Advanced topics

Defining item checkers

Django Dynamic Scraper comes with a built-in mechanism to check, if items once scraped are still existing or if they could be deleted from the database. The entity providing this mechanism in DDS is called an item checker. An item checker is like a scraper also using the scraping logic from Scrapy. But instead of building together a new scraped item, it just checks the detail page referenced by the url of a scraped item. Depending on the checker_type and the result of the detail page check, the scraped item is kept or will be deleted from the DB.


Checker functionality of DDS only works for scraped object classes with a single DETAIL_PAGE_URL type ID field (see: Defining the object to be scraped).

Creating a checker class

To get a checker up and running you first have to create a checker class for each of your scraped object domain models. In our open news example, this would be a class called ArticleChecker in a module called checkers in our scraper directory:

from dynamic_scraper.spiders.django_checker import DjangoChecker
from open_news.models import Article

class ArticleChecker(DjangoChecker):

    name = 'article_checker'

    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        self._set_ref_object(Article, **kwargs)
        self.scraper = self.ref_object.news_website.scraper
        self.scrape_url = self.ref_object.url
        self.scheduler_runtime = self.ref_object.checker_runtime
        super(ArticleChecker, self).__init__(self, *args, **kwargs)

The checker class inherits from the DjangoChecker class from DDS and mainly gives the checker the information what to check and what parameters to use for checking. Be careful that the reference object is now the scraped object itself, since the checker is scraping from the item page url of this object. The url field to check is set with self.scrape_url = self.ref_object.url. Furthermore the checker needs its configuration data from the scraper of the reference object. The scheduler runtime is used to schedule the next check. So if you want to use checkers for your scraped object, you have to provide a foreign key to a SchedulerRuntime object in your model class. The scheduler runtime object also has to be saved manually in your pipeline class (see: Adding the pipeline class).

Select checker type/set check parameters

There are momentarily the following checker types to choose from:

404 Item is deleted after check has returned 404 HTTP status code 2x in a row
404_OR_X_PATH Same as 404 + check for an x_path value in the result

The checker type and the x_path parameters when choosing 404_OR_X_PATH as checker type are defined in the Django admin forms of the different scrapers:


For selecting a checker type and providing the parameters for an x_path checker you have to look for an example item page url from the website to be scraped which references an item not existing any more. If the urls to your scraped items are build using an item ID you can e.g. try to lower this ID or increase it to a very large number. Be creative! In our Wikinews example it is a bit different, since the news article url there is build using the title of the article. So for the checker we take a random article url to a not existing article: “”.

If your url found is responding with a 404 when invoked, you can simply choose 404 as your checker type. For a 404_OR_X_PATH checker you have to provide an XPath for your chosen url which will extract a string from that url uniquely indicating, that the content originally expected is not there any more. For our Wikinews example and the url we choose above there is a text and a url provided suggesting to create the currently not existing wiki page, so we can use the XPath //a[@href=""]/text() and the result string “create this page” to uniquely identifying a scraped item not existing any more. It is also possible to leave out the result string. Then the checker already succeeds when the given xpath is finding elements on the page.


Attention! Make sure that the XPath/result string combination you choose is NOT succeeding on normal item pages, otherwise the checker will delete all your items!


To make sure your items aren’t deleted accidentally on a 404 response, 404 checks are only deleted on the second try while XPath checks are deleted at once. So to save crawling resources always try to realize your checking with XPath checks, otherwise the crawler need double the amount of checks!

Running your checkers

You can test your DDS checkers the same way you would run your scrapers:

scrapy crawl CHECKERNAME -a id=REF_OBJECT_ID [-a do_action=(yes|no) -a run_type=(TASK|SHELL)]

As a reference object ID you now have to provide the ID of a scraped item to be checked. With do_action=yes an item is really deleted, otherwise the checker is only tested without actually manipulating the DB.

