Parsing Wikipedia dumps and conversion to ISO 24612 (GrAF-XML)

At the moment I am heavily working on our data management and conversion library Poio API. Until now it mainly targets files formats used in language documentation, but I am quite interested in using the content of Wikipedias to do some linguistic analysis like finding semantic classes or testing part-of-speech taggers. As you might know, the original Wikipedia dumps are somehow contaminated with Wiki markup that is not easy to erase. There are all kind of historical markup structures in there and sometimes the syntax is plainly wrong, but still works to generate a good-enough page on the Wikipedia website. In this post I will explain how to download and clean a Wikipedia dump and then use Poio API to transform it into a GrAF-XML file.

The Wikipeda Extractor

Two years ago I tested several Wikipedia extraction tools, and found that the Wikipedia Extractor gives the best output. Things might have changed since then, but I stick to it, also because it is a single Python script that I can easily change if I need to. The newest version can output JSON or XML. As XML was the one and only output format two years ago I stick to the XML output as all my tools are based on this format. In fact, it is not true XML, as the root element is missing (the Wikipedia Extractor calls the format “tanl”). All the Wikipedia articles are just enclosed by <doc> tags, one after the other:

<doc id="55" url="" title="Wikipedia:Archiv/Boarische Umschrift">Wikipedia:Archiv/Boarische Umschrift
Fürs Boarische gibts koa einheitliche Umschrift. Ma orientiert si in da Schreibweis an da deutschen Orthografie....
</doc><doc id="60" url="" title="Deitschland">Deitschland
Deitschland is a Staat in Mittleiropa. Ois Bundesstaat wiad de "Bundesrepublik Deutschland" aus dena 16 deitschn Ländan buidt....

The whole output is split over several files, where the files’ size is controllable via a command line variable. I use to call the Wikipedia Extractor with the following arguments (I use the [Bavarian Wikipedia dump] ( as an example here): -w -f tanl barwiki-20130905-pages-articles.xml.bz2 extracted

This will put all output files into a folder extracted.

Concatenate and clean the files

The next step is then to create a real XML file from this. It is not too hard, we just have to add a root tag and clean the data a bit more, otherwise an XML parser will complain about certain characters like the “lower than” <. I start with the following code to get rid of certain general problems like unparsable characters, add the root tags and concatenate all the files:

import sys
import re
import codecs

re_apostroph = re.compile("\"")

def re_title_cleaned(matchobj):
    return + re_apostroph.sub("", +

# Concatenate output files
filenames = glob.glob(os.path.join("extracted", "*.raw"))
with"barwiki.xml", 'w', 'utf-8') as outfile:
    for fname in filenames:
        with, "r", "utf-8") as infile:
            for line in infile:

# first clean step
f1 ="barwiki.xml", "r", "utf-8")
f2 ="barwiki_cleaned.xml", "w", "utf-8")


re_title = re.compile("(title=\")(.*)(\">)")
re_xml_tag = re.compile("<(?!/?doc)[^>]*>")
re_and = re.compile("&")
re_lower = re.compile("< ")

for i, line in enumerate(f1):
    line = re_title.sub(re_title_cleaned, line)

    line = re_xml_tag.sub(" ", line)
    line = re_and.sub("&amp;", line)
    line = re_lower.sub("&lt; ", line)




There is one complex regular expression substition here, that cleans the title attributes of the <doc> tags. The titles sometimes contain an apostroph ", which is also the seperator for attribute values in XML and cannot be used in this location. So I just remove them. The output of this script are two files: the barwiki.xml just contains the concatenated files, the barwiki_cleaned.xml contains the cleaned XML.

