Getting started

Creating your Django models

Create your model classes

When you want to build a Django app using Django Dynamic Scraper to fill up your models with data you have to provide two model classes. The first class stores your scraped data, in our news example this is a class called Article storing articles scraped from different news websites. The second class is a reference class for this first model class, defining where the scraped items belong to. Often this class will represent a website, but it could also represent a category, a topic or something similar. In our news example we call the class NewsWebsite. Below is the code for this two model classes:

from django.db import models
from dynamic_scraper.models import Scraper, SchedulerRuntime
from scrapy_djangoitem import DjangoItem

class NewsWebsite(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=200)
    url = models.URLField()
    scraper = models.ForeignKey(Scraper, blank=True, null=True, on_delete=models.SET_NULL)
    scraper_runtime = models.ForeignKey(SchedulerRuntime, blank=True, null=True, on_delete=models.SET_NULL)

    def __unicode__(self):

class Article(models.Model):
    title = models.CharField(max_length=200)
    news_website = models.ForeignKey(NewsWebsite)
    description = models.TextField(blank=True)
    url = models.URLField()
    checker_runtime = models.ForeignKey(SchedulerRuntime, blank=True, null=True, on_delete=models.SET_NULL)

    def __unicode__(self):
        return self.title

class ArticleItem(DjangoItem):
    django_model = Article

As you can see, there are some foreign key fields defined in the models referencing DDS models. The NewsWebsite class has a reference to the Scraper DDS model, which contains the main scraper with information about how to scrape the attributes of the article objects. The scraper_runtime field is a reference to the SchedulerRuntime class from the DDS models. An object of this class stores scheduling information, in this case information about when to run a news website scraper for the next time. The NewsWebsite class also has to provide the url to be used during the scraping process. You can either use (if existing) the representative url field of the model class, which is pointing to the nicely-layouted overview news page also visited by the user. In this case we are choosing this way with taking the url attribute of the model class as the scrape url. However, it often makes sense to provide a dedicated scrape_url (you can name the attribute freely) field for cases, when the representative url differs from the scrape url (e.g. if list content is loaded via ajax, or if you want to use another format of the content - e.g. the rss feed - for scraping).

The Article class to store scraped news articles also has a reference to the SchedulerRuntime DDS model class called checker_runtime. In this case the scheduling object holds information about the next existance check (using the url field from Article) to evaluate if the news article still exists or if it can be deleted (see Defining item checkers).

Last but not least: Django Dynamic Scraper uses the DjangoItem class from Scrapy for being able to directly store the scraped data into the Django DB. You can store the item class (here: ArticleItem) telling Scrapy which model class to use for storing the data directly underneath the associated model class.


For having a loose coupling between your runtime objects and your domain model objects you should declare the foreign keys to the DDS objects with the blank=True, null=True, on_delete=models.SET_NULL field options. This will prevent a cascading delete of your reference object as well as the associated scraped objects when a DDS object is deleted accidentally.

Deletion of objects

If you delete model objects via the Django admin interface, the runtime objects are not deleted as well. If you want this to happen, you can use Django’s pre_delete signals in your to delete e.g. the checker_runtime when deleting an article:

def pre_delete_handler(sender, instance, using, **kwargs):

    if isinstance(instance, Article):
        if instance.checker_runtime:


Defining the object to be scraped

If you have done everything right up till now and even synced your DB :-) your Django admin should look similar to the following screenshot below, at least if you follow the example project:


Before being able to create scrapers in Django Dynamic Scraper you have to define which parts of the Django model class you defined above should be filled by your scraper. This is done via creating a new ScrapedObjClass in your Django admin interface and then adding several ScrapedObjAttr datasets to it, which is done inline in the form for the ScrapedObjClass. All attributes for the object class which are marked as to be saved to the database have to be named like the attributes in your model class to be scraped. In our open news example we want the title, the description, and the url of an Article to be scraped, so we add these attributes with the corresponding names to the scraped obj class.

