standard called XHTML. XHTML is very similar to traditional HTML, but it is defined in terms of XML and more precisely than HTML. You can handle XHTML with the tools covered in Chapter 23.

Despite the difficulties, it's often possible to extract at least some useful information from HTML documents. Python supplies the sgmllib, htmllib, and HTMLParser modules for the task of parsing HTML documents, whether this parsing is for the purpose of presenting the documents, or, more typically, as part of an attempt to extract information from them. Generating HTML and embedding Python in HTML are also frequent tasks. No standard Python library module supports HTML generation or embedding directly, but you can use normal Python string manipulation, and third-party modules can also help.

    Part III: Python Library and Extension Modules