If you want to test a check on an item scraped in the open news example project, change the url of the item in the DB to the checker reference url, look for the item ID and then run:

scrapy crawl article_checker -a id=ITEM_ID -a do_action=yes

If everything works well, your item should have been deleted.

Run checker tests

Django Dynamic Scraper comes with a build-in scraper called checker_test which can be used to test your checkers against the defined reference url. You can run this checker on the command line with the following command:

scrapy crawl checker_test -a id=SCRAPER_ID

This scraper is useful both to look, if you have chosen a valid checker_x_path_ref_url and corresponding checker_x_path and checker_x_path_result values as well as to see over time if your reference urls stay valid.

For running all checker tests at once there exists a simple Django management command called run_checker_tests, which executes the checker_test scraper for all of your defined scrapers and outputs Scrapy log messages on WARNING level and above:

python run_checker_tests [--only-active --report-only-errors --send-admin-mail]

The option only-active will limit execution to active scrapers, --report-only-errors will more generously pass the test on some not so severe cases (e.g. a checker ref url returning 404 for a 404_OR_X_PATH checker type). Executing the command with the --send-admin-mail flag will send an email to Django admins if checker configurations are not working which can be useful if you want to run this command as a cronjob.

Scheduling scrapers/checkers


Django Dynamic Scraper comes with a build-in mechanism to schedule the runs of your scrapers as well as your checkers. After each run DDS dynamically calculates the next execution time depending on the success of the run. For a scraper that means, that the time between two scraper runs is shortened when new items could be scraped from a page and is prolonged if not. For a checker, it means that a next check is prolonged if the check was not successful, meaning that the item was not deleted. If it was deleted - well: than it was deleted! No further action! :-) The parameters for this calculation (e.g. a min/max time period between two actions) are defined for each ScrapedObjClass in the DB.

DDS is using django-celery to actually run your scrapers. Celery is a distributed task queue system for Python, which means that you can run a celery daemon which takes task orders from somewhere and then executes the corresponding tasks in a sequential way so that no task is lost, even if the system is under heavy load. In our use case Celery is “just” working as a comfortable cron job replacement, which can be controlled via the Django admin interface. The scheduler of DDS is using the scheduler runtime objects we defined for our example scraper and checker in the sections before. The scheduler runtime objects contain some dynamic information for the calculation of the next execution time of the scraper as well as the next execution time itself. For django-celery a task for each ScrapedObjClass has to be defined, which can than be started and stopped in the Django admin interface. Each task is executed periodically in a configurable time frame (e.g. ever hour). The task is then running all the scrapers associated with its ScrapedObjClass, which next execution time lies in the past. After each run, the next next execution time is calculated by the scraper and saved into its scheduler runtime object. The next time this time lies in the past, the scraper is run again.


The number of spiders/checkers run at each task run is limited by the DSCRAPER_MAX_SPIDER_RUNS_PER_TASK and DSCRAPER_MAX_CHECKER_RUNS_PER_TASK settings which can be adopted in your custom settings file (see: Settings).

Installing/configuring django-celery for DDS

This paragraph is covering only the specific installation issues with django-celery in regard of installing it for the use with DDS, so you should be familiar with the basic functionality of Celery and take general installation infos from the django-celery website. If you have successfully installed and configured django-celery, you should see the Djcelery tables in the Django admin interface:


For django-celery to work, Celery also needs a message broker for the actual message transport. For our relatively simple use case, kombu is the easiest and recommended choice. Kombu is automatically installed as a dependency when you install django-celery and you can add it to your INSTALLED_APPS:


Then we can configure django-celery in combination with kombu in our file. A starter configuration could look similar to this:

# django-celery settings
import djcelery
BROKER_HOST = "localhost"
BROKER_USER = "guest"
CELERYBEAT_SCHEDULER = 'djcelery.schedulers.DatabaseScheduler'

