getNodeSet: Find matching nodes in an internal XML tree/DOM

View source: R/XMLClasses.R

getNodeSetR Documentation

Find matching nodes in an internal XML tree/DOM


These functions provide a way to find XML nodes that match a particular criterion. It uses the XPath syntax and allows very powerful expressions to identify nodes of interest within a document both clearly and efficiently. The XPath language requires some knowledge, but tutorials are available on the Web and in books. XPath queries can result in different types of values such as numbers, strings, and node sets. It allows simple identification of nodes by name, by path (i.e. hierarchies or sequences of node-child-child...), with a particular attribute or matching a particular attribute with a given value. It also supports functionality for navigating nodes in the tree within a query (e.g. ancestor(), child(), self()), and also for manipulating the content of one or more nodes (e.g. text). And it allows for criteria identifying nodes by position, etc. using some counting operations. Combining XPath with R allows for quite flexible node identification and manipulation. XPath offers an alternative way to find nodes of interest than recursively or iteratively navigating the entire tree in R and performing the navigation explicitly.

One can search an entire document or start the search from a particular node. Such node-based searches can even search up the tree as well as within the sub-tree that the node parents. Node specific XPath expressions are typically started with a "." to indicate the search is relative to that node.

You can use several XPath 2.0 functions in the XPath query. Furthermore, you can also register additional XPath functions that are implemented either with R functions or C routines. (See xpathFuns.)

The set of matching nodes corresponding to an XPath expression are returned in R as a list. One can then iterate over these elements to process the nodes in whatever way one wants. Unfortunately, this involves two loops - one in the XPath query over the entire tree, and another in R. Typically, this is fine as the number of matching nodes is reasonably small. However, if repeating this on numerous files, speed may become an issue. We can avoid the second loop (i.e. the one in R) by applying a function to each node before it is returned to R as part of the node set. The result of the function call is then returned, rather than the node itself.

One can provide an R expression rather than an R function for fun. This is expected to be a call and the first argument of the call will be replaced with the node.

Dealing with expressions that relate to the default namespaces in the XML document can be confusing.

xpathSApply is a version of xpathApply which attempts to simplify the result if it can be converted to a vector or matrix rather than left as a list. In this way, it has the same relationship to xpathApply as sapply has to lapply.

matchNamespaces is a separate function that is used to facilitate specifying the mappings from namespace prefix used in the XPath expression and their definitions, i.e. URIs, and connecting these with the namespace definitions in the target XML document in which the XPath expression will be evaluated.

matchNamespaces uses rules that are very slightly awkard or specifically involve a special case. This is because this mapping of namespaces from XPath to XML targets is difficult, involving prefixes in the XPath expression, definitions in the XPath evaluation context and matches of URIs with those in the XML document. The function aims to avoid having to specify all the prefix=uri pairs by using "sensible" defaults and also matching the prefixes in the XPath expression to the corresponding definitions in the XML document.

The rules are as follows. namespaces is a character vector. Any element that has a non-trivial name (i.e. other than "") is left as is and the name and value define the prefix = uri mapping. Any elements that have a trivial name (i.e. no name at all or "") are resolved by first matching the prefix to those of the defined namespaces anywhere within the target document, i.e. in any node and not just the root one. If there is no match for the first element of the namespaces vector, this is treated specially and is mapped to the default namespace of the target document. If there is no default namespace defined, an error occurs.

It is best to give explicit the argument in the form c(prefix = uri, prefix = uri). However, one can use the same namespace prefixes as in the document if one wants. And one can use an arbitrary namespace prefix for the default namespace URI of the target document provided it is the first element of namespaces.

