Cowburn — Find me on GitHub and StackOverflow.

XPath for CSS classes

I was playing around with YQL today and was scraping a HTML document (no details, that’s not the point of this blog entry). Part of the processes meant that I needed to check for a specific CSS class attached to some elements.

Easy enough, XPath contains (pardon the pun, see later) some nifty functions which can act on nodes and their values to be used in conditional checks like I needed. I’ve been using the technique outlined in this post for a very long while (usually with XPath in PHP) and originally stumbled upon the basic idea from How to map CSS selectors to XPath queries (Thanks ever so much!) Today’s use of it prompted this blog post.

For example, to grab any li elements with a class of active (and only that one class) out of the document it would be easy enough to use:


Now, as I said that will only grab the list items which have that specific class like <li class="active">. What if there is more than one class in there, ala <li class="hot active">? We could use the XPath function contains() which looks to see if a string contains another string but that would cause problems (e.g. searching for “a” in conjunction with classes like “active”, “nav”, etc. would result in false positives).

To match any list item with a classes which contains the letter “a” can be sought with:

//li[contains(@class, "a")]

Nearly there, now to work out how to not match false positives. To do this, we can look for [space]a[space] with a slightly modified class string (classes at the start/end of the string wouldn’t normally have spaces before/after respectively). Whilst we’re at it, we can normalize the spaces in the class string which converts any number of spaces, tabs, etc. characters into just a single space.

So, to properly get at a class name of active for all list items, regardless of its position in the class string, the following XPath query can be used.

//li[contains(concat(" ", normalize-space(@class), " "), " active ")]

Note: there are single spaces in the first and last arguments for concat, and on either side of the word active.

Just as an observation, the comparable CSS selector to do this would be li[class~="active"] (or the more usual which would be awesome to use if XPath decided to implement a similar syntax.