Defining your tasks

For defining tasks for your scrapers and checkers which can be selected for periodical runs in the Django admin interface, you have to define two short methods in a Python module in which your tasks are declared and make sure, that your tasks are found by django-celery. The easiest way to do this is by placing your methods in a module called in the main directory of your app. The tasks should then be found automatically. The two methods in our open news example look like this:

from celery.task import task
from django.db.models import Q
from dynamic_scraper.utils.task_utils import TaskUtils
from open_news.models import NewsWebsite, Article

def run_spiders():
    t = TaskUtils()
    #Optional: Django field lookup keyword arguments to specify which reference objects (NewsWebsite)
    #to use for spider runs, e.g.:
    kwargs = {
        'scrape_me': True, #imaginary, model NewsWebsite hat no attribute 'scrape_me' in example
    #Optional as well: For more complex lookups you can pass Q objects vi args argument
    args = (Q(name='Wikinews'),)
    t.run_spiders(NewsWebsite, 'scraper', 'scraper_runtime', 'article_spider', *args, **kwargs)

def run_checkers():
    t = TaskUtils()
    #Optional: Django field lookup keyword arguments to specify which reference objects (Article)
    #to use for checker runs, e.g.:
    kwargs = {
        'check_me': True, #imaginary, model Article hat no attribute 'check_me' in example
    #Optional as well: For more complex lookups you can pass Q objects vi args argument
    args = (Q(id__gt=100),)
    t.run_checkers(Article, 'news_website__scraper', 'checker_runtime', 'article_checker', *args, **kwargs)

The two methods are decorated with the Celery task decorator to tell Celery that these methods should be regarded as tasks. In each task, a method from the TaskUtils module from DDS is called to run the spiders/checkers ready for the next execution.

Now you can create a peridoc task both for your scraper and your checker in the Django admin interface:


In the peridoc task form you should be able to select your tasks defined above. Create an interval how often these tasks are performed. In our open news example, 2 hours should be a good value. Please keep in mind, that these are not the values how often a scraper/checker is actually run. If you define a two hour timeframe here, it just means, that ever two hours, the task method executed is checking for scrapers/checkers with a next execution time (defined by the associated scheduler_runtime) lying in the past and run these scrapers. The actual time period between two runs is determined by the next execution time itself which is calculated dynamically and depending on the scheduling configuration you’ll learn more about below. For the scrapers to run, remember also that you have to set the scraper active in the associated scraper object.

Run your tasks

To actually run the task (respectively set our scheduling system to work as a whole) we have to run two different daemon processes. The first one is the celeryd daemon from django-celery which is responsible for collecting and executing tasks. We have to run celeryd with the -B option to also run the celerybeat task scheduler which executes periodical tasks defined in Celery. Start the daemon with:

python celeryd -l info -B --settings=example_project.settings

If everything works well, you should now see the following line in your command line output:

[2011-12-12 10:20:01,535: INFO/MainProcess] Celerybeat: Starting...

As a second daemon process we need the server coming along with Scrapy to actually crawl the different websites targeted with our scrapers. For Scrapy up to version 0.16 you can use the build-in Scrapy Server started with the following command from within the main directory of your project:

scrapy server

You should get an output similar to the following:


Starting with Scrapy 0.18 is not shipped bundled with scrapyd any more, being now a separate project, so you have to make sure you have deployed your Scrapy project (see: Scrapy Configuration) and run the server with:


For testing your scheduling system, you can temporarily set your time interval of your periodic task to a lower interval, e.g. 1 minute. Now you should see a new task coming in and being executed every minute:

Got task from broker: open_news.tasks.run_spiders[5a3fed53-c26a-4f8f-b946-8c4a2c7c5c83]
Task open_news.tasks.run_spiders[5a3fed53-c26a-4f8f-b946-8c4a2c7c5c83] succeeded in 0.052549123764s: None

The executed task should then run the scrapers/checkers which you should see in the output of the Scrapy server:

Process started: project='default' spider='article_spider' job='41f27199259e11e192041093e90a480a' pid=5932...
Process finished: project='default' spider='article_spider' job='41f27199259e11e192041093e90a480a' pid=5932...


