Elisp: Generate Web Links Report

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page shows you how to use elisp to process HTML files in a directory, searching for a text pattern, and generate a report.


You have 7 thousand HTML files. You want to generate a report that lists all links to Wikipedia, with the file path the link is is from.

Normally, in unix you can use grep like this: grep -r 'wikipedia\.org/' dir. This can give you a nice overview, but the result of grep also contains adjacent texts. If you want to know which link are duplicated, or if you want to organize the output by file name, then unix shell tools is not convenient. You can write a {Perl, Python, Ruby} scritpt to do it, but let's see how to do it in elisp.

In this tutorial, you'll learn:


Here are the basic steps we need:

Once we have the data in a hash-table, it is very flexible. We can then generate a report in plain text or HTML, or do other processing.

Hash Table

First, we'll need to know how to use hash table in emacs. Here's a simple example:

(let (myhash val)

  ;; create a hash table
  (setq myhash (make-hash-table :test 'equal))

  ;; add entries
  (puthash "Joe" "19" myhash)
  (puthash "Jane" "20" myhash)
  (puthash "Liz" "21" myhash)

  ;; modify a entry's value
  (puthash "Jane" "16" myhash)

  ;; remove a entry
  (remhash "Liz" myhash)

  ;; get a entry's value
  (setq val (gethash "Jane" myhash))

  (message val) ; print it

For detail, see: Elisp: Hash Table.

Process a Single File

In our situation, we want the hash table's keys to be the full URL string, and the value should be a list. Each element in the list is the full path of the file that contains the link.

Here is the code that processes a single file. It opens the file, search for URL, if found, check if it exist in hash, if not, add it, else append to the existing entry.

(defun ff ()
  "test code to process a single file"
  (let (myhash myBuff myfile url)
    (setq myfile "~/web/p/time_machine/tm.html") ; the file to process

    (setq myhash (make-hash-table :test 'equal)) ; create hash table

    (setq myBuff (find-file myfile)) ; open file

    ;; repeat search for URL till not found
         nil t)

      (when (match-string 0) ; if URL found
        (setq url (match-string 1)) ; set the url to matched string

        ;; if exist in hash, prepend to existing entry, else just add
        (if (gethash url myhash)
            (puthash url (cons myfile (gethash url myhash)) myhash)
          (puthash url (list myfile) myhash))))

    (kill-buffer myBuff) ; close file

    ; print number of elements to see if this worked
    (message (number-to-string (hash-table-count myhash)))

You can try this code by downloading elisp manual to local disk, and run it on one of the html file.

Pretty Print Helpers

Here's some function to help us do the pretty-print for our report in HTML format.

(require 'gnus-util) ; for gnus-url-unhex-string

(defun wikipedia-url-to-link (url)
  "Return the URL as HTML link string.
 <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emacs%20Lisp\">Emacs Lisp</a>
  (let ((linkText url))
    (setq linkText (gnus-url-unhex-string linkText nil)) ; decode percent encoding. For example: %20
    (setq linkText (car (last (split-string linkText "/")))  ) ; get last part
    (setq linkText (replace-regexp-in-string "_" " " linkText )  ) ; low line → space
    (format "<a href=\"%s\">%s</a>" url linkText)
(defun get-html-file-title (fName)
  "Return FNAME <title> tag's text.
Assumes that the file contains the string
      (insert-file-contents fName nil nil nil t)
      (goto-char 1)
       (search-forward "<title>") (- (search-forward "</title>") 8))

That's it.

Emacs ♥

Elisp Script Examples

  1. Write grep in Elisp
  2. Find String Inside HTML Tag
  3. Validate Matching Brackets
  4. Generate Links Report
  5. Creating a Sitemap
  6. Archive Website For Reader Download
  7. Process File line-by-line
  8. Text-Soup Automation
  9. Split HTML Annotation
  10. Fixing Dead Links
  11. Elisp vs Perl: Validate Local File Links
  12. Transform Page Tag
  13. Transform HTML FAQ Tags
  14. Transform HTML Tags
  15. “figure” to “figcaption”
  16. “span.w” to “b”

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