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Extract, clean, transform, hyphenate and metadata for ISBNs (International Standard Book Number).

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isbntools provides several useful methods and functions to validate, clean, transform, hyphenate and get metadata for ISBN strings.

Typical usage (as library):

#!/usr/bin/env python
import isbntools

For the end user several scripts are provided to use from the command line:

$ to_isbn10 ISBN13

transforms an ISBN13 number to ISBN10.

$ to_isbn13 ISBN10

transforms an ISBN10 number to ISBN13.

$ isbn_info ISBN

gives you the group identifier of the ISBN.

$ isbn_mask ISBN

masks (hyphenate) an ISBN (split it by identifiers).

$ isbn_meta ISBN [wcat|goob|openl|isbndb|merge] [bibtex|msword|endnote|refworks|json] [YOUR_APIKEY_TO_SERVICE]

gives you the main metadata associated with the ISBN, wcat uses (no key is needed), goob uses the Google Books service (no key is needed), isbndb uses the service (an api key is needed), openl uses the api (no key is needed), merge uses a mergeded record of wcat and goob records (no key is needed) and is the default option (you only have to enter, e.g. isbn_meta 9780321534965). You can get an API key for the service here. You can enter API keys and set preferences in the file isbntools.conf in your $HOME\.isbntools directory (UNIX). For Windows, you should look at %APPDATA%/isbntools/isbntools.conf. The output can be formatted as bibtex, msword, endnote, refworks or json (BibJSON) bibliographic formats.

$ isbn_editions ISBN

gives the collection of ISBNs that represent a given book (uses

$ isbn_validate ISBN

validates ISBN10 and ISBN13.

$ ... | isbn_stdin_validate

to use with posix pipes (e.g. cat FILE_WITH_ISBNs | isbn_stdin_validate).

$ isbn_from_words "words from title and author name"

a fuzzy script that returns the most probable ISBN from a set of words! (You can verify the result with isbn_meta)!

$ isbn_goom "words from title and author name" [bibtex|msword|endnote|refworks|json]

a script that returns from Google Books multiple references.

$ isbntools

writes version and copyright notice and checks if there are updates.

Many more scripts could be written with the isbntools library, using the methods for extraction, cleaning, validation and standardization of ISBNs.

Just for fun, suppose I want the most spoken about book with certain words in his title. For a quick-and-dirty solution, enter the following code in a file and save it as

#!/usr/bin/env python
import sys
from isbntools import *

query = sys.argv[1].replace(' ', '+')
isbn = isbn_from_words(query)

print("The ISBN of the most `spoken-about` book with this title is %s" % isbn)
print("... and the book is:")

Then in a command line (in the same directory):

$ python 'noise'

In my case I get:

The ISBN of the most `spoken-about` book with this title is 9780143105985

... and the book is:

{'Publisher': u'Penguin Books', 'Language': u'eng', 'Title': u'White noise',
'Year': u'2009', 'ISBN-13': '9780143105985', 'Authors': u'Don DeLillo ;
introduction by Richard Powers.'}

Have fun!


From the command line enter (in some cases you have to preced the command by sudo):

$ pip install isbntools


$ easy_install isbntools


$ pip install isbntools-3.0.3.tar.gz

(first you have to download the file!)

You should check if the install was successful, by enter:

$ isbntools


If you are on a Windows system, you can download a standalone version that doesn’t need python and gives you access to the scripts. However, doesn’t support add-ins or customization!

Intructions: 1. unzip the file and put the file isbn.exe in a folder. 2. go to that folder and open a command line. 3. run isbn help to get further instructions.

For Devs

In the namespace isbntools you have access to the core methods: is_isbn10, is_isbn13, to_isbn10, to_isbn13, canonical, clean, notisbn, get_isbnlike, get_canonical_isbn, mask, meta, info, editions, and isbn_from_words.

You can extend the lib by using the classes and functions exposed in namespace, namely:

  • WEBService a class that handles the access to web services (just by passing an url) and supports gzip. You can subclass it to extend the functionality… but probably you don’t need to use it! It is used in the next class.

  • WEBQuery a class that uses WEBService to retrive and parse data from a web service. You can build a new provider of metadata by subclassing this class. His main methods allow passing custom functions (handlers) that specialize them to specific needs (data_checker and parser).

  • Metadata a class that structures, cleans and ‘validates’ records of metadata. His method merge allows to implement a simple merging procedure for records from different sources. The main features can be implemented by a call to stdmeta function!

  • vias.parallel allows to put theaded calls to services, just by passing the name and a pointer to the service query function. However doesn’t implement throttling! You can use vias.serial to make serial calls.

All these classes follow a simple design pattern and, if you follow it, will be very easy to integrate your classes with the rest of the lib.

One easy way to do that, is to write a new metadata provider that will work as a plugin. (You can use as source a web service, a database, … ). We just had to follow these steps:

  1. Write a python file with a short name, let us say You can follow as models wcat or isbndb, but the only mandatory requirement is that it must have a function called query, with signature query(isbn), and that must return records in a standard form (like wcat for example). One way to garantee that, is by returning with return stdmeta(records).

  2. Create a new section called [PLUGINS] in isbntools.conf and, for the example above, enter a new line like this goodr=/full/path/to/directory/of/py/file.

  3. If your plugin uses a service with an API key (e.g. qWeRTY), you must enter a new line in the [SERVICES] section like this GOODR_API_KEY=qWeRTY.

Now you could use isbn_meta 9780321534965 goodr to get the metadata of 9780321534965.

The original quality of metadata, at the several services, is not very good! If you need high quality metadata in your app, the only solution is to use polling & merge of several providers and a lot of cleanning and standardization for fields like Authors and Publisher. A simple merge provider is now the default in isbn_meta (and isbntools.meta). It gives priority to wcat but overwrites the Authors field with the value from goob. Uses the merge method of Metadata and threaded calls to services by default (faster for slow internet connections). You can change that, by setting VIAS_MERGE=serial (see note below). You can write your own merging scheme by creating a new provider (see dev.merge for an example).

Take Note: These classes are optimized for one-calls to services and not for batch calls.

Conf File

You can enter API keys and set preferences in the file isbntools.conf in your $HOME\.isbntools directory (UNIX). For Windows, you should look at %APPDATA%/isbntools/isbntools.conf. (create these, directory and file, if don’t exist). The file should look like:



The values are self-explanatory!

Known Issues

  1. The meta method and the isbn_meta script sometimes give a wrong result (this is due to errors on the chosen service), in alternative you could try one of the others services.

  2. The isbntools works internally with unicode, however this doesn’t solve errors of lost information due to bad encode/decode at the origin!

  3. Periodically, agencies, issue new blocks of ISBNs. The range of these blocks is on a database that mask uses. So it could happen, if you have a version of isbntools that is too old, mask doesn’t work for valid (recent) issued ISBNs. The solution? Update isbntools often!

Any issue that you would like to report, please do it at github (if you are a dev) or at twitter (if you are an end user).


To know about ISBN:

More documentation at

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