Note that you can vary the log level for debugging as well as other run parameters when you start the servers, see the man/help pages of the celery and the Scrapy daemons.


Please see this configuration described here just as a hint to get started. If you want to use this in production you have to provide extra measures to make sure that your servers run constantly and that they are secure. See the specific server documentation for more information.

Scheduling configuration

Now coming to the little bit of magic added to all this stuff with dynamic scheduling. The basis for the dynamic scheduling in DDS is layed both for your scrapers and your checkers with the scheduling configuration parameters in your scraped object class definitions in the Django admin interface. The default configuration for a scraper looks like this:

"MIN_TIME": 15,
"MAX_TIME": 10080,

Scheduling now works as follows: the inital time period between two scraper runs is calculated by taking the product of the MIN_TIME and the INITIAL_NEXT_ACTION_FACTOR, with minutes as the basic time unit for MIN_TIME and MAX_TIME:

initial time period := 15 Minutes (MIN_TIME) * 10 (INITIAL_NEXT_ACTION_FACTOR) = 150 Minutes = 2 1/2 Hours

Now, every time a scraper run was successful, the new next action factor is calculated by dividing the actual next action factor by the FACTOR_CHANGE_FACTOR. So a successful scraper run would lead to the following new time period:

new next action factor (NAF) := 10 (INITIAL_NEXT_ACTION_FACTOR) / 1.3 (FACTOR_CHANGE_FACTOR) = 7.69 (rounded)
time period after successful run := 15 Minutes * 7.69 (NAF) = 115 Minutes

So if it turns out that your scraper always find new items the time period between two runs gets smaller and smaller until the defined MIN_TIME is reached which is taken as a minimum time period between two scraper runs. If your scraper was not successful (meaning, that no new items were found) these unsucessful actions (scraper runs) are counted as ZERO_ACTIONS. If a number of unsuccessful actions greater than ZERO_ACTIONS_FACTOR_CHANGE is counted, a new next action factor is calculated, this time by taking the product of the actual action factor and the FACTOR_CHANGE_FACTOR (calculation restarting from initial values for the example):

new next action factor (NAF) := 10 (INITIAL_NEXT_ACTION_FACTOR) * 1.3 (FACTOR_CHANGE_FACTOR) = 13
time period after 21 unsuccessful runs := 15 Minutes * 13 (NAF) = 195 Minutes

So the time period between two scraper runs becomes larger. If there is never a new item found for your scraper this will go on until the calculated time period reaches the MAX_TIME defined.

In the real world application of this mechanism normally neither the MIN_TIME nor the MAX_TIME should be reached. The normal situation is that your scraper often finds nothing new on the page to be scraped and than after x executed runs finds new items provided on the website to be scraped. If this x is generally lower than your defined ZERO_ACTIONS_FACTOR_CHANGE number, the time period is becoming shorter over time. But since this means more scraper runs in the same time chances are high that with these narrower scheduled runs less zero actions occur and leads at some point to an again increased next action factor. So some kind of (relatively) stable next action factor should be reached over time, representing in the best case a good compromise between the needs of actuality of your scrapers and not to much resources wasted on running your scraper on websites not updated in between two runs.


Since this is a relatively complex mechanism also depending on a large part on the update process of your scraped website, it will probably take some time to get a bit a feeling for how the scheduling is developing and to what action factors it tends to, so don’t try to find the perfect solution in the first run. Instead, start with a (maybe rather too conservatively calculated) start configuration and adjust your parameters over time. You can observe the development of your action factors in the scheduler runtime objects.


Please be aware that scraping is a resource consuming task, for your server but as well for the server of the websites you are scraping. Try to find a balanced solution, not just setting your MIN_TIME to 1 minute or similar.


If you don’t need dynamic scheduling, you can also just set the MIN_TIME and the MAX_TIME to the same values and just ignore the rest.

