I was boredly sitting in class earlier this evening when someone mentioned that he had been trying to scrape and parse UW’s course listings with python. I suggested BeautifulSoup, which he said he’d used, but it was still incredibly dfficult. I had to give it a shot myself. If you want to follow along, here’s one of the pages. Without looking at the source, it’s clearly a table or possibly a few of them, but still relatively easy to parse. However, looking at the source reveals that each timeslot of each course is in fact its own table, with one row and cell, which contains a <pre> tag, which has the “table” made by using the proper number of spaces to make everything line up. Like this:

<table width="100%" ><tr><td><pre>
       B  5       MW     545-745P   UW1  221      NASH,ROB D
       Open     26/  48                      
                               MUST ENROLL IN CSSSKL 162 B                                                                                                                         

After some brief spectulation with my fellow classmates about what they could be doing on the backend, I got down to parsing it. I first tried spliting it by the space character, then selecting each non-empty element and assuming it was what belonged in that place, but I quickly discovered that different courses have different numbers of values. For example, if a course is pass/no pass, it gets a little thing saying that. Otherwise, it gets a blank space in that “column”.

So I went with selectig the specific range of the value I wanted. It’s horrible, will probably break, but is the most reliable I could come up with. So, for example, characters 0 through 6 represent the enrollment restrictions column. Characters 7 through 13 are the SLN, etc. I put this all into a python script, which I tested on a number of different course listings, although not as extensively as I would have liked. The code can be found on my github. Feel free to file pull requests or issues if you find a problem/see a possible improvement. I’m stil not sure what to do with the data, but it has a lot of possibilities.

I’d love to see a collected set of utilities for accessing and parsing UW’s data. They have a lot of useful information like this that could be used to build great things. Maybe UW will sanction an official API or something…