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How do you parse and process HTML/XML in PHP?

Graham C
Graham C Published in 2018-02-03 18:57:44Z

How can one parse HTML/XML and extract information from it?

Graham C
Graham C Reply to 2018-02-03 18:57:44Z

Native XML Extensions

I prefer using one of the native XML extensions since they come bundled with PHP, are usually faster than all the 3rd party libs and give me all the control I need over the markup.


The DOM extension allows you to operate on XML documents through the DOM API with PHP 5. It is an implementation of the W3C's Document Object Model Core Level 3, a platform- and language-neutral interface that allows programs and scripts to dynamically access and update the content, structure and style of documents.

DOM is capable of parsing and modifying real world (broken) HTML and it can do XPath queries. It is based on libxml.

It takes some time to get productive with DOM, but that time is well worth it IMO. Since DOM is a language-agnostic interface, you'll find implementations in many languages, so if you need to change your programming language, chances are you will already know how to use that language's DOM API then.

A basic usage example can be found in Grabbing the href attribute of an A element and a general conceptual overview can be found at DOMDocument in php

How to use the DOM extension has been covered extensively on StackOverflow, so if you choose to use it, you can be sure most of the issues you run into can be solved by searching/browsing Stack Overflow.


The XMLReader extension is an XML pull parser. The reader acts as a cursor going forward on the document stream and stopping at each node on the way.

XMLReader, like DOM, is based on libxml. I am not aware of how to trigger the HTML Parser Module, so chances are using XMLReader for parsing broken HTML might be less robust than using DOM where you can explicitly tell it to use libxml's HTML Parser Module.

A basic usage example can be found at getting all values from h1 tags using php

XML Parser

This extension lets you create XML parsers and then define handlers for different XML events. Each XML parser also has a few parameters you can adjust.

The XML Parser library is also based on libxml, and implements a SAX style XML push parser. It may be a better choice for memory management than DOM or SimpleXML, but will be more difficult to work with than the pull parser implemented by XMLReader.


The SimpleXML extension provides a very simple and easily usable toolset to convert XML to an object that can be processed with normal property selectors and array iterators.

SimpleXML is an option when you know the HTML is valid XHTML. If you need to parse broken HTML, don't even consider SimpleXml because it will choke.

A basic usage example can be found at A simple program to CRUD node and node values of xml file and there is lots of additional examples in the PHP Manual.

3rd Party Libraries (libxml based)

If you prefer to use a 3rd-party lib, I'd suggest using a lib that actually uses DOM/libxml underneath instead of string parsing.


FluentDOM provides a jQuery-like fluent XML interface for the DOMDocument in PHP. Selectors are written in XPath or CSS (using a CSS to XPath converter). Current versions extend the DOM implementing standard interfaces and add features from the DOM Living Standard. FluentDOM can load formats like JSON, CSV, JsonML, RabbitFish and others. Can be installed via Composer.


Wa72\HtmlPageDom` is a PHP library for easy manipulation of HTML documents using It requires DomCrawler from Symfony2 components for traversing the DOM tree and extends it by adding methods for manipulating the DOM tree of HTML documents.

phpQuery (not updated for years)

phpQuery is a server-side, chainable, CSS3 selector driven Document Object Model (DOM) API based on jQuery JavaScript Library written in PHP5 and provides additional Command Line Interface (CLI).

Also see: https://github.com/electrolinux/phpquery


Zend_Dom provides tools for working with DOM documents and structures. Currently, we offer Zend_Dom_Query, which provides a unified interface for querying DOM documents utilizing both XPath and CSS selectors.


QueryPath is a PHP library for manipulating XML and HTML. It is designed to work not only with local files, but also with web services and database resources. It implements much of the jQuery interface (including CSS-style selectors), but it is heavily tuned for server-side use. Can be installed via Composer.


fDOMDocument extends the standard DOM to use exceptions at all occasions of errors instead of PHP warnings or notices. They also add various custom methods and shortcuts for convenience and to simplify the usage of DOM.


sabre/xml is a library that wraps and extends the XMLReader and XMLWriter classes to create a simple "xml to object/array" mapping system and design pattern. Writing and reading XML is single-pass and can therefore be fast and require low memory on large xml files.


FluidXML is a PHP library for manipulating XML with a concise and fluent API. It leverages XPath and the fluent programming pattern to be fun and effective.

3rd-Party (not libxml-based)

The benefit of building upon DOM/libxml is that you get good performance out of the box because you are based on a native extension. However, not all 3rd-party libs go down this route. Some of them listed below

PHP Simple HTML DOM Parser

  • An HTML DOM parser written in PHP5+ lets you manipulate HTML in a very easy way!
  • Require PHP 5+.
  • Supports invalid HTML.
  • Find tags on an HTML page with selectors just like jQuery.
  • Extract contents from HTML in a single line.

