Master Python Cobalt Library [In-Depth Tutorial]

Deepak Prasad


What is Cobalt in Python?

Cobalt is a Python library specifically designed for working with Akoma Ntoso documents, which are XML-based standards for legislative documents. Cobalt provides an intuitive API that allows users to easily manipulate Akoma Ntoso documents, their associated metadata, and FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) URIs. One of the defining features of Cobalt is its lightweight nature; it performs most operations directly on the XML document, avoiding the overhead of intermediate objects. While Python Cobalt simplifies many tasks, users still need a foundational understanding of the Akoma Ntoso standard to get the most out of the library.

Installation and Setup

Before starting your project, it's good to create a virtual environment. This helps in isolating the project dependencies. Here's how to create a virtual environment:

Create a new virtual environment:

python -m venv cobalt-env

Activate the virtual environment On Windows:


Activate the virtual environment On Linux and macOS:

source cobalt-env/bin/activate

Now, you can install Cobalt into this isolated environment. The easiest way to install Cobalt is via pip, Python's package manager. Open your terminal and run the following command:

pip3 install cobalt


Learning the Basic Concepts

1. Cobalt Framework Basics

Python Cobalt is designed to make it easier to work with Akoma Ntoso documents. Here are some basics:

  • Akoma Ntoso Documents: These are XML documents that adhere to the Akoma Ntoso standard, typically used for legal documents.
  • Metadata: Cobalt allows you to handle metadata associated with Akoma Ntoso documents.
  • FRBR URIs: These are Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records Uniform Resource Identifiers, used to uniquely identify legal documents.

Here is a Python code snippet that demonstrates creating a simple Akoma Ntoso document using Cobalt.

# Import necessary Cobalt classes
from cobalt import Act, FrbrUri, AkomaNtosoDocument  # Replace these with actual classes if they're not correct

# Create a new Act
new_act = Act()

country = 'za'  # Example country code for South Africa
locality = None  # Assuming locality is not applicable; use an actual value if needed
doctype = 'act'  # Document type
subtype = None  # Assuming subtype is not applicable; use an actual value if needed
actor = None  # Assuming actor is not applicable; use an actual value if needed
date = '2021'  # Example date
number = '1'  # Example document number

frbr_uri = FrbrUri(country=country, locality=locality, doctype=doctype, subtype=subtype, actor=actor, date=date, number=number)
new_act.frbr_uri = frbr_uri  # Replace this with the actual method if it's different

# Add some content to the Act (depends on what the library allows)
new_act.body = "Some content here"  # This is a placeholder; replace with actual methods

# Create a new Akoma Ntoso document and add the Act to it
akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument()
akn_doc.act = new_act  # Replace this with the actual method if it's different

# Save or process the Akoma Ntoso document"path/to/save/document.xml")  # This is a placeholder; replace with actual methods

2. Basic Syntax and Structure

Python Cobalt mainly deals with XML documents, so you won't find a typical Pythonic object-oriented interface. However, the methods provided by Python Cobalt are straightforward and easy to use.

Here is how to change the title of an act:

# Existing act
my_act = Act()

# Setting the title
my_act.title = "An Act about Cobalt"

# Displaying the title


Python Cobalt Core Modules and Functions

1. AkomaNtosoDocument

This is used to create an AkomaNtosoDocument object from XML data.

from cobalt import AkomaNtosoDocument

xml_data = '''<akomaNtoso xmlns="">...</akomaNtoso>'''  # Use your actual XML data here
akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument(xml_data)


2. Act

This module provides methods to work with Act documents. You can use it to parse an act from an existing AkomaNtosoDocument.

from cobalt import Act

act = Act(akn_doc)
print(act.sections())  # List the sections in the act


3. FrbrUri

It is used for working with FRBR URIs.

from cobalt import FrbrUri

uri = FrbrUri(country='uk', locality=None, doctype='act', date='1980', number='01')


4. AmendmentEvent, RepealEvent

These classes are useful for legislative events like amendments and repeals.

from cobalt import AmendmentEvent

event = AmendmentEvent(date="2000-01-01", amending_act=FrbrUri(country='uk', locality=None, doctype='act', date='1999', number='02'))


5. PortionStructure

This module can be used to work with hierarchical portions in Akoma Ntoso documents.

from cobalt import PortionStructure

portion = PortionStructure(element=act.root.find(".//section[@id='sec1']"))

Combining Multiple Acts into a Single Collection

from cobalt import Collection

collection = Collection()


User Interface Components

If you're working with Python Cobalt in the context of a larger project that has a user interface, you could create interfaces that allow users to interact with Akoma Ntoso documents. Below is a hypothetical example that assumes you're using a web interface, maybe using a framework like Django or Flask.

