I'm attending a conference, and I have downloaded all abstracts so I can read them offline. They are all html files with the same structure. The files are numbered according to abstract submission number, so 0001.html, 0002.html, 0003.html etc. If I run a find-file, it doesn't help me much in finding abstracts by name.

What I would like to do is for find-file to not prompt me for filenames, but for the title that is within the html file. When I select a title, Emacs opens the html file with eww-browse-url. Here's what I have so far:

I can extract the titles with:

(defun read-html-into-dom (html)
    (insert-file-contents html)
    (libxml-parse-html-region (point-min) (point-max))))

(defun abstract-extract-title (html)
  (let ((title (car (dom-by-class (read-html-into-dom html) "submissionTitle"))))
    (if title
        (dom-text title)
      "No title")))

and I can open the abstracts by filename with:

(defun conference--find-abstract-file ()
  (let ((default-directory conference-dir))
    (concat "file://"
            (expand-file-name (read-file-name "Choose abstract:")))))

(defun conference-find-abstract ()
  (eww-browse-url (call-interactively #'conference--find-abstract-file)))

How could I combine these two, such that when I call conference-find-abstract it runs over all filenames and shows me the titles? I know I have to change conference--find-abstract-file, but I'm lost at how to do this transformation, since eww-browse-url needs filenames.

Any examples of similar problems and solutions, or names of functions that could help me would be welcome. I suppose I'm looking for a common pattern, but don't know what it is called.

2 Answers 2


I would use an alist: ( (title . filename) ...). You can construct it to begin with something like this:

  (defun construct-abstract-file-alist ()
    (let ((files (directory-files conference-dir t ".*\\.html$")))
      (-zip (mapcar #'abstract-extract-title files) files)))

  (setq conf-abstract-file-alist (construct-abstract-file-alist))

This uses -zip from the dash library (available in ELPA).

Then you can use something like this to get the file name from the title:

(defun abstract-file-name (title)
   (cdr (assoc title conf-abstract-file-alist)))

That's just a POC of course: you most probably want the alist presented in a dired-like buffer to allow you to point and click (or navigate and RET). But the important thing is the data structure: the rest is icing on the cake and left as an exercise for the interested reader.

NB Error checking is non-existent and if your files are ill-formatted, you might end up with several entries in the alist with key "No title". Resolving that is also left as an exercise for the interested reader :-)

  • 1
    This is exactly what I was looking for. Including the exercises! Thank you
    – Daniel
    May 4, 2022 at 4:34

Based on NickD's answer, the complete minimal working solution:

(defun construct-abstract-file-alist ()
    (let ((files (directory-files conference-dir t ".*\\.html$")))
      (-zip (mapcar #'abstract-extract-title files) files)))

(defun abstract-file-name (title)
   (cdr (assoc title conf-abstract-file-alist)))

(setq conf-abstract-file-alist (construct-abstract-file-alist))

;; Interactive find by title
(defun conference-open-abstract (title)
   (list (completing-read "Choose abstract: " conf-abstract-file-alist)))
  (let ((file (abstract-file-name title)))
    (if file
        (eww-browse-url (concat "file://" file))
      (message "No abstract for %s" title))))

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