Finding Attributes with Specific Text Using XPath in Python

What will you learn?

In this comprehensive tutorial, you will master the art of utilizing XPath expressions in Python to precisely locate XML or HTML attributes that contain specific text. This skill is invaluable for tasks like web scraping and data extraction.

Introduction to the Problem and Solution

When dealing with XML or HTML data, it’s common to extract elements based on certain criteria. One frequent requirement is identifying elements whose attributes include a particular substring. For instance, finding all links on a webpage that direct to a specific domain.

To address this challenge effectively, we harness the power of XPath expressions within Python. XPath offers a versatile approach to navigate through elements and attributes in an XML document. By combining Python libraries like lxml with XPath expressions, we can efficiently query documents for targeted information.


from lxml import etree

# Sample XML data (you can replace this with your actual HTML/XML content)
xml_data = '''
    <book id="1" title="Python Programming" author="John Doe"/>
    <book id="2" title="Learning XPath" author="Jane Smith"/>
    <book id="3" title="Advanced Python Techniques" author="John Doe"/>

# Parse the XML data
tree = etree.fromstring(xml_data)

# XPath expression to find any attribute containing 'Python'
xpath_expression = "//*[@*[contains(., 'Python')]]"

# Execute the XPath query
matching_elements = tree.xpath(xpath_expression)

for element in matching_elements:
    print(f'Element: {element.tag}, Attributes: {element.attrib}')

# Copyright PHD


The provided code snippet illustrates how to leverage an XPath expression within Python using the lxml library to locate elements based on their attribute values containing specific text.

  • We start by parsing the XML data into an ElementTree object using etree.fromstring.
  • The XPath expression “//*[@*[contains(., ‘Python’)]]” is defined as follows:
    • //*: selects all elements at any level of the document.
    • @*: selects all attributes of the chosen elements.
    • [contains(., ‘Python’)]: filters elements where any attribute contains the text ‘Python’.
  • The query is executed using .xpath(), returning matched elements.
  • Finally, for each found element, its tag name and attributes are displayed.

This method enables us not only to search through tags but also thoroughly examine attributes across an entire document dynamically and efficiently.

  1. How do I install lxml?

  2. To install lxml, use the following command:

  3. pip install lxml
  4. # Copyright PHD
  5. Can I use this method with HTML content?

  6. Yes! Ensure your HTML content is correctly parsed before applying this concept.

  7. What does ‘@*’ mean in an XPath expression?

  8. It denotes selecting all attributes of matched element(s) from previous parts of the XPath.

  9. How does contains() work in XPath?

  10. The function contains(a,b) verifies if string a contains string b.

  11. Is it possible to match case-insensitively?

  12. Yes, but it requires additional functions like translate() for string conversions within your expression.

  13. Can I apply this technique for JSON data?

  14. Directly no; JSON needs conversion or tools like json2xml first since its structure differs from XML/HTML used for xpath queries.

  15. Do namespaces impact my queries?

  16. Yes, dealing with namespaces may involve additional steps such as declaring them before querying.

  17. Can I select multiple different texts simultaneously?

  18. You can have separate contains statements joined by ‘or’ inside brackets [contains(…) or contains(…)].

  19. Is there a performance concern when searching large documents?

  20. Potentially yes; optimizing XPaths and structuring queries well can help alleviate some overheads.

  21. Are there alternatives besides lxml library for executing XPaths in Python?

  22. Certainly! Other libraries include BeautifulSoup (with some limitations compared) and xml.etree.ElementTree among others.


By mastering how to construct and utilize XPath expressions within Python, particularly leveraging robust libraries like lxml, developers can efficiently navigate complex XML/HTML structures, simplifying tasks such as web scraping. With practice, these skills become indispensable tools in your programming arsenal.

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