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Tuesday Tip #8: Build a dataset with regular expressions 👷‍♂️

Published about 1 year ago • 2 min read

Hi Reader,

Next week, I’m launching a NEW course, Become a Regex Superhero!

Learning regular expressions (also known as “regex”) will help you become a more versatile and valuable data scientist. My course will help you go from Zero to Hero! 💪

Stay tuned for more details about the course. (As a newsletter subscriber, you'll get a significant launch discount! 💸)

In today’s tip, I’m going to show you one of the many use cases for regular expressions. Please enjoy!

👉 Tip #8: Build a dataset with regex

Let’s say that you wanted to build a dataset of every Python version and its release date. This web page has all of the data you need:

But how would you turn this into a structured dataset?

We can start by reading the source of the web page (meaning the HTML) into Python using the requests library:

Here’s a small portion of the HTML, which is stored in r.text:

In order to parse the HTML into something useful, we’ll use regular expressions!

Let me be clear: What I’m about to show you is NOT enough to “teach you” regular expressions. (That’s why I created a course!)

Instead, what I’m trying to show you is that regular expressions is not as scary as you might think! 👻

Extracting the dates

Here’s how we can use regex to extract the Python release dates:

We imported the re module, and then used the findall function to search the r.text string and find all occurrences of a regex pattern.

This is the pattern we searched for: \d+ \w+ \d{4}

Here’s how to decode the pattern:

  • \d means “digit character” (0 through 9)
  • \w means “word character” (letter, digit, or underscore)
  • + means “one or more”
  • {4} means “exactly 4”

Thus the pattern \d+ \w+ \d{4} can be read as “1 or more digits, then space, then 1 or more word characters, then space, then 4 digits”. And that’s how it found the dates!

Extracting the version numbers

It’s a bit more complicated to extract the version numbers because some have 2 parts (1.5), some have 3 parts (1.5.1), and some have a letter (1.5.1p1):

Here’s what we’ll do:

This is the pattern we searched for: Python (\d.+?)<

Here’s how to decode this:

  • \d means “digit character”
  • . means “any character except newline”
  • + means “one or more”
  • ? means “make the plus sign lazy” (this is a tricky concept, but it basically means "make the match as short as possible")
  • () means “only return this part of the match”

Thus the pattern Python (\d.+?)< can be read as “Python, then space, then 1 digit character, then 1 or more of any character (lazy behavior), then <, and only return the part in parentheses”.

In case you were wondering, the angle bracket (meaning the <) helps us to find the version number since it's always right before the </a> tag in the HTML.

Creating the dataset

At this point, we can create a pandas DataFrame simply by zipping the two lists together:

Pretty cool, right? 😎

Here's the code from today's tip, in case you want to play around with it!

How useful was today's tip?


This is just a tiny preview of the power of regular expressions!

There’s SO MUCH you can do with regex, so I hope you’ll consider joining Become a Regex Superhero when it launches next week! 🚀

- Kevin

P.S. Can you decode this tweet?

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Kevin Markham

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