See the 'Details' section below for some more information.


getNodeSet(doc, path, namespaces = xmlNamespaceDefinitions(doc, simplify = TRUE), 
                    fun = NULL, sessionEncoding = CE_NATIVE, addFinalizer = NA, ...)
xpathApply(doc, path, fun, ... ,
            namespaces =  xmlNamespaceDefinitions(doc, simplify = TRUE),
              resolveNamespaces = TRUE, addFinalizer = NA, xpathFuns = list())
xpathSApply(doc, path, fun = NULL, ... ,
             namespaces = xmlNamespaceDefinitions(doc, simplify = TRUE),
               resolveNamespaces = TRUE, simplify = TRUE,
                addFinalizer = NA)
matchNamespaces(doc, namespaces,
                nsDefs = xmlNamespaceDefinitions(doc, recursive = TRUE, simplify = FALSE),
                defaultNs = getDefaultNamespace(doc, simplify = TRUE))



an object of class XMLInternalDocument


a string (character vector of length 1) giving the XPath expression to evaluate.


a named character vector giving the namespace prefix and URI pairs that are to be used in the XPath expression and matching of nodes. The prefix is just a simple string that acts as a short-hand or alias for the URI that is the unique identifier for the namespace. The URI is the element in this vector and the prefix is the corresponding element name. One only needs to specify the namespaces in the XPath expression and for the nodes of interest rather than requiring all the namespaces for the entire document. Also note that the prefix used in this vector is local only to the path. It does not have to be the same as the prefix used in the document to identify the namespace. However, the URI in this argument must be identical to the target namespace URI in the document. It is the namespace URIs that are matched (exactly) to find correspondence. The prefixes are used only to refer to that URI.


a function object, or an expression or call, which is used when the result is a node set and evaluated for each node element in the node set. If this is a call, the first argument is replaced with the current node.


any additional arguments to be passed to fun for each node in the node set.


a logical value indicating whether to process the collection of namespaces and resolve those that have no name by looking in the default namespace and the namespace definitions within the target document to match by prefix.


a list giving the namespace definitions in which to match any prefixes. This is typically computed directly from the target document and the default value is most appropriate.


the default namespace prefix-URI mapping given as a named character vector. This is not a namespace definition object. This is used when matching a simple prefix that has no corresponding entry in nsDefs and is the first element in the namespaces vector.


a logical value indicating whether the function should attempt to perform the simplification of the result into a vector rather than leaving it as a list. This is the same as sapply does in comparison to lapply.


experimental functionality and parameter related to encoding.


a logical value or identifier for a C routine that controls whether we register finalizers on the intenal node.


a list containing either character strings, functions or named elements containing the address of a C routine. These identify functions that can be used in the XPath expression. A character string identifies the name of the XPath function and the R function of the same name (and located on the R search path). A C routine to implement an XPath function is specified via a call to getNativeSymbolInfo and passing just the address field. This is provided in the list() with a name which is used as the name of the XPath function.


When a namespace is defined on a node in the XML document, an XPath expressions must use a namespace, even if it is the default namespace for the XML document/node. For example, suppose we have an XML document <help xmlns=""><topic>...</topic></help> To find all the topic nodes, we might want to use the XPath expression "/help/topic". However, we must use an explicit namespace prefix that is associated with the URI corresponding to the one in the XML document. So we would use getNodeSet(doc, "/r:help/r:topic", c(r = "")).

As described above, the functions attempt to allow the namespaces to be specified easily by the R user and matched to the namespace definitions in the target document.

This calls the libxml routine xmlXPathEval.


The results can currently be different based on the returned value from the XPath expression evaluation:


a node set


a number


a boolean


a string, i.e. a single character element.

If fun is supplied and the result of the XPath query is a node set, the result in R is a list.


In order to match nodes in the default name space for documents with a non-trivial default namespace, e.g. given as xmlns="", you will need to use a prefix for the default namespace in this call. When specifying the namespaces, give a name - any name - to the default namespace URI and then use this as the prefix in the XPath expression, e.g. getNodeSet(d, "//d:myNode", c(d = "")) to match myNode in the default name space

This default namespace of the document is now computed for us and is the default value for the namespaces argument. It can be referenced using the prefix 'd', standing for default but sufficiently short to be easily used within the XPath expression.

More of the XPath functionality provided by libxml can and may be made available to the R package. Facilities such as compiled XPath expressions, functions, ordered node information are examples.

Please send requests to the package maintainer.


