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Escaping HTML

The cgi module that comes with Python has an escape() function:

   1 import cgi
   2 
   3 s = cgi.escape( """& < >""" )   # s = "&amp; &lt; &gt;"

However, it doesn't escape characters beyond &, <, and >. If it is used as cgi.escape(string_to_escape, quote=True), it also escapes ".

Recent Python 3.2 have html module with html.escape() and html.unescape() functions. html.escape() differs from cgi.escape() by its defaults to quote=True:

   1 import html
   2 
   3 s = html.escape( """& < " ' >""" )   # s = '&amp; &lt; &quot; &#x27; &gt;'

Here's a small snippet that will let you escape quotes and apostrophes as well:

   1 html_escape_table = {
   2     "&": "&amp;",
   3     '"': "&quot;",
   4     "'": "&apos;",
   5     ">": "&gt;",
   6     "<": "&lt;",
   7     }
   8 
   9 def html_escape(text):
  10     """Produce entities within text."""
  11     return "".join(html_escape_table.get(c,c) for c in text)

You can also use escape() from xml.sax.saxutils to escape html. This function should execute faster. The unescape() function of the same module can be passed the same arguments to decode a string.

   1 from xml.sax.saxutils import escape, unescape
   2 # escape() and unescape() takes care of &, < and >.
   3 html_escape_table = {
   4     '"': "&quot;",
   5     "'": "&apos;"
   6 }
   7 html_unescape_table = {v:k for k, v in html_escape_table.items()}
   8 
   9 def html_escape(text):
  10     return escape(text, html_escape_table)
  11 
  12 def html_unescape(text):
  13     return unescape(text, html_unescape_table)

Unescaping HTML

Undoing the escaping performed by cgi.escape() isn't directly supported by the library. This can be accomplished using a fairly simple function, however:

   1 def unescape(s):
   2     s = s.replace("&lt;", "<")
   3     s = s.replace("&gt;", ">")
   4     # this has to be last:
   5     s = s.replace("&amp;", "&")
   6     return s

or alternatively (before issue2927):

>>> from HTMLParser import HTMLParser
>>> HTMLParser.unescape.__func__(HTMLParser, 'ss&copy;')
u'ss\xa9'

Note that this will undo exactly what cgi.escape() does; it's easy to extend this to undo what the html_escape() function above does. Note the comment that converting the &amp; must be last; this avoids getting strings like "&amp;lt;" wrong.

This approach is simple and fairly efficient, but is limited to supporting the entities given in the list. A more thorough approach would be to perform the same processing as an HTML parser. Using the HTML parser from the standard library is a little more expensive, but many more entity replacements are supported "out of the box." The table of entities which are supported can be found in the htmlentitydefs module from the library; this is not normally used directly, but the htmllib module uses it to support most common entities. It can be used very easily:

   1 import htmllib
   2 
   3 def unescape(s):
   4     p = htmllib.HTMLParser(None)
   5     p.save_bgn()
   6     p.feed(s)
   7     return p.save_end()

This version has the additional advantage that it supports character references (things like &#65;) as well as entity references.

A more efficient implementation would simply parse the string for entity and character references directly (and would be a good candidate for the library, if there's really a need for it outside of HTML data).

Formal htmlentitydefs

Yet another approach available with recent Python takes advantage of htmlentitydefs:

import re
from htmlentitydefs import name2codepoint
def htmlentitydecode(s):
    return re.sub('&(%s);' % '|'.join(name2codepoint),
            lambda m: unichr(name2codepoint[m.group(1)]), s)

Builtin HTML/XML escaping via ASCII encoding

A very easy way to transform non-ASCII characters like German umlauts or letters with accents into their HTML equivalents is simply encoding them from unicode to ASCII and use the xmlcharrefreplace encoding error handling:

>>> a = u"äöüßáà"
>>> a.encode('ascii', 'xmlcharrefreplace')
'&#228;&#246;&#252;&#223;&#225;&#224;'

Note, that this does only transform non-ASCII characters and therefore leaves <, >, ? as they are. However, you can combine this technique with the cgi.escape.

See Also

XML entities are different from, if related to, HTML entities. This page hints at the details:

John J. Lee discusses still more refinements in implementation in this comp.lang.python follow-up.

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