The reason why we are redefining these attributes here, is that we can later define x_path elements for each of theses attributes dynamically in the scrapers we want to create. When Django Dynamic Scraper is scraping items, the general workflow of the scraping process is as follows:

  • The DDS scraper is scraping base elements from the overview page of items beeing scraped, with each base element encapsulating an item summary, e.g. in our open news example an article summary containing the title of the article, a screenshot and a short description. The encapsuling html tag often is a div, but could also be a td tag or something else.
  • If provided the DDS scraper is then scraping the url from this item summary block leading to a detail page of the item providing more information to scrape
  • All the real item attributes (like a title, a description, a date or an image) are then scraped either from within the item summary block on the overview page or from a detail page of the item. This can be defined later when creating the scraper itself.

To define which of the scraped obj attributes are just simple standard attributes to be scraped, which one is the base attribute (this is a bit of an artificial construct) and which one eventually is a url to be followed later, we have to choose an attribute type for each attribute defined. There is a choice between the following types (taken from dynamic_scraper.models.ScrapedObjAttr):

    ('S', 'STANDARD'),
    ('T', 'STANDARD (UPDATE)'),
    ('B', 'BASE'),
    ('U', 'DETAIL_PAGE_URL'),
    ('I', 'IMAGE'),

STANDARD, BASE and DETAIL_PAGE_URL should be clear by now, STANDARD (UPDATE) behaves like STANDARD, but these attributes are updated with the new values if the item is already in the DB. IMAGE represents attributes which will hold images or screenshots. So for our open news example we define a base attribute called ‘base’ with type BASE, two standard elements ‘title’ and ‘description’ with type STANDARD and a url field called ‘url’ with type DETAIL_PAGE_URL. Your definition form for your scraped obj class should look similar to the screenshot below:


To prevent double entries in the DB you also have to set one or more object attributes of type STANDARD or DETAIL_PAGE_URL as ID Fields. If you provide a DETAIL_PAGE_URL for your object scraping, it is often a good idea to use this also as an ID Field, since the different URLs for different objects should be unique by definition in most cases. Using a single DETAIL_PAGE_URL ID field is also prerequisite if you want to use the checker functionality (see: Defining item checkers) of DDS for dynamically detecting and deleting items not existing any more.

Also note that these ID Fields just provide unique identification of an object for within the scraping process. In your model class defined in the chapter above you can use other ID fields or simply use a classic numerical auto-incremented ID provided by your database.


If you define an attribute as STANDARD (UPDATE) attribute and your scraper reads the value for this attribute from the detail page of the item, your scraping process requires much more page requests, because the scraper has to look at all the detail pages even for items already in the DB to compare the values. If you don’t use the update functionality, use the simple STANDARD attribute instead!


The order attribute for the different object attributes is just for convenience and determines the order of the attributes when used for defining XPaths in your scrapers. Use 10-based or 100-based steps for easier resorting (e.g. ‘100’, ‘200’, ‘300’, ...).

Defining your scrapers

General structure of a scraper

Scrapers for Django Dynamic Scraper are also defined in the Django admin interface. You first have to give the scraper a name and select the associated ScrapedObjClass. In our open news example we call the scraper ‘Wikinews Scraper’ and select the ScrapedObjClass named ‘Article’ defined above.

The main part of defining a scraper in DDS is to create several scraper elements, each connected to a ScrapedObjAttr from the selected ScrapedObjClass. Each scraper element define how to extract the data for the specific ScrapedObjAttr by following the main concepts of Scrapy for scraping data from websites. In the fields named ‘x_path’ and ‘reg_exp’ an XPath and (optionally) a regular expression is defined to extract the data from the page, following Scrapy’s concept of XPathSelectors. The ‘request_page_type’ select box tells the scraper if the data for the object attibute for the scraper element should be extracted from the overview page or a detail page of the specific item. For every chosen page type here you have to define a corresponding request page type in the admin form above. The fields ‘processors’ and ‘processors_ctxt’ are used to define output processors for your scraped data like they are defined in Scrapy’s Item Loader section. You can use these processors e.g. to add a string to your scraped data or to bring a scraped date in a common format. More on this later. Finally, the ‘mandatory’ check box is indicating whether the data scraped by the scraper element is a necessary field. If you define a scraper element as necessary and no data could be scraped for this element the item will be dropped. You always have to keep attributes mandatory if the corresponding attributes of your domain model class are mandatory fields, otherwise the scraped item can’t be saved in the DB.

For the moment, keep the status to MANUAL to run the spider via the command line during this tutorial. Later you will change it to ACTIVE.