In the case of the Bavarian Wikipedia there are still some more quirks in the data. You can find out what kind of problems there are if you try to parse the file now with the Python ElementTree module, for example:

    import xml.etree.cElementTree as ET
except ImportError:
    import xml.etree.ElementTree as ET
tree = ET.ElementTree("barwiki_cleaned.xml")

The parser will throw an error and tell you which line and column caused the problem. So I went through all the remaining problems in the Bavarian Wikipedia, and added several more lines to my clean script to remove or modify the lines that cause the problems:

f1 ="barwiki_cleaned.xml", "r", "utf-8")
f2 ="barwiki_cleaned2.xml", "w", "utf-8")

re_date = re.compile("\-?\-? ?\d\d?:\d\d, \d\d?. .{2,8}\.? \d\d\d\d \(CES?T\)")
re_dashes = re.compile("\-\-")
re_wrong_tags = re.compile("</noinclude[^>]")
re_arrows = re.compile("(<==<==<==<|>==>==>==>)")
re_special1 = re.compile("Le<")
re_special2 = re.compile("ci<:")
re_img = re.compile(" [^ ]*\.jpg\|")

lines_to_delete = [
    u"<!-- BITTE bei den Biografien der entsprechenden Personen auf der Bearbeitungsseite unten bei  Kategorien die folgende Zeile EINFÜGEN:",
    u"  </noinclude</includeonly»<includeonly</includeonly» BITTSCHÖN ENTFERN DII KOMMENTARE </includeonly</includeonly»",
    u"<!-- BITTE bei den Biografien der entsprechenden Personen auf der Bearbeitungsseite unten bei Kategorien die folgende Zeile EINFÜGEN:"

for line in f1:
    if line.rstrip() in lines_to_delete:

    line = re_date.sub(re_empty, line)
    line = re_dashes.sub("-", line)
    line = re_arrows.sub("", line)
    line = re_wrong_tags.sub("", line)

    line = re_special1.sub("Le&lt;", line)
    line = re_special2.sub("ci&lt;:", line)

    line = re_img.sub(" ", line)



In the end I have a clean file barwiki_cleaned2.xml that contains XML with all the articles of the Bavarian Wikipedia and is parsable with EementTree.

I still add a third cleaning step to remove articles that are not real content. Wikipedia contains several helper and meta-data articles that contain explanations for authors and other stuff that we don’t need. Luckily, those have a title that contains a prefix that ends with a colon :, so we can just look for a certain pattern in the titles and remove those <doc> elements from the XML tree. I also remove articles that are smaller than 200 characters (those are too short to measure semantic similarity, in one of my use cases):

tree = ET.ElementTree(file="barwiki_cleaned2.xml")
root = tree.getroot()

re_special_title = re.compile("\w+:\w", re.UNICODE)

remove_list = list()

for doc in root:
    title = doc.attrib['title']
    if re_special_title.match(title):
    elif len(doc.text) < 200:

for doc in remove_list:
tree.write("barwiki_cleaned3.xml", encoding="UTF-8")

After this step I finally end up with a barwiki_cleaned3.xml that contains clean data with only the content articles. This file can already be used to process the Wikipedia, but I wanted to also publish the files in a standardized format. I chose ISO 24612, as this makes it extremely easy to later combine heterogenous data sources or add layers of annotations in the resulting annotation graph.

Conversion to GrAF-XML with Poio API

The last step is extremely simple, as one of Poio API’s core use case is the conversion of files. Normally, you would have to write a parser and a writer for each of the file formats you want to support. But for the XML output of the Wikipedia Extractor there already exists a parser in Poio API, and GrAF-XML is supported as the basic pivot format. Which means that any file format that is supported in Poio API can be converted to GrAF-XML. The conversion is dead simple: we initialize a Converter object with the Wikipedia parser and the GrAF writer, and then tell the converter to parse() and write():

parser ="Wikipedia.xml")
writer =

converter =, writer)

This will write a set of GrAF files that you can read and query with the graf-python library or with any of the tools and connectors that were developed at the American National Corpus to work with their GrAF-XML corpus files.

About me

My name is Peter Bouda and I am a software developer with more than 20 years of professional experience in application development. I help you to bring your application to market as quickly as possible.

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