HTML: Create a Form to Upload an Akoma Ntoso XML Document

<!DOCTYPE html>
    <title>Upload Akoma Ntoso Document</title>
    <form action="/upload" method="post" enctype="multipart/form-data">
        <input type="file" name="file" accept=".xml">
        <input type="submit" value="Upload">

Python: Backend Handling Using Flask and Cobalt

from flask import Flask, request, jsonify
from cobalt import AkomaNtosoDocument

app = Flask(__name__)

@app.route('/upload', methods=['POST'])
def upload_file():
    if 'file' not in request.files:
        return jsonify({"error": "No file part"}), 400
    file = request.files['file']
    if file.filename == '':
        return jsonify({"error": "No selected file"}), 400
    if file:
        xml_data =
            akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument(xml_data.decode("utf-8"))
        except Exception as e:
            return jsonify({"error": str(e)}), 400
        return jsonify({"message": "Successfully uploaded and parsed Akoma Ntoso document"})

if __name__ == '__main__':

Explanation of the Output:

  • The HTML form allows users to upload an XML document.
  • When the form is submitted, the Flask app tries to read and parse the XML using Python Cobalt's AkomaNtosoDocument.
  • If successful, a JSON response is sent back with a success message. If not, an error message is displayed.


Working with Akoma Ntoso Documents

1. Reading Documents with Cobalt

1.1 Importing the Python Cobalt Library

Firstly, you need to import the Cobalt library.

from cobalt import AkomaNtosoDocument

1.2 Loading an XML file into a Cobalt object

To load an XML file, simply initialize a Cobalt object with your XML string.

xml_data = '''<akomaNtoso xmlns="">...</akomaNtoso>'''  # Substitute with your actual XML data
akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument(xml_data)

1.3 Reading Metadata

Let's assume you have metadata like the title within your XML. Here's how you'd read it.

title = akn_doc.root.meta.title
print("Document Title:", title)

1.4 Reading Individual Elements

To read a particular section or clause:

section1 = akn_doc.root.body.sections[0]
print("First Section:", section1)

1.5 Searching for Elements

You can use XPath-like queries to find elements:

results = akn_doc.root.xpath('//section[@id="sec_1"]')
print("Sections with ID 'sec_1':", results)


2. Writing Documents with Cobalt

2.1 Creating a New Akoma Ntoso Document

To create a new Akoma Ntoso document, initialize an empty Python Cobalt object.

new_akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument()

2.2 Adding Metadata

You can add metadata like the title as follows:

new_akn_doc.root.meta.title = "New Document Title"

2.3 Adding Main Content Elements

To add a section or a paragraph:

new_section = akn.Element("section")
new_section.text = "This is a new section."

2.4 Modifying Existing Elements

To change the text of an existing element:

section1 = akn_doc.root.body.sections[0]
section1.text = "Updated text for first section."

2.5 Deleting Elements

To delete a section:


2.6 Exporting the Document

To get the updated XML string:

updated_xml = str(new_akn_doc)


Manipulating Documents

In Python Cobalt, manipulating Akoma Ntoso documents generally involves working directly with the XML elements. Here are some examples demonstrating how to add, edit, and delete elements:


1. Adding Elements

1.1 Adding a New Section

Let's assume you have already loaded an Akoma Ntoso document into a Python Cobalt object called akn_doc. To add a new section:

from lxml import etree

# Create a new section element
new_section = etree.Element("section")

# Add an ID attribute
new_section.attrib['id'] = 'new_section'

# Add some text to the new section
new_section.text = "This is a new section."

# Append the new section to the body of the document


2. Editing Elements

2.1 Modifying an Existing Section

To edit the text of an existing section:

# Assume section1 is the section you want to edit
section1 = akn_doc.root.xpath('//section[@id="sec_1"]')[0]

# Update the text of the section
section1.text = "This is the updated text for the section."

2.2 Editing Metadata

To edit the title metadata of the document:

akn_doc.root.meta.title = "Updated Document Title"


3. Deleting Elements

3.1 Removing a Section

To delete an existing section from the document:

# Assume section1 is the section you want to remove
section1 = akn_doc.root.xpath('//section[@id="sec_1"]')[0]

# Remove the section

3.2 Removing an Attribute

To remove an attribute from a section:

# Assume section1 is the section whose attribute you want to remove
section1 = akn_doc.root.xpath('//section[@id="sec_1"]')[0]

# Remove 'someAttribute' from the section
if 'someAttribute' in section1.attrib:
    del section1.attrib['someAttribute']


Querying Documents

In Python Cobalt, querying documents typically involves using XPath to search for specific elements or data. The library utilizes the lxml library for XML manipulation, which supports XPath queries. Below are some examples:


1. How to Search for Specific Data

Finding All Sections

You can find all section elements in the document like this:

# Find all section elements
sections = akn_doc.root.xpath('//section')

Finding a Section by ID

To find a section element with a specific ID:

# Find a section by ID
section = akn_doc.root.xpath('//section[@id="sec_1"]')[0]


2. Filter and Sort Results

XPath allows for complex queries that can both filter and sort results. Below are some examples:

2.1 Finding Sections with a Specific Attribute

Suppose you want to find all section elements that have a specific attribute:

# Find sections that have a 'type' attribute set to 'intro'
intro_sections = akn_doc.root.xpath('//section[@type="intro"]')

2.2 Sorting Sections by an Attribute

You can sort section elements by an attribute using XPath as follows:

# Sort sections by 'order' attribute (assuming an 'order' attribute exists)
sorted_sections = akn_doc.root.xpath('//section')
sorted_sections.sort(key=lambda x: int(x.get('order')))


Validation and Error Handling

Validation and error handling are crucial steps when working with XML documents like Akoma Ntoso in Cobalt. Python Cobalt often leverages lxml’s capabilities for XML validation. Below are some examples:


1. Validating Akoma Ntoso Documents

You can validate your Akoma Ntoso document against an XML schema (XSD) to ensure it meets the Akoma Ntoso standards.

from lxml import etree

# Load your Akoma Ntoso XML data into an ElementTree object
akn_tree = etree.fromstring(your_akoma_ntoso_xml_string)

# Load the Akoma Ntoso XSD schema
with open('path/to/your/AkomaNtoso.xsd', 'r') as f:
    schema_root = etree.XML(

schema = etree.XMLSchema(schema_root)

# Validate the document
is_valid = schema.validate(akn_tree)

if not is_valid:
    print('Validation failed.')


2. Error Handling

2.1 Catching XML Syntax Errors

Badly formatted XML will cause an error when you try to create an AkomaNtosoDocument instance.

    akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument(your_akoma_ntoso_xml_string)
except etree.XMLSyntaxError:
    print("XML syntax error")

2.2 Catching XPath Errors

When an XPath expression is not valid, lxml raises an XPathEvalError.

from lxml.etree import XPathEvalError

    result = akn_doc.root.xpath('invalid/xpath/expression')
except XPathEvalError:
    print("Invalid XPath expression")


Performance Optimization in Cobalt

Working with large XML documents like Akoma Ntoso could be computationally intensive. Here are some performance optimization tips when using Python Cobalt.

1. Tips for Large Documents

When dealing with large Akoma Ntoso documents, consider reading the XML document in chunks instead of loading the entire XML into memory.

from lxml import etree

# Initialize an empty list to store portions of the XML document
elements = []

# Create an iterative parser
context = etree.iterparse('large_akoma_ntoso.xml', events=('end',), tag='your_specific_tag')

for event, element in context:
    # Process the XML element here
    # Clear the element to free memory

2. Caching

Caching commonly accessed elements or queries can improve performance. This can be done with Python's built-in data structures like dictionaries.

from cobalt import AkomaNtosoDocument

# Cache dictionary
cache = {}

# Load Akoma Ntoso document
akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument(your_akoma_ntoso_xml_string)

def get_element_by_id(element_id):
    if element_id in cache:
        return cache[element_id]
    element = akn_doc.root.find(".//*[@eId='{}']".format(element_id))
    cache[element_id] = element
    return element

# Retrieve elements
element_1 = get_element_by_id('element_id_1')
element_2 = get_element_by_id('element_id_2')

Here, subsequent calls to get_element_by_id with the same element_id will fetch the element from the cache, thereby reducing the time to access the element.


Integration with Other Tools

Python Cobalt can be easily integrated with other Python-based solutions for a range of applications, from databases to web development frameworks.