Creating the scraper of our open news example

Let’s use the information above in the context of our Wikinews example. Below you see a screenshot of an html code extract from the Wikinews overview page like it is displayed by the developer tools in Google’s Chrome browser:


The next screenshot is from a news article detail page:


We will use these code snippets in our examples.


If you don’t want to manually create the necessary DB objects for the example project, you can also run python loaddata open_news/open_news_dds_[DDS_VERSION].json from within the example_project directory in your favorite shell to have all the objects necessary for the example created automatically. Use the file closest to the current DDS version. If you run into problems start installing the fitting DDS version for the fixture, then update the DDS version and apply the latest Django migrations.


The WikiNews site changes its code from time to time. I will try to update the example code and text in the docs, but I won’t keep pace with the screenshots so they can differ slightly compared to the real world example.

1. First we have to define a base scraper element to get the enclosing DOM elements for news item summaries. On the Wikinews overview page all news summaries are enclosed by <td> tags with a class called ‘l_box’, so //td[@class="l_box"] should do the trick. We leave the rest of the field for the scraper element on default.

2. It is not necessary but just for the purpose of this example let’s scrape the title of a news article from the article detail page. On an article detail page the headline of the article is enclosed by a <h1> tag with an id named ‘firstHeading’. So //h1[@id="firstHeading"]/text() should give us the headline. Since we want to scrape from the detail page, we have to activate the ‘from_detail_page’ check box.

3. All the standard elements we want to scrape from the overview page are defined relative to the base element. Therefore keep in mind to leave the trailing double slashes of XPath definitions. We scrape the short description of a news item from within a <span> tag with a class named ‘l_summary’. So the XPath is p/span[@class="l_summary"]/text().

4. And finally the url can be scraped via the XPath span[@class="l_title"]/a/@href. Since we only scrape the path of our url with this XPath and not the domain, we have to use a processor for the first time to complete the url. For this purpose there is a predefined processor called ‘pre_url’. You can find more predefined processors in the dynamic_scraper.utils.processors module - see Processors for processor reference - ‘pre_url’ is simply doing what we want, namely adding a base url string to the scraped string. To use a processor, just write the function name in the processor field. Processors can be given some extra information via the processors_ctxt field. In our case we need the spefic base url our scraped string should be appended to. Processor context information is provided in a dictionary like form: 'processor_name': 'context', in our case: 'pre_url': ''. Together with our scraped string this will create the complete url.

_images/screenshot_django-admin_scraper_1.png _images/screenshot_django-admin_scraper_2.png

This completes the xpath definitions for our scraper. The form you have filled out should look similar to the screenshot above (which is broken down to two rows due to space issues).


You can also scrape attributes of your object from outside the base element by using the .. notation in your XPath expressions to get to the parent nodes!


Starting with DDS v.0.8.11 you can build your detail page URLs with placeholders for main page attributes in the form of {ATTRIBUTE_NAME}, see Attribute Placeholders for further reference.

Adding corresponding request page types

For all page types you used for your ScraperElemes you have to define corresponding RequestPageType objects in the Scraper admin form. There has to be exactly one main page and 0-25 detail page type objects.


Within the RequestPageType object you can define request settings like the content type (HTML, XML,...), the request method (GET or POST) and others for the specific page type. With this it is e.g. possible to scrape HTML content from all the main pages and JSON content from the followed detail pages. For more information on this have a look at the Advanced Request Options section.

Create the domain entity reference object (NewsWebsite) for our open news example

Now - finally - we are just one step away of having all objects created in our Django admin. The last dataset we have to add is the reference object of our domain, meaning a NewsWebsite object for the Wikinews Website.

To do this open the NewsWebsite form in the Django admin, give the object a meaningful name (‘Wikinews’), assign the scraper and create an empty SchedulerRuntime object with SCRAPER as your runtime_type.


Connecting Scrapy with your Django objects

For Scrapy to work with your Django objects we finally set up two static classes, the one being a spider class, inheriting from DjangoSpider, the other being a finalising pipeline for saving our scraped objects.

