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A command line tool to manage a PubMed DB mirror.

Project description

The Swiss Army knife to parse MEDLINE XML files or download eUtils’ PubMed XML records, bootstrapping a local MEDLINE/PubMed database, updating and/or deleting the records, and writing the contents of selected PMIDs into flat-files.


medic [options] CMD FILE|PMID...

medic parse baseline/medline*.xml.gz
medic --update parse update/medline*.xml.gz
medic --pmid-lists delete delete.txt
medic --url sqlite://tmp.db insert pubmed.xml
medic --pmid-lists update changed_pmids.txt
medic --all update pubmed.xml
medic --format html --output /var/www/medline.html write 2874014 1028734 1298474


If you are not using pip install medic, install all dependencies/requirements:

pip install sqlalchemy
# only if using python3 < 3.2:
pip install argparse

Install the DB driver you prefer to use (supported are PostgreSQL and SQLite, with the latter part of the Python StdLib):

pip install psycopg2

Create the PostreSQL database:

createdb medline

If you are fine working with SQLite, you only need to use the path to the SQLite DB file in the URL option:

medic insert --url sqlite:///tmp.db 123456


medic [options] COMMAND PMID|FILE...

The --url URL option represents the DSN of the database and might be needed (default: postgresql://localhost/medline); For example:

sqlite:////absolute/path/to/foo.db or sqlite:///relative/path/to/foo.db

The five COMMAND arguments:

Create records in the DB by parsing MEDLINE XML files or by downloading PubMed XML from NCBI eUtils for a list of PMIDs.
Write records as MEDLINE files to a directory, each file named as “<pmid>.txt”. Alternatively, just the TIAB (title and abstract) plain-text can be output, and finally, a single file in TSV or HTML format can be generated (see option --format).
Insert or update records in the DB (instead of creating them); note that if a record exists, but is added with create, this would throw an IntegrityError. If you are not sure if the records are in the DB or not, use update (N.B. that update is slower).
Delete records from the DB for a list of PMIDs (use --pmid-lists!)
Does not interact with the DB, but rather creates “.tab” files for each table that later can be used to load a database, particularly useful when bootstrapping a large collection.

For example, to download two PubMed records by PMID and update them in the DB:

medic update 100000 123456

Add a single MEDLINE or PubMed XML file to the database:

medic insert pudmed.xml

Export a few records from the database as HTML (to STDOUT):

medic write --format html 292837491 128374 213487

Note that if the suffix “.gz” is present, the parser automatically decompresses the XML file(s) first. This feature only works with GNU-zipped files and the “.gz” suffix must be present.

Therefore, command line arguments are treated as follows:

integer values
are always treated as PMIDs to download PubMed XML data
all other values
are always treated as MEDLINE XML files to parse unless you use the option --pmid-lists
files ending in “.gz”
are always treated as gzipped MEDLINE XML files


  • Python 3.2+
  • SQL Alchewy 0.8+
  • PostgreSQL 8.4+ or SQLite 3.7+

Note that while any SQL Alchemy DB might work, it is strongly discouraged to use any other combination that PostgeSQL and psycogp2 or SQLite and the Python STDLIB drivers, because it has not been tested.


Please be aware that the MEDLINE distribution is not unique, meaning that it contains a few records multiple times (see the section about Version IDs).

Parsing and loading the baseline into a PostgreSQL DB on the same machine:

medic parse baseline/medline14n*.xml.gz

for table in records descriptors qualifiers authors sections \
databases identifiers chemicals keywords publication_types;
  do psql medline -c "COPY $table FROM '`pwd`/${table}.tab';";

For the update files, you need to go one-by-one, adding each one in order, and using the flag --update when parsing the XML. After parsing an XML file and before loading the dump, run medic delete --pmid-lists delete.txt to get rid of all entities that will be updated or should be removed (PMIDs listed as DeleteCitations):

# parse a MEDLINE update file:
medic --update parse medline14n1234.xml.gz

# delete its updated and DeleteCitation records:
medic --pmid-lists delete delete.txt

# load (COPY) all tables for that MEDLINE file:
for table in records descriptors qualifiers authors sections \
databases identifiers chemicals keywords publication_types;
  do psql medline -c "COPY $table FROM '`pwd`/${table}.tab';";

Version IDs

MEDLINE has began to use versions to allow publishers to add multiple citations for the same PMID. This only occurs with 71 articles from one journal, “PLOS Curr”, in the 2013 baseline, creating a total of 149 non-unique records.

As this is the only journal and as there should only be one abstract per publication in the database, alternative versions are currently being ignored. In other words, if a MedlineCitation has a VersionID value, that records can be skipped to avoid DB errors from non-unique records.

For example, in the 2013 baseline, PMID 20029614 is present ten times in the baseline, each version at a different stage of revision. Because it is the first entry (in the order they appear in the baseline files) without a VersionID or a version of “1” that so far is the relevant record, medic by default filters citations with other versions than “1”. If you do want to process other versions of a citation, use the option --all.

In short, this tool by default removes alternate citations.

Database Tables

Medline (records)
pmid:BIGINT, status:ENUM(state), journal:VARCHAR(256), pub_date:VARCHAR(256), issue:VARCHAR(256), pagination:VARCHAR(256), created:DATE, completed:DATE, revised:DATE, modified:DATE
Section (sections)
pmid:FK(Medline), seq:SMALLINT, name:ENUM(section), label:VARCHAR(256), content:TEXT
Author (authors)
pmid:FK(Medline), pos:SMALLINT, name:TEXT, initials:VARCHAR(128), forename:VARCHAR(128), suffix:VARCHAR(128),
PublicationType (publication_types)
pmid:FK(Medline), value:VARCHAR(256)
Descriptor (descriptors)
pmid:FK(Medline), num:SMALLINT, major:BOOL, name:TEXT
Qualifier (qualifiers)
pmid:FK(Descriptor), num:FK(Descriptor), sub:SMALLINT, major:BOOL, name:TEXT
Identifier (identifiers)
pmid:FK(Medline), namespace:VARCHAR(32), value:VARCHAR(256)
Database (databases)
pmid:FK(Medline), name:VARCHAR(32), accession:VARCHAR(256)
Chemical (chemicals)
pmid:FK(Medline), idx:VARCHAR(32), uid:VARCHAR(256), name:VARCHAR(256)
Keyword (keywords)
pmid:FK(Medline), owner:ENUM(owner), cnt:SMALLINT, major:BOOL, value:TEXT
  • bold (Composite) Primary Key
  • italic NOT NULL (Strings that may not be NULL are also never empty.)

Supported XML Elements


  • The citation (Medline and Identifier)
  • Title, Abstract, and Copyright (Section)
  • Author (Author)
  • Chemical (Chemcial)
  • DataBank (Database)
  • Keyword (Keyword)
  • MeshHeading (Descriptor and Qualifier)
  • PublicationType (PublicationType)
  • DeleteCitation (for deleting records when parsing updates)


  • AbstractText ( “Abstract” or the NlmCategory, Section.content with Label as Section.label)
  • AccessionNumber (Database.accession)
  • ArticleId (Identifier.value with IdType as Identifier.namesapce; only available in online PubMed XML)
  • ArticleTitle ( “Title”, Section.content)
  • CollectiveName (
  • CopyrightInformation ( “Copyright”, Section.content)
  • DataBankName (
  • DateCompleted (Medline.completed)
  • DateCreated (Medline.created)
  • DateRevised (Medline.revised)
  • DescriptorName ( with MajorTopicYN as Descriptor.major)
  • ELocationID (Identifier.value with EIdType as Identifier.namespace)
  • ForeName (Author.forename)
  • Initials (Author.initials)
  • Issue (Medline.issue)
  • Keyword (Keyword.value with Owner as Keyword.owner and MajorTopicYN as Keyword.major)
  • LastName (
  • MedlineCitation (only Status as Medline.status)
  • MedlineTA (Medline.journal)
  • NameOfSubstance (
  • MedlinePgn (Medline.pagination)
  • OtherID (Identifier.value iff Source is “PMC” with Identifier.namespace as “pmc”)
  • PMID (Medline.pmid)
  • PubDate (Medline.pub_date)
  • PublicationType (PublicationType.value)
  • QualifierName ( with MajorTopicYN as Qualifier.major)
  • RegistryNumber (Chemical.uid)
  • Suffix (Author.suffix)
  • VernacularTitle ( “Vernacular”, Section.content)
  • Volume (Medline.issue)

Version History

  • added Keywords and PublicationTypes
  • added MEDLINE publication date, volume, issue, and pagination support
  • added MEDLINE output format and made it the default
  • DB structure change: descriptors.major and qualifiers.major columns swapped
  • DB structure change: is now an untyped varchar (OtherAbstract separation)
  • cleaned up the ORM test cases
  • code cleanup (PEP8, PyFlake)
  • fixed an issue where the parser would not leave the skipping state
  • --update parse now writes a file to use with --pmid-lists delete
  • fixed a bug with CRUD manager
  • added a man page
  • fixes to make the PyPi version and pip install medic work
  • updates to the and README.rst files
  • initial release

Project details

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