1. Using Cobalt with Databases

Storing XML Akoma Ntoso documents in a database could be useful for long-term archiving and quick querying. Below is an example where SQLite is used to store and retrieve Akoma Ntoso XML strings.

import sqlite3
from cobalt import AkomaNtosoDocument

# Initialize the SQLite database
conn = sqlite3.connect('akoma_ntoso.db')
cursor = conn.cursor()

# Load Akoma Ntoso document
akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument("<akomaNtoso>...</akomaNtoso>")
xml_string = akn_doc.to_xml()

# Store it in SQLite database
cursor.execute("INSERT INTO documents (xml) VALUES (?)", (xml_string,))

# Retrieve from SQLite database
cursor.execute("SELECT xml FROM documents WHERE id = 1")
row = cursor.fetchone()
retrieved_xml_string = row[0]
retrieved_akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument(retrieved_xml_string)

2. Using Cobalt in Web Applications

For web applications, you might want to use a Python web framework like Flask. Here's an example of a simple Flask app that allows the user to upload an Akoma Ntoso XML document.

from flask import Flask, request
from cobalt import AkomaNtosoDocument

app = Flask(__name__)

@app.route('/upload', methods=['POST'])
def upload():
    uploaded_file = request.files['file']
    if uploaded_file.filename != '':
        xml_string ='utf-8')
        akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument(xml_string)
        # Process akn_doc here
        return "File successfully uploaded and parsed."
        return "No file uploaded."

if __name__ == '__main__':

In this example, the uploaded Akoma Ntoso document is parsed using Python Cobalt's AkomaNtosoDocument and you can further process it according to your application needs.


Advanced Topics

The flexibility of the Python Cobalt library allows for more advanced use-cases, such as automation via scripting and the addition of custom extensions to handle specific needs.

1. Scripting with Cobalt

You can use Python Cobalt in a scripting environment to perform batch operations on multiple Akoma Ntoso documents. Here's an example of a Python script that processes a directory of Akoma Ntoso XML files to add a certain metadata field:

import os
from cobalt import AkomaNtosoDocument

directory = '/path/to/xml/files/'

for filename in os.listdir(directory):
    if filename.endswith('.xml'):
        filepath = os.path.join(directory, filename)
        with open(filepath, 'r') as f:
            xml_data =
        akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument(xml_data)
        # Add metadata (assume `add_metadata_field` is a method you've defined)
        add_metadata_field(akn_doc, 'key', 'value')
        # Write the updated XML back to the file
        with open(filepath, 'w') as f:

2. Custom Extensions

Sometimes, you may need to extend Python Cobalt's functionality to suit specific needs. Python's dynamic nature allows you to easily add methods to existing classes.

Here's an example of how to extend the AkomaNtosoDocument class to add a method that sets a custom metadata field.

def add_metadata_field(self, key, value):
    # Logic to add metadata field
    # This is a placeholder; you'll replace this with your actual logic

# Attach the method to the class
AkomaNtosoDocument.add_metadata_field = add_metadata_field

# Now you can use this method on any AkomaNtosoDocument instance
akn_doc = AkomaNtosoDocument("<akomaNtoso>...</akomaNtoso>")
akn_doc.add_metadata_field('key', 'value')



Python Cobalt offers a robust, lightweight way to interact with Akoma Ntoso documents, providing various modules and functions for document manipulation, querying, validation, and more. From basic read and write operations to more advanced use-cases like scripting and custom extensions, the library allows for a broad spectrum of tasks that can be carried out efficiently.

Summary and Key Takeaways

  • Python Cobalt is specialized for Akoma Ntoso documents and is best suited for those who have a need to manipulate legal or legislative XML formats.
  • The library offers both basic and advanced functionalities for working with these documents, such as creating, reading, editing, and deleting elements.
  • Its design allows for easy extensions and customizations, enabling you to adapt the library for specific project needs.
  • Though it's lightweight, Python Cobalt is quite powerful, and its efficient design allows for excellent performance even when dealing with large documents.


Additional Resources

For more in-depth information and advanced topics, you can refer to the official Python Cobalt documentation:


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Deepak Prasad

He is the founder of GoLinuxCloud and brings over a decade of expertise in Linux, Python, Go, Laravel, DevOps, Kubernetes, Git, Shell scripting, OpenShift, AWS, Networking, and Security. With extensive experience, he excels in various domains, from development to DevOps, Networking, and Security, ensuring robust and efficient solutions for diverse projects. You can reach out to him on his LinkedIn profile or join on Facebook page.

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