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Chapter 20. Web Automation

Robert Louis Stevenson, On some Technical Elements of Style in Literature (1885)

The web, then, or the pattern, a web at once sensuous and logical, an elegant and pregnant texture: that is style, that is the foundation of the art of literature.

20.0. Introduction

Chapter 19 concentrated on responding to browser requests and producing documents using CGI. This chapter approaches the Web from the other side: instead of responding to a browser, you pretend to be one, generating requests and processing returned documents. We make extensive use of modules to simplify this process because the intricate network protocols and document formats are tricky to get right. By letting existing modules handle the hard parts, you can concentrate on the interesting part—your own program.

The relevant modules can all be found under the following URL:


There you'll find modules for computing credit card checksums, interacting with Netscape or Apache server APIs, processing image maps, validating HTML, and manipulating MIME. The largest and most important modules for this chapter, though, are found in the libwww-perl suite of modules, referred to collectively as LWP. Table 20-1 lists just a few modules included in LWP.

Table 20-1. LWP modules (continued)

Module name



WWW user agent class


Develop robot applications


Interface to various protocol schemes


Handle 401 and 407 responses


MIME types configuration (text/html, etc.)


Debug logging module


Simple procedural interface for common functions


MIME/RFC 822-style headers


HTTP-style message


HTTP request


HTTP response


HTTP server class


HTTP status code (200 OK, etc.)


Date-parsing module for HTTP date formats


HTTP content negotiation calculation


Parse robots.txt files


Parse directory listings

The HTTP:: and LWP:: modules request documents from a server. The LWP::Simple module offers an easy way to fetch a document. However, the module can't access individual components of the HTTP response. For these, use HTTP::Request, HTTP::Response, and LWP::UserAgent. We show both sets of modules in Recipe 20.1, Recipe 20.2, and Recipe 20.10.

Once distributed with LWP, but now in distributions of their own, are the HTML:: modules. These parse HTML. They provide the basis for Recipe 20.5, Recipe 20.4, Recipe 20.6, Recipe 20.3, Recipe 20.7, and the programs htmlsub and hrefsub.

Recipe 20.12 gives a regular expression to decode fields in your web server's log files and shows how to interpret the fields. We use this regular expression and the Logfile::Apache module in Recipe 20.13 to show two ways of summarizing data in web server log files.

For detailed guidance on the LWP modules, see Sean Burke's Perl & LWP (O'Reilly) This book expands on much of this chapter, picking up where recipes such as Recipe 20.5 on converting HTML to ASCII, Recipe 20.14 on fetching pages that use cookies, and Recipe 20.15 on fetching password-protected pages leave off.

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