I generally do not recommend this parser. The codebase is horrible and the parser itself is rather slow and memory hungry. Not all jQuery Selectors (such as child selectors) are possible. Any of the libxml based libraries should outperform this easily.

PHP Html Parser

PHPHtmlParser is a simple, flexible, html parser which allows you to select tags using any css selector, like jQuery. The goal is to assiste in the development of tools which require a quick, easy way to scrap html, whether it's valid or not! This project was original supported by sunra/php-simple-html-dom-parser but the support seems to have stopped so this project is my adaptation of his previous work.

Again, I would not recommend this parser. It is rather slow with high CPU usage. There is also no function to clear memory of created DOM objects. These problems scale particularly with nested loops. The documentation itself is inaccurate and misspelled, with no responses to fixes since 14 Apr 16.


  • A universal tokenizer and HTML/XML/RSS DOM Parser
    • Ability to manipulate elements and their attributes
    • Supports invalid HTML and UTF8
  • Can perform advanced CSS3-like queries on elements (like jQuery -- namespaces supported)
  • A HTML beautifier (like HTML Tidy)
    • Minify CSS and Javascript
    • Sort attributes, change character case, correct indentation, etc.
  • Extensible
    • Parsing documents using callbacks based on current character/token
    • Operations separated in smaller functions for easy overriding
  • Fast and Easy

Never used it. Can't tell if it's any good.


You can use the above for parsing HTML5, but there can be quirks due to the markup HTML5 allows. So for HTML5 you want to consider using a dedicated parser, like


A Python and PHP implementations of a HTML parser based on the WHATWG HTML5 specification for maximum compatibility with major desktop web browsers.

We might see more dedicated parsers once HTML5 is finalized. There is also a blogpost by the W3's titled How-To for html 5 parsing that is worth checking out.


If you don't feel like programming PHP, you can also use Web services. In general, I found very little utility for these, but that's just me and my use cases.


The YQL Web Service enables applications to query, filter, and combine data from different sources across the Internet. YQL statements have a SQL-like syntax, familiar to any developer with database experience.


ScraperWiki's external interface allows you to extract data in the form you want for use on the web or in your own applications. You can also extract information about the state of any scraper.

Regular Expressions

Last and least recommended, you can extract data from HTML with regular expressions. In general using Regular Expressions on HTML is discouraged.

Most of the snippets you will find on the web to match markup are brittle. In most cases they are only working for a very particular piece of HTML. Tiny markup changes, like adding whitespace somewhere, or adding, or changing attributes in a tag, can make the RegEx fails when it's not properly written. You should know what you are doing before using RegEx on HTML.

HTML parsers already know the syntactical rules of HTML. Regular expressions have to be taught for each new RegEx you write. RegEx are fine in some cases, but it really depends on your use-case.

You can write more reliable parsers, but writing a complete and reliable custom parser with regular expressions is a waste of time when the aforementioned libraries already exist and do a much better job on this.

Also see Parsing Html The Cthulhu Way


If you want to spend some money, have a look at

  • PHP Architect's Guide to Webscraping with PHP

I am not affiliated with PHP Architect or the authors.

troelskn Reply to 2008-11-15 19:55:44Z

XML_HTMLSax is rather stable - even if it's not maintained any more. Another option could be to pipe you HTML through Html Tidy and then parse it with standard XML tools.

Peter Mortensen
Peter Mortensen Reply to 2015-10-28 17:39:31Z

Simple HTML DOM is a great open-source parser:


It treats DOM elements in an object-oriented way, and the new iteration has a lot of coverage for non-compliant code. There are also some great functions like you'd see in JavaScript, such as the "find" function, which will return all instances of elements of that tag name.

I've used this in a number of tools, testing it on many different types of web pages, and I think it works great.

CesarB Reply to 2008-11-15 22:24:15Z

You could try using something like HTML Tidy to cleanup any "broken" HTML and convert the HTML to XHTML, which you can then parse with a XML parser.

Edward Z. Yang
Edward Z. Yang Reply to 2008-11-26 20:02:44Z

Just use DOMDocument->loadHTML() and be done with it. libxml's HTML parsing algorithm is quite good and fast, and contrary to popular belief, does not choke on malformed HTML.

