Politely scraping Wikipedia tables

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Wikipedia is such an amazing website, and also a fantastic source of data for analysis projects. I often find myself scraping Wikipedia’s tables for information and then cleaning and using the data for whatever I am working on.

However, scraping a website can create issues if not done properly. Though not required, I like to use the {polite} package to introduce myself to the website and ask for permission to scrape.

Recently, I submitted the Wikipedia table on independence days around the world to TidyTuesday – resulting in many beautiful and creative visualizations from the R Community! This post walks through how to “politely” scrape the table and pull it into a flat data frame so that it’s ready for use.

Load packages

There are several packages needed for this walkthrough:

# To clean data

# To scrape data

Scrape table

First, we save the web page with the table that we would like as url:

url <- "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_independence_days"

Next, we use polite::bow() to introduce ourselves to the host, Wikipedia. This reads the rules from robots.txt and makes sure we follow them. The object (url_bow in this case) is saved as an object of class polite.

url_bow <- polite::bow(url)

Next, we actually ‘scrape’ (pull the content of) the web page using polite::scrape(). This needs an object of class polite (created with bow() from before).

Since we politely scraped the entire web page, we want to use {rvest} to specify what exact content we’d like to pull out. We can do this using html_nodes().

How do we know which node we want? There are probably other ways of doing this. As a Firefox and Mac user, I click Cmd + Shift + C which opens up the Developer Tools so that I can select a specific element from the web page. I hover over the table to determine what the HTML is called, in this case, table.wikitable.

Screenshot of Google's Inspector tool on Wikipedia

This object is saved as an HTML table which is great, but a data frame would be preferable for analysis. So the final step is to use rvest::html_table() to read this table as something with which we can use tidyverse tools. The parameter fill = TRUE allows you to fill empty rows with NA.

ind_html <-
  polite::scrape(url_bow) %>%  # scrape web page
  rvest::html_nodes("table.wikitable") %>% # pull out specific table
  rvest::html_table(fill = TRUE) 

Flatten table

You will notice that ind_html is saved as a single object (a list) in which each element is a data frame. If we want to convert it to a flat data frame, we can specify that we want the content from only the first element [[1]]. We can then use janitor::clean_names() for nice, standardized column names.

ind_tab <- 
  ind_html[[1]] %>% 

That’s it! Now we’ve “politely” scraped the Wikipedia table into an analysis-ready data frame.


Additional steps to clean the file can be found in my GitHub repo. After doing so, I submitted to #TidyTuesday by submitting an issue on their page. Then they approved and shared the dataset!

This was a very quick walkthrough. I recommend Ryo Nakagawara’s blog post on politely scraping websites, especially if you would like (1) more in-depth explanations of what {polite} does and (2) more complex scraping examples.

Which Wikipedia table will you analyze next?

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