Parsing VOEvent XML packets

Getting started

In [1]:
from __future__ import print_function
import voeventparse as vp

IPython Tip #1: In IPython (terminal or notebook) you can quickly check the docstring for something by putting a question mark in front, e.g.

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# Uncomment the following and hit enter:
# ?vp.load

Alternatively, you can always read the docs, which include autogenerated API specs.

Ok, let’s load up a voevent (click here to see the raw XML in your browser):

In [3]:
with open('voevent.xml','rb') as f:
    v = vp.load(f)

IPython Tip #2: We also get tab-completion. Simply start typing the name of a function (or even just the ‘.’ operator) and hit tab to see valid possible options - this is handy for exploring VOEvent packets:

In [4]:
# Uncomment the following and hit tab:
# v.W

Accessing data


XML Tip #1: An XML packet is a tree-structure made composed of elements. We can dig into the tree structure of the VOEvent, and inspect values:

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# v.Who.Date.text
# vp.pull_isotime(v)
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print("Inferred reason is", v.Why.Inference.Name.text)
print( "(A string of length {})".format(len(v.Why.Inference.Name.text)))
Inferred reason is GRB121212A
(A string of length 10)


XML Tip #2: Note that there are two ways to store data in an XML packet: * A single string can be stored as an element’s text-value - like the two we just saw. * Alternatively, we can attach a number of key-value strings to an element, storing them as attributes. We can access these via attrib, which behaves like a Python dictionary, e.g.:

In [7]:
In [8]:
{'relation': 'identified', 'probability': '0.1'}
In [9]:
    <title>Hotwired VOEvent Tutorial</title>

‘Sibling’ elements and list-style access

So far, each of the elements we’ve accessed has been the only one of that name - i.e. our VOEvent has only one Who child-element, likewise there’s only one Inference under the Why entry in this particular packet. But that’s not always the case; for example the What section contains a Group with two child-elements called Param:

In [10]:
<Group name="source_flux">
  <Param dataType="float" name="peak_flux" ucd="" unit="Janskys" value="0.0015">
    <Description>Peak Flux</Description>
  <Param dataType="float" name="int_flux" ucd="" unit="Janskys" value="2.0e-3">
    <Description>Integrated Flux</Description>

So how do we access all of these? This is where we start getting into the details of lxml.objectify syntax (which voevent-parse uses under the hood). lxml.objectify uses a neat, but occasionally confusing, trick: when we access a child-element by name, what’s returned behaves like a list:

In [11]:
v.What[0] # v.What behaves like a list!
<Element What at 0x7f37283b79c8>

However, to save having to type something like[0].bar[0].baz[0], the first element of the list can also be accessed without the [0] operator (aka ‘syntactic sugar’):

In [12]:
v.What is v.What[0]

Knowing that it’s ‘just a list’, we have a couple of options, we can iterate:

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for par in v.What.Group.Param:
Peak Flux
Integrated Flux

Or we can check the length, access elements by index, etc:

In [14]:
In [15]:
'Integrated Flux'

Note that another example of this ‘syntactic sugar’ is that we can display the text-value of an element without adding the .text suffix.

However, see below for why it’s a good idea to always use .text when you really do want the text-value of an element:

In [16]:
print(v.Why.Inference.Name)  # More syntax sugar - if it has a string-value but no children, print the string
print(v.Why.Inference.Name.text) # The safe option
print(v.Why.Inference.Name.text[:3]) # Indexing on the string as you'd expect
print(v.Why.Inference.Name[:3]) # This is indexing on the *list of elements*, not the string!

If that all sounds awfully messy, help is at hand: you’re most likely to encounter sibling elements under the What entry of a VOEvent, and voevent-parse has a pair of functions to convert that to nested dictionary-like structures for you:

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# Consult the docstring
# ?vp.get_toplevel_params
# ?vp.get_grouped_params
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grouped_params = vp.get_grouped_params(v)
# what_dict
  {'value': '0.0015', 'dataType': 'float', 'ucd': '', 'unit': 'Janskys', 'name': 'peak_flux'}),
  {'value': '2.0e-3', 'dataType': 'float', 'ucd': '', 'unit': 'Janskys', 'name': 'int_flux'})]
In [19]:

Advanced usage

Since voevent-parse uses lxml.objectify, the full power of the LXML library is available when handling VOEvents loaded with voevent-parse.

Iterating over child-elements

We already saw how you can access a group of child-elements by name, in list-like fashion. But you can also iterate over all the children of an element, even if you don’t know the names (‘tags’, in XML-speak) ahead of time:

In [20]:
for child in v.Who.iterchildren():
    print(child.tag, child.text, child.attrib)
AuthorIVORN ivo:// {}
Date 1970-01-01T00:00:00 {}
Author None {}
In [21]:
for child in v.WhereWhen.ObsDataLocation.ObservationLocation.iterchildren():
    print(child.tag, child.text, child.attrib)
AstroCoordSystem None {'id': 'UTC-FK5-GEO'}
AstroCoords None {'coord_system_id': 'UTC-FK5-GEO'}

Querying a VOEvent

Another powerful technique is to find elements using Xpath or ElementPath queries, but this is beyond the scope of this tutorial: we leave you with just a single example:

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Final words

Congratulations! You should now be able to extract data from just about any VOEvent packet. Note that voevent-parse comes with a few convenience routines to help with common, tedious operations, but you can always compose your own.

If you put together something that you think others could use (or find a bug!), pull requests are welcome.

Next stop: authoring your own VOEvent.