Scheduling of your checkers works very similar to the scraper scheduling, the inital configuration is as follows:

"MIN_TIME": 1440,
"MAX_TIME": 10080,

Since the checker scheduling is terminated with the success of a checker run (meaning the item and the associated scheduler runtime is deleted), there is only the prolonging time period part of the scheduler actually working. So scraped items are checked in a (relatively, defined by your configuration) short time period at first. If the item turns out to be persistently existing, the checks are prolonged till MAX_TIME is reached.

Advanced Request Options

Since DDS v.0.7+ you have more options to fine-tune your scraping requests by e.g. providing additional values for cookies or HTTP headers. These values are internally passed to Scrapy’s Request object. You can find the extended request options in the Request options tab in the Scraper form of your Django project admin. For the different page types like the (paginated) main pages and the detail pages following scraped urls you can define different request options.


Parameters for the different options are passed as JSON dicts. Make sure to use double quotes for attribute values and to leave the comma for the last attribute key-value pair.

Request Type and Method


The request type - corresponding to Scrapy’s Request classes - and the type of the request being sent as GET or POST. Normally you will choose GET together with a classic Request and POST with a FormRequest but for special cases you are free too choose here.

HTTP Headers


For setting/changing specific HTTP header fields like the referer URL use the headers text field in the request options.



Setting/changing the HTTP body. This can be useful for some special-case scenarios, for example if you want to send a POST request with content type for the request altered and sending POST parameters as a JSON dict.


Don’t be fooled, especially by the example provided: data for the body attribute is NOT provided as JSON but as a string. While e.g. the Headers field always has to be in JSON format, the Body text is just randomly JSON in this example, but it could also be This is my body text..

Request Cookies


Sometime the output of a website you want to scrape might depend on the values of some cookies sent to the server. For this occasion you can use the Cookies form in the request options tab, e.g. for setting the language of a website to english.

You can also use the {page} placeholder. This placeholder is replaced for consecutive pages according to your pagination parameters (see: Pagination).


If you want to pass a session ID for a site as a cookie, you can open the desired website in your browser and copy-paste the session ID from the development console for immediately following scraper runs.

Scrapy Meta Options


Changing Scrapy meta attributes, see Scrapy docs for reference.

Form Data


If you want to scrape data provided on a website via a web form, data is often returned via POST request after sending various POST request parameters for narrowing the results. For this scenario use the FormRequest request type and POST as method in the scraper admin and provide the adequate form data as a JSON dictionary in the request options.

You can also use the {page} placeholder. This placeholder is replaced for consecutive pages according to your pagination parameters (see: Pagination).

Scraping JSON content

Beside creating HTML or XML scrapers where you can use classic XPath notation, DDS supports also scraping pages encoded in JSON (v.0.5.0 and above), e.g. for crawling web APIs or ajax call result pages.

For scraping JSON, JSONPath is used, an XPath-like expression language for digging into JSON. For reference see expressions as defined here:


Using JSONPath in DDS works for standard JSON page results, but is not as heavily tested as using XPath for data extraction. If you are working with more complex JSONPath queries and run into problems, please report them on GitHub!

Scraping images/screenshots

Django Dynamic Scraper is providing a custom image pipeline build on Scrapy’s item pipeline for downloading images to scrape and download images associated to your items scraped and and save a reference to each image together with the scraped item in the DB.


For using image scraping in DDS you have to provide some additional parameters in your Scrapy file:

import os.path

PROJECT_ROOT = os.path.abspath(os.path.dirname(__file__))


IMAGES_STORE = os.path.join(PROJECT_ROOT, '../thumbnails')

    'small': (170, 170),

In your settings file you have to add the DjangoImagesPipeline from DDS to your ITEM_PIPELINES and define a folder to store images scraped. Don’t forget to create this folder in your file system and give it adequate permissions. You can also use the thumbnail creation capabilities already build in Scrapy by defining the thumbnail size via the IMAGES_THUMBS parameter.