Peter Mortensen
Peter Mortensen Reply to 2015-10-28 17:41:16Z

Try Simple HTML DOM Parser

  • A HTML DOM parser written in PHP 5+ that lets you manipulate HTML in a very easy way!
  • Require PHP 5+.
  • Supports invalid HTML.
  • Find tags on an HTML page with selectors just like jQuery.
  • Extract contents from HTML in a single line.
  • Download


How to get HTML elements:

// Create DOM from URL or file
$html = file_get_html('http://www.example.com/');

// Find all images
foreach($html->find('img') as $element)
       echo $element->src . '<br>';

// Find all links
foreach($html->find('a') as $element)
       echo $element->href . '<br>';

How to modify HTML elements:

// Create DOM from string
$html = str_get_html('<div id="hello">Hello</div><div id="world">World</div>');

$html->find('div', 1)->class = 'bar';

$html->find('div[id=hello]', 0)->innertext = 'foo';

echo $html;

Extract content from HTML:

// Dump contents (without tags) from HTML
echo file_get_html('http://www.google.com/')->plaintext;

Scraping Slashdot:

// Create DOM from URL
$html = file_get_html('http://slashdot.org/');

// Find all article blocks
foreach($html->find('div.article') as $article) {
    $item['title']     = $article->find('div.title', 0)->plaintext;
    $item['intro']    = $article->find('div.intro', 0)->plaintext;
    $item['details'] = $article->find('div.details', 0)->plaintext;
    $articles[] = $item;

Joel Verhagen
Joel Verhagen Reply to 2010-08-26 17:20:17Z

This is commonly referred to as screen scraping, by the way. The library I have used for this is Simple HTML Dom Parser.

Jens Reply to 2013-06-14 10:33:52Z

For 1a and 2: I would vote for the new Symfony Componet class DOMCrawler ( DomCrawler ). This class allows queries similar to CSS Selectors. Take a look at this presentation for real-world examples: news-of-the-symfony2-world.

The component is designed to work standalone and can be used without Symfony.

The only drawback is that it will only work with PHP 5.3 or newer.

Eli Reply to 2011-05-01 02:04:38Z

One general approach I haven't seen mentioned here is to run HTML through Tidy, which can be set to spit out guaranteed-valid XHTML. Then you can use any old XML library on it.

But to your specific problem, you should take a look at this project: http://fivefilters.org/content-only/ -- it's a modified version of the Readability algorithm, which is designed to extract just the textual content (not headers and footers) from a page.

Peter Mortensen
Peter Mortensen Reply to 2014-03-31 22:47:49Z

Another option you can try is QueryPath. It's inspired by jQuery, but on the server in PHP and used in Drupal.

Peter Mortensen
Peter Mortensen Reply to 2014-03-31 22:48:43Z

We have created quite a few crawlers for our needs before. At the end of the day, it is usually simple regular expressions that do the thing best. While libraries listed above are good for the reason they are created, if you know what you are looking for, regular expressions is a safer way to go, as you can handle also non-valid HTML/XHTML structures, which would fail, if loaded via most of the parsers.

Peter Mortensen
Peter Mortensen Reply to 2014-03-31 22:49:29Z

The Symfony framework has bundles which can parse the HTML, and you can use CSS style to select the DOMs instead of using XPath.

NANNAV Reply to 2013-06-14 10:40:04Z

Yes you can use simple_html_dom for the purpose. However I have worked quite a lot with the simple_html_dom, particularly for web scrapping and have found it to be too vulnerable. It does the basic job but I won't recommend it anyways.

I have never used curl for the purpose but what I have learned is that curl can do the job much more efficiently and is much more solid.

Kindly check out this link:scraping-websites-with-curl

Christopher Thomas
Christopher Thomas Reply to 2015-01-31 10:14:42Z

QueryPath is good, but be careful of "tracking state" cause if you didn't realise what it means, it can mean you waste a lot of debugging time trying to find out what happened and why the code doesn't work.

What it means is that each call on the result set modifies the result set in the object, it's not chainable like in jquery where each link is a new set, you have a single set which is the results from your query and each function call modifies that single set.

in order to get jquery-like behaviour, you need to branch before you do a filter/modify like operation, that means it'll mirror what happens in jquery much more closely.

$results = qp("div p");
$forename = $results->find("input[name='forename']");

$results now contains the result set for input[name='forename'] NOT the original query "div p" this tripped me up a lot, what I found was that QueryPath tracks the filters and finds and everything which modifies your results and stores them in the object. you need to do this instead

$forename = $results->branch()->find("input[name='forname']")

then $results won't be modified and you can reuse the result set again and again, perhaps somebody with much more knowledge can clear this up a bit, but it's basically like this from what I've found.

Peter Mortensen
Peter Mortensen Reply to 2015-10-28 17:42:57Z

I recommend PHP Simple HTML DOM Parser.

It really has nice features, like:

foreach($html->find('img') as $element)
       echo $element->src . '<br>';
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