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The goal of polite is to promote responsible web etiquette.

“bow and scrape” (verb):

  1. To make a deep bow with the right leg drawn back (thus scraping the floor), left hand pressed across the abdomen, right arm held aside.

  2. (idiomatic, by extension) To behave in a servile, obsequious, or excessively polite manner. [1]
    Source: Wiktionary, The free dictionary

The package’s two main functions bow and scrape define and realize a web harvesting session. bow is used to introduce the client to the host and ask for permission to scrape (by inquiring against the host’s robots.txt file), while scrape is the main function for retrieving data from the remote server. Once the connection is established, there’s no need to bow again. Rather, in order to adjust a scraping URL the user can simply nod to the new path, which updates the session’s URL, making sure that the new location can be negotiated against robots.txt.

The three pillars of a polite session are seeking permission, taking slowly and never asking twice.

The package builds on awesome toolkits for defining and managing http sessions (httr and rvest), declaring the user agent string and investigating site policies (robotstxt), and utilizing rate-limiting and response caching (ratelimitr and memoise).


You can install the development version of polite from GitHub with:

# install.packages("devtools")

Basic Example

This is a basic example which shows how to retrieve the list of semi-soft cheeses from www.cheese.com. Here, we authenticate a session and then scrape the page with specified parameters. Behind the scenes polite retrieves robots.txt, checks the URL and user agent string against it, caches the call to robots.txt and to the web page and enforces rate limiting.


session <- bow("https://www.cheese.com/by_type", force = TRUE)
result <- scrape(session, query=list(t="semi-soft",per_page=100)) %>%
  html_node("#main-body") %>% 
  html_nodes("h3") %>% 
#> [1] "3-Cheese Italian Blend"  "Abbaye de Citeaux"      
#> [3] "Abbaye du Mont des Cats" "Adelost"                
#> [5] "ADL Brick Cheese"        "Ailsa Craig"

Extended Example

You can build your own functions that incorporate bow, scrape (and, if required, nod). Here we will extend our inquiry into cheeses and will download all cheese names and URLs to their information pages. Let’s retrieve the number of pages per letter in the alphabetical list, keeping the number of results per page to 100 to minimize number of web requests.


session <- bow("https://www.cheese.com/alphabetical")

# this is only to illustrate the example.
letters <- letters[1:3] # delete this line to scrape all letters

responses <- map(letters, ~scrape(session, query = list(per_page=100,i=.x)) )
results <- map(responses, ~html_nodes(.x, "#id_page li") %>% 
                           html_text(trim = TRUE) %>% 
                           as.numeric() %>%
                           tail(1) ) %>% 
           map(~pluck(.x, 1, .default=1))
pages_df <- tibble(letter = rep.int(letters, times=unlist(results)),
                   pages = unlist(map(results, ~seq.int(from=1, to=.x))))
#> # A tibble: 6 x 2
#>   letter pages
#>   <chr>  <int>
#> 1 a          1
#> 2 b          1
#> 3 b          2
#> 4 c          1
#> 5 c          2
#> 6 c          3

Now that we know how many pages to retrieve from each letter page, let’s rotate over letter pages and retrieve cheese names and underlying links to cheese details. We will need to write a helper function. Our session is still valid and we don’t need to nod again, because we will not be modifying a page URL, only its parameters (note that the field url is missing from scrape function).

get_cheese_page <- function(letter, pages){
 lnks <- scrape(session, query=list(per_page=100,i=letter,page=pages)) %>% 
    html_nodes("h3 a")
tibble(name=lnks %>% html_text(),
       link=lnks %>% html_attr("href"))

df <- pages_df %>% pmap_df(get_cheese_page)
#> # A tibble: 515 x 2
#>    name                    link                     
#>    <chr>                   <chr>                    
#>  1 Abbaye de Belloc        /abbaye-de-belloc/       
#>  2 Abbaye de Belval        /abbaye-de-belval/       
#>  3 Abbaye de Citeaux       /abbaye-de-citeaux/      
#>  4 Abbaye de Timadeuc      /abbaye-de-timadeuc/     
#>  5 Abbaye du Mont des Cats /abbaye-du-mont-des-cats/
#>  6 Abbot’s Gold            /abbots-gold/            
#>  7 Abertam                 /abertam/                
#>  8 Abondance               /abondance/              
#>  9 Acapella                /acapella/               
#> 10 "Accasciato "           /accasciato/             
#> # … with 505 more rows

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[1] Wiktionary (2018), The free dictionary, retrieved from https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bow_and_scrape