Choosing store format for images

Different from Scrapy behaviour DDS is by default storing only one image in a flat store format directly under the IMAGES_STORE directory (Scrapy is creating a full/ subdirectory for the original image). If you use the IMAGES_THUMBS setting, the scaled down thumbnail image will replace the image with the original size. Due to this simplification you can only use one entry in your IMAGES_THUMBS dictionary and the name of the key there doesn’t matter.

Starting with DDS v.0.3.9 you can change this behaviour with the DSCRAPER_IMAGES_STORE_FORMAT setting:

DSCRAPER_IMAGES_STORE_FORMAT = 'FLAT'   # The original image or - if available - one thumbnail image
DSCRAPER_IMAGES_STORE_FORMAT = 'ALL'    # Both the original image and all given thumbnail sizes

FLAT is the default setting with the behaviour described above. The ALL setting restores the Scrapy behaviour, the original images are stored in a full/ directory under IMAGES_STORE, thumbnail files - if available - in separate sub directories for different thumbnail sizes (e.g. thumbs/small/).

Setting DSCRAPER_IMAGES_STORE_FORMAT to THUMBS, keeps only the thumbnail files, this setting makes only sense with setting the IMAGES_THUMBS setting as well. With ALL or THUMBS you can also use different sizes for thumbnail creation.


Differing from the Scrapy output, an image is stored in the DB just by name, omitting path information like full/


For image scraping to work you need the Pillow Library (PIL fork).

Updating domain model class/scraped obj class definition

When Scrapy is downloading images it creates a new unique random file name for each image saved in your image folder defined above. To keep a reference to the image associated with a scraped item DDS will save this filename in a field you have to define in your model class. In our open news example, we use ‘thumbnail’ as a field name:

class Article(models.Model):
    title = models.CharField(max_length=200)
    news_website = models.ForeignKey(NewsWebsite)
    description = models.TextField(blank=True)
    thumbnail = models.CharField(max_length=200)
    checker_runtime = models.ForeignKey(SchedulerRuntime)

    def __unicode__(self):
        return self.title

Note, that since there is just the filename of the image saved, you should declare this field as a simple CharField and not using UrlField or ImageField.

Now you have to update your ScrapedObjClass definition in the Django admin interface. Add a new attribute with the same name like in your model class and choose IMAGE as the attribute type. IMAGE is a special type to let your scraper know, that the image pipeline of DDS should be used when scraping this attribute.

Extending/Testing the scraper

At last we have to add a new scraper elem to our scraper, again in the Django admin interface, which scrapes and builds together the url of the image for the image pipeline to download later. Let’s have a look at the Wikinews website of our open news example. On the news article overview page there is also an image presented with each article summary, which we want to scrape. div[@class="l_image"]/a/img/@src should provide us with the url of that image. Since the image urls we scrape with our XPath are starting with a double slash ‘//’ and not with ‘http://‘, we also have to use a pre_url processor with 'pre_url': 'http:' as the processor context to complete the url.

That’s it! If you now run your scraper, you should see lines like the following in the output (if you are in debug mode) and you should end up with the images saved in your defined images folder and the names of these images stored in the image field of your domain model in the DB:

DEBUG: Image (downloaded): Downloaded image from <GET
u'thumbnail': '1bb3308a4c70b912ba6cf9d67344bb53476d70a2.jpg',

So now you have all these images, but how to rid of them if you don’t need them any more? If you use a checker to delete scraped items not existing any more, your images will be automatically deleted as well. However, if you manually delete scraped items in your database, you have to delete the associated file yourself.

Where to go from here

So now that you have got your scraper up and running and maybe even integrated some of the advanced stuff like pagination or scraping images, does that mean that life will become boring because there is nothing to be done left? Definitely not! Here are some ideas about what to do next:

  • Contribute to Django Dynamic Scraper through the experiences you made while using it (see How to contribute)
  • Make your scraped data searchable with Django Haystack
  • Provide an API to your scraped data so that others can use it with Django Tastypie
  • Or... just do something no one has ever done before! :-)