Adding the spider class

The main work left to be done in our spider class - which is inheriting from the DjangoSpider class of Django Dynamic Scraper - is to instantiate the spider by connecting the domain model classes to it in the __init__ function:

from dynamic_scraper.spiders.django_spider import DjangoSpider
from open_news.models import NewsWebsite, Article, ArticleItem

class ArticleSpider(DjangoSpider):

    name = 'article_spider'

    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        self._set_ref_object(NewsWebsite, **kwargs)
        self.scraper = self.ref_object.scraper
        self.scrape_url = self.ref_object.url
        self.scheduler_runtime = self.ref_object.scraper_runtime
        self.scraped_obj_class = Article
        self.scraped_obj_item_class = ArticleItem
        super(ArticleSpider, self).__init__(self, *args, **kwargs)

Adding the pipeline class

Since you maybe want to add some extra attributes to your scraped items, DDS is not saving the scraped items for you but you have to do it manually in your own item pipeline:

import logging
from django.db.utils import IntegrityError
from scrapy.exceptions import DropItem
from dynamic_scraper.models import SchedulerRuntime

class DjangoWriterPipeline(object):

    def process_item(self, item, spider):
      if spider.conf['DO_ACTION']: #Necessary since DDS v.0.9+
                item['news_website'] = spider.ref_object

                checker_rt = SchedulerRuntime(runtime_type='C')
                item['checker_runtime'] = checker_rt

                spider.action_successful = True
                spider.log("Item saved.", logging.INFO)

            except IntegrityError as e:
                spider.log(str(e), logging.ERROR)
                spider.log(str(item._errors), logging.ERROR)
                raise DropItem("Missing attribute.")
          if not item.is_valid():
              spider.log(str(item._errors), logging.ERROR)
              raise DropItem("Missing attribute.")

      return item

The things you always have to do here is adding the reference object to the scraped item class and - if you are using checker functionality - create the runtime object for the checker. You also have to set the action_successful attribute of the spider, which is used internally by DDS when the spider is closed.

Running/Testing your scraper

You can run/test spiders created with Django Dynamic Scraper from the command line similar to how you would run your normal Scrapy spiders, but with some additional arguments given. The syntax of the DDS spider run command is as following:

scrapy crawl [--output=FILE --output-format=FORMAT] SPIDERNAME -a id=REF_OBJECT_ID
                        [-a do_action=(yes|no) -a run_type=(TASK|SHELL)
                        -a max_items_read={Int} -a max_items_save={Int}
                        -a max_pages_read={Int}
                        -a output_num_mp_response_bodies={Int} -a output_num_dp_response_bodies={Int} ]
  • With -a id=REF_OBJECT_ID you provide the ID of the reference object items should be scraped for, in our example case that would be the Wikinews NewsWebsite object, probably with ID 1 if you haven’t added other objects before. This argument is mandatory.
  • By default, items scraped from the command line are not saved in the DB. If you want this to happen, you have to provide -a do_action=yes.
  • With -a run_type=(TASK|SHELL) you can simulate task based scraper runs invoked from the command line. This can be useful for testing, just leave this argument for now.
  • With -a max_items_read={Int} and -a max_items_save={Int} you can override the scraper settings for these params.
  • With -a max_pages_read={Int} you can limit the number of pages read when using pagination
  • With -a output_num_mp_response_bodies={Int} and -a output_num_dp_response_bodies={Int} you can log the complete response body content of the {Int} first main/detail page responses to the screen for debugging (beginnings/endings are marked with a unique string in the form RP_MP_{num}_START for using full-text search for orientation)
  • If you don’t want your output saved to the Django DB but to a custom file you can use Scrapy`s build-in output options --output=FILE and --output-format=FORMAT to scrape items into a file. Use this without setting the -a do_action=yes parameter!

So, to invoke our Wikinews scraper, we have the following command:

scrapy crawl article_spider -a id=1 -a do_action=yes

If you have done everything correctly (which would be a bit unlikely for the first run after so many single steps, but just in theory... :-)), you should get some output similar to the following, of course with other headlines:


In your Django admin interface you should now see the scraped articles listed on the article overview page:



Your first scraper with Django Dynamic Scraper is working. Not so bad! If you do a second run and there haven’t been any new bugs added to the DDS source code in the meantime, no extra article objects should be added to the DB. If you try again later when some news articles changed on the Wikinews overview page, the new articles should be added to the DB.