Duncan Temple Lang <>


See Also

xmlTreeParse with useInternalNodes as TRUE.


 doc = xmlParse(system.file("exampleData", "tagnames.xml", package = "XML"))
 els = getNodeSet(doc, "/doc//a[@status]")
 sapply(els, function(el) xmlGetAttr(el, "status"))

   # use of namespaces on an attribute.
 getNodeSet(doc, "/doc//b[@x:status]", c(x = ""))
 getNodeSet(doc, "/doc//b[@x:status='foo']", c(x = ""))

   # Because we know the namespace definitions are on /doc/a
   # we can compute them directly and use them.
 nsDefs = xmlNamespaceDefinitions(getNodeSet(doc, "/doc/a")[[1]])
 ns = structure(sapply(nsDefs, function(x) x$uri), names = names(nsDefs))
 getNodeSet(doc, "/doc//b[@omegahat:status='foo']", ns)[[1]]

 # free(doc) 

 f = system.file("exampleData", "eurofxref-hist.xml.gz", package = "XML") 
 e = xmlParse(f)
 ans = getNodeSet(e, "//o:Cube[@currency='USD']", "o")
 sapply(ans, xmlGetAttr, "rate")

  # or equivalently
 ans = xpathApply(e, "//o:Cube[@currency='USD']", xmlGetAttr, "rate", namespaces = "o")
 # free(e)

  # Using a namespace
 f = system.file("exampleData", "SOAPNamespaces.xml", package = "XML") 
 z = xmlParse(f)
 getNodeSet(z, "/a:Envelope/a:Body", c("a" = ""))
 getNodeSet(z, "//a:Body", c("a" = ""))
 # free(z)

  # Get two items back with namespaces
 f = system.file("exampleData", "gnumeric.xml", package = "XML") 
 z = xmlParse(f)
 getNodeSet(z, "//gmr:Item/gmr:name", c(gmr=""))


 # European Central Bank (ECB) exchange rate data

  # Data is available from ""
  # or locally.

 uri = system.file("exampleData", "eurofxref-hist.xml.gz", package = "XML")
 doc = xmlParse(uri)

   # The default namespace for all elements is given by
 namespaces <- c(ns="")

     # Get the data for Slovenian currency for all time periods.
     # Find all the nodes of the form <Cube currency="SIT"...>

 slovenia = getNodeSet(doc, "//ns:Cube[@currency='SIT']", namespaces )

    # Now we have a list of such nodes, loop over them 
    # and get the rate attribute
 rates = as.numeric( sapply(slovenia, xmlGetAttr, "rate") )
    # Now put the date on each element
    # find nodes of the form <Cube time=".." ... >
    # and extract the time attribute
 names(rates) = sapply(getNodeSet(doc, "//ns:Cube[@time]", namespaces ), 
                      xmlGetAttr, "time")

    #  Or we could turn these into dates with strptime()
 strptime(names(rates), "%Y-%m-%d")

   #  Using xpathApply, we can do
 rates = xpathApply(doc, "//ns:Cube[@currency='SIT']",
                   xmlGetAttr, "rate", namespaces = namespaces )
 rates = as.numeric(unlist(rates))

   # Using an expression rather than  a function and ...
 rates = xpathApply(doc, "//ns:Cube[@currency='SIT']",
                   quote(xmlGetAttr(x, "rate")), namespaces = namespaces )


  uri = system.file("exampleData", "namespaces.xml", package = "XML")
  d = xmlParse(uri)
  getNodeSet(d, "//c:c", c(c=""))

  getNodeSet(d, "/o:a//c:c", c("o" = "", "c" = ""))

   # since is the default namespace, we can
   # just the prefix "o" to map to that.
  getNodeSet(d, "/o:a//c:c", c("o", "c" = ""))

   # the following, perhaps unexpectedly but correctly, returns an empty
   # with no matches
  getNodeSet(d, "//defaultNs", "")

   # But if we create our own prefix for the evaluation of the XPath
   # expression and use this in the expression, things work as one
   # might hope.
  getNodeSet(d, "//dummy:defaultNs", c(dummy = ""))

   # And since the default value for the namespaces argument is the
   # default namespace of the document, we can refer to it with our own
   # prefix given as 
  getNodeSet(d, "//d:defaultNs", "d")

   # And the syntactic sugar is 
  d["//d:defaultNs", namespace = "d"]

   # this illustrates how we can use the prefixes in the XML document
   # in our query and let getNodeSet() and friends map them to the
   # actual namespace definitions.
   # "o" is used to represent the default namespace for the document
   # i.e., and "r" is mapped to the same
   # definition that has the prefix "r" in the XML document.

  tmp = getNodeSet(d, "/o:a/r:b/o:defaultNs", c("o", "r"))


   # Work with the nodes and their content (not just attributes) from the node set.
   # From bondsTables.R in examples/

## Not run: ## fails to download as from May 2017
  doc =
               useInternalNodes = TRUE)
     doc = htmlTreeParse("",
			 useInternalNodes = TRUE)

     # Use XPath expression to find the nodes 
     #  <div><table class="yfirttbl">..
     # as these are the ones we want.

  if(!is.null(xmlRoot(doc))) {

   o = getNodeSet(doc, "//div/table[@class='yfirttbl']")

    # Write a function that will extract the information out of a given table node.
   readHTMLTable =
          # get the header information.
      colNames = sapply(tb[["thead"]][["tr"]]["th"], xmlValue)
      vals = sapply(tb[["tbody"]]["tr"],  function(x) sapply(x["td"], xmlValue))
              nrow = ncol(vals),
              dimnames = list(vals[1,], colNames[-1]),
              byrow = TRUE

     # Now process each of the table nodes in the o list.
    tables = lapply(o, readHTMLTable)
    names(tables) = lapply(o, function(x) xmlValue(x[["caption"]]))
## End(Not run)

     # this illustrates an approach to doing queries on a sub tree
     # within the document.
     # Note that there is a memory leak incurred here as we create a new
     # XMLInternalDocument in the getNodeSet().

    f = system.file("exampleData", "book.xml", package = "XML")
    doc = xmlParse(f)
    ch = getNodeSet(doc, "//chapter")
    xpathApply(ch[[2]], "//section/title", xmlValue)

      # To fix the memory leak, we explicitly create a new document for
      # the subtree, perform the query and then free it _when_ we are done
      # with the resulting nodes.
    subDoc = xmlDoc(ch[[2]])
    xpathApply(subDoc, "//section/title", xmlValue)

    txt =
'<top xmlns="" xmlns:r=""><r:a><b/></r:a></top>'
    doc = xmlInternalTreeParse(txt, asText = TRUE)

## Not run: 
     # Will fail because it doesn't know what the namespace x is
     # and we have to have one eventhough it has no prefix in the document.
    xpathApply(doc, "//x:b")

## End(Not run)    
      # So this is how we do it - just  say x is to be mapped to the
      # default unprefixed namespace which we shall call x!
    xpathApply(doc, "//x:b", namespaces = "x")

       # Here r is mapped to the the corresponding definition in the document.
    xpathApply(doc, "//r:a", namespaces = "r")
       # Here, xpathApply figures this out for us, but will raise a warning.
    xpathApply(doc, "//r:a")

       # And here we use our own binding.
    xpathApply(doc, "//x:a", namespaces = c(x = ""))

       # Get all the nodes in the entire tree.

     ## Use of XPath 2.0 functions min() and max()
     doc = xmlParse('<doc><p age="10"/><p age="12"/><p age="7"/></doc>')
     getNodeSet(doc, "//p[@age  = min(//p/@age)]")
     getNodeSet(doc, "//p[@age  = max(//p/@age)]")

     avg = function(...) {
     getNodeSet(doc, "//p[@age > avg(//p/@age)]", xpathFuns = "avg")

  doc = xmlParse('<doc><ev date="2010-12-10"/><ev date="2011-3-12"/><ev date="2015-10-4"/></doc>')
  getNodeSet(doc, "//ev[month-from-date(@date) > 7]",
              xpathFuns = list("month-from-date" =
                                function(node) {

XML documentation built on Nov. 3, 2023, 1:14 a.m.

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