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Module 8: Interacting with Databases: Desktop and Web based Applications

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Jordi Cuadros, Universitat Ramon Llull
Andrew Lang, Oral Roberts University

Learning Objectives

●Have a basic understanding of the main interfaces and technologies involved in using Web APIs
●Gain a knowledge of the main chemistry Web APIs
●Be able to pull chemical information programmatically from some chemistry online databases and services


Module Structure

Week I

8.1 Why using databases programmatically?
8.2 Technological aspects behind using a web API
8.3 Main chemistry APIs


8.1 Why using databases programmatically?

Information is essential to many professions and chemistry is no exception. As chemists we frequently have to look up chemical information in handbooks or databases; you can name it: formation enthalpies and entropies, solubilities, ionization constants, densities of mixtures, spectra...

Much of this information, although available, is spread among several handbooks, databases and/or papers in scientific journals. Sometimes we are able to find the information in well organized data sources and occasionally these are available online and can be accessed programmatically.

When this is the case, accessing these resources programmatically offers the following advantages:

●Availability and convenience. Curated and updated information is at your fingerprints. The information can be retrieved from your computer or your mobile device without requiring heavy applications or huge databases.
●Economy. Many of these sources offers data on licensing options that allow using it at no-cost in different contexts and environments.
●Knowledge and data sharing, reusing and repurposing. Many of the sources that are available fit onto the open access policies which are slowly being adopted by the scientific communities. Likewise, this open data allows you to build other applications and personal mashups.

Some example projects that make use of open databases are:

●Jmol: an open-source Java viewer for chemical structures in 3D.
●JSmol: an open-source HTML5 viewer for chemical structures in 3D.
●Open Notebook Science Web Services.

AnchorFurther reading

●O'Boyle, N. M., Guha, R., Willighagen, E. L., Adams, S. E., Alvarsson, J., Bradley, J. C., ... & Murray-Rust, P. (2011). Open Data, Open Source and Open Standards in chemistry: The Blue Obelisk five years on. J. Cheminformatics, 3, 37. Available at



8.2 Technological aspects behind using a web API

One common way to offer open data to be used programmatically is through a web API. Before digging into the most relevant chemistry APIs, we will spend a moment discussing some technological aspects that should be known in order to use it.

What’s a web API?

An API (Application Programming Interface) is the set of elements that a programming library or service makes available to other programmers to be used remotely to access their services and data.

This API is called a web API when these functionalities are delivered via the HTTP protocol through the Internet.

How is a web API used?

In order to be able to get information from an online database, we will need to:

1.Send a query to the database through the Internet (HTTP protocol)
2.Understand the format in which the response will be received
3.Process this response to extract the desired information


Sending the query... - The HTTP protocol and the REST architecture

HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol and it comprises the set of rules that control the transfer of a resource between a web server and a web client (usually a browser).

The basic elements of an HTTP transaction are:

●A request message
●A response message (which is usually the resource being transferred)


The HTTP request message

The request message consists in some text data sent to an URL (Uniform Resource Locator). A URL is a way of specifying an address in the Internet.

The general structure for an URL consists of


although in HTTP this commonly simplified to

http://domain/path  or  https://domain/path

The request message, which is usually handled by the HTTP client, has the following structure

●A first line which includes method, path and HTTP protocol version, usually
         METHOD /path HTTP/x.x
●Several header lines
●A blank line
●And an optional message body


The HTTP request methods: GET and POST

Although other methods exist, the most common request methods are GET and POST.

In the GET method, any additional information required to specify the request is included in the URL (which means in the path included in the first line of the message). The parameters are included after the path and a question mark as pairs name=value. Parameters are separated by the ampersand symbol (&)


In some cases, as we will see in PubChem API, the parameters are included in the path. This technique is called URL rewriting and shortens the URLs and makes it more usable.


or even


In POST methods, any additional information is not included in the URL but in the body of the message and is usually submitted via a web form. We won’t go further into this method since most of the chemistry APIs can be queried via GET calls.

To end this brief introduction to HTTP, note that some characters are either disallowed or have special meaning in URLs. When these characters appear they will need to be encoded; for example a space is encoded as %20, and a sharp (#) is %23. A reference can be found at


The HTTP response message

As we have seen for the request, the response contains:

●A first line
●Several header lines
●A blank line
●And a message body which is the transferred resource


Two aspects of the response to be highlighted are the status code (included in the first line) and the content-type information (which is one of the headers).

HTTP status codes are indicated as a three-digit number

●200 means transaction completed successfully
●3xx means some type of redirection
●4xx means a client-side error
         ○404 means resource not found
●5xx means a server-side error
         ○500 means unexpected server error

The content type parameter indicates what data is included in the message body. Each type of resource is indicated with a standardized string (Internet media type; aka MIME type). For example, some common response formats are

●HTML file: text/html
●XML file: application/xml or text/xml
●CSV file: text/csv
●JSON file: application/json
●PNG image: image/png


Querying the databases

We have so far seen how the information is transmitted over the WWW. But how are databases accessed over the WWW? There are two main architectures used to access databases over the Net: SOAP and REST. Given its prevalence, we will center our discussion on the REST architecture.

Some major characteristics of the REST (REspresentational State Transfer) architecture are:

●It is usually implemented over HTTP.
●The queries are implemented as GET requests.
●The communication is stateless. Any query must contain all required information. Nothing is saved in the server.|
●The query result is obtained as a response in a predefined format: XML, JSON, CSV, HTML, plain text...


Further reading|


Understanding the responses... - Common structured data file types

Common formats in which a web API may provide its response are HTML, XML, CSV,  JSON and plain text. A short explanation of the first four types follows next. Feel free to skip it if you already know their characteristics.


HTML (HyperText Markup Language)

HTML is the standard language used to create web pages. When a web API outputs its result in HTML, this resource is usually intended to be viewed a browser. When no better option is available, HTML can be processed (parsed) to extract a specific information.

Likewise, any web page is published as HTML and so can be processed to extract any relevant information contained therein.

An example of HTML can be found here:

This the output of a search in the NIST-JANAF Thermodynamical Tables online database. The full HTML code can be read looking at the source of the page. A fragment is reproduced in Figure 1.



Figure 1. Part of the HTML code of a page

More information on HTML can be found at


XML (eXtensible Markup Language)

XML is a markup language designed to contain structured data in format easy to be read by computers and for humans. An example of an XML response can be found running the following query:,MolecularWeight,InChIKey/XML. Figure 2 shows its response.

Figure 2. An XML response

More information on XML can be found at


CSV (Comma Separated Values)

CSV, for Comma Separated Values, is a plain-text file format used to store tabular data. In practice, CSV is not a unique format but different variations depending on the implementation and the regional setup of the operating system.

CSV main features:

●Data is stored as plain text.
●Records are separated by new-line characters.
●Each record contains several fields. Columns (fields) are separated by a delimiting character (usually a comma, a semicolon or a tab).
●Each record must have the same number of fields.

CSV main variations:

●Any encoding may be used for the text file: ASCII, Latin-1, UTF-8...
●Values may be quoted or not.
●End-of-line character, delimiting character, quotes and escaping sequences may vary.
●There may be header lines.

An example of a response in CSV is obtained when running the following query,1001/assaysummary/CSV.

The response is shown in Figure 3.


Figure 3. Fragment of a CSV response

More information can be obtained at


JSON (JavaScript Object Notation)

JSON, for JavaScript Object Notation, is a format that encodes data object as human-readable text, organized as pairs attribute-value (name:value). Its main features are being a quite compact notation with easy conversion to Javascript objects (eval(), JSON.parse()).

An example query is The response is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. A JSON response

More information can be found at


Processing the responses... - Parsers and string functions

Ultimately the response will need to be processed to extract the desired information. This can be done using specific functions or parsers or through the use of some simple string manipulation functions.

Sometimes you want to parse XML or HTML using custom string functions for deleting whitespace, finding the position of certain characters within strings and for extracting substrings. These functions (plus many more) appear in all commonly used languages.


Table 1 summarizes some of these functions in the programming environments we will be discussing next week.

Table 1. Main string functions

Spreadsheet (Excel, Calc)

Basic (VBA, Libre Basic)




search, indexOf



substr, substring








& (operator),





8.3 Main chemistry APIs

CIR (Chemical Identifier Resolver)

The Chemical Identifier Resolver is one of several online tools offered by the CADD Group Chemoinformatics Tools and User Services at the National Cancer Institute.

The CIR web service will convert one identifier (e.g. SMILES) to another (e.g. formula). It can be accessed via a web form with an inbuilt structure editor at or via its web API.

An incomplete web API reference is found at Further information can be obtained either by using the form version of the tool or by reading the web services blog:

The general structure for querying the web service is”structure identifier”/”representation”

where “structure identifier” is the input and “representation” indicates the desired identifier for output.

An example query is which returns a unique SMILES for aspirin.

Default output format is plain text, but XML output can be obtained by appending /xml to the URL, e.g.


OPSIN (Open Parser for Systematic IUPAC nomenclature)

OPSIN (Open Parser for Systematic IUPAC nomenclature) is service provided by the Centre for Molecular Informatics at the University of Cambridge. It can be used to generate a structure (and some common identifiers) from a systematic chemical name.

The reference for the web service can be found at Its entry point is

The query should be set as”name”.”type”
where “name” refers to the chemical to be processed and “type” indicates the expected response.

For example, returns the SMILES representation of benzoic acid.


CDK (Chemistry Development Kit)

The CDK is an open source program that can generate descriptors from structure. It can be used online as a web API from servers at Uppsala University or Drexel University or by installing in it your own host.

Documentation is available at Servers are provided at the very bottom of the page.

For example, shows a fingerprint for ethanol (plain text response) and provides a 2D image of this molecule in PNG.

The list of available molecular descriptors can be looked up at /cdk/descriptors.



ChemSpider APIs allow programmatic access to part of the ChemSpider databases at The Royal Society of Chemistry. They can be accessed through SOAP and/or a REST interface. Some operations require a security token which can be obtained by registering (free) and looking it up in the user profile page.

ChemSpider web services includes four different APIs: Search API, InChI API, MassSpec API and Spectra API. The general documentation is available at

ChemSpider Search API allows searching ChemSpider databases by chemical identifier, structure or properties and retrieve information about the associated records. All operations require a security token and some require a service subscriber role. Not all operations are available through a REST interface. The documentation can be found at

Response is usually XML and binary information is base64 encoded. Note that some operations are asynchronous. A first call launches the calculation and an id is produced. The id is then used to access the response in a second call to GetAsyncSearchResult.

An example is GetCompoundInfo?csid=1&token=xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx where the token must be replaced with the user’s one. Results are shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. A search result from ChemSpider Search API.

ChemSpider InChI API allows interconversion between some chemical identifiers, namely CSID, mol, InChI, InChIKey and SMILES. Few operations require a security token and/or are not available through a  REST interface. Documentation is found at Response is usually in XML.

An example is

ChemSpider MassSpec API allows searching ChemSpider by formula or by mass. All operations require a security token and some require a service subscriber role. Not all operations are available through a REST interface. Documentation is available at

Response is usually XML. Some operations are asynchronous; a first call launches the calculation and an id is produced. The id is then used to access the response in a second call to GetAsyncSearchResult (Search API).

An example is the call

ChemSpider Spectra API allows searching spectra in ChemSpider database. All operations require a security token with a service subscriber role. The documentation is available at



PubChem, a product of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, is accessed programmatically through the PUG (Power User Gateway) service. This service can be used either directly or via any of its two interfaces: PUG SOAP or PUG REST. We will, for now, ignore the SOAP interface and focus on the PUG REST service.

When accessed directly, PUG is a queued service that allows searching and downloading of records in the PubChem database:  substances and compounds, structures, bioassays...  Queries are sent via an HTTP POST call with request and response messages being XML documents. Documentation can be found at and

The PUG REST interface offers a way to access the PubChem database with the convenience of the REST architecture. It allows us to query the PubChem database for data on substances (uncurated data), compounds (curated data) or assays. Documentation is available at and Although most operations are synchronous, some (the asynchronous ones) require a two-step query for obtaining the response (a listkey is returned).

The general structure for using PUG REST is

PUG REST output format can be any of the formats shown in Table 2.

Table 2. PubChem output formats

Two examples queries are and,MolecularWeight/CSV. The responses are shown in Figures 6 and 7.

Figure 6. A PNG response from PubChem PUG REST API.

Figure 7. A CSV response from PubChem PUG REST API.

PDB (Protein DataBank)

RSCB (Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics) PDB (Protein DataBank) offers three web services to ease accessing to its data. These are documented at

Currently they include a HTTP POST query method for advanced searching, a simple search REST API for ligands using SMILES as identifier, and a REST API for fetching descriptions of ligands, structures, files, annotations from a PDB id.

The simple search REST API returns the identifiers and descriptions for the ligands matching the search query. For example, performs a substructure search including the group CC#C. Part of the results are shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Part of the response to substructure search in PDB.

The fetch API allows the retrieval of the data in the database from its identifiers in PDB. For example, recovers the data for the chemical with id CB3. Responses are commonly in XML.


The last API accessible database we will consider is ChEMBL, which is a database of bioactive drug-like small molecules hosted at the European Bioinformatics Institute. It provides a RESTful API which responds in XML, JSON or YAML. The main documentation is available at

The API is split into two services:

●data, for accessing the database
●utils, for accessing some cheminformatics tools

The data API allows searching in the ChEMBL database for assays, molecules, target, cell-lines... It includes options for filtering and searching by similarity or substructure. Note that results are paginated. If the number of records returned is larger than 20, you may have to take care of this. This API is documented at

An example of using this API is The result in JSON format is shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10. JSON response for the ChEMBL data API

The utils API offers some interesting function to obtain molecular descriptors and to generate or process graphical representations of molecules, but requires most inputs as base64 encoded strings. Documentation can be found at

As a side note, you may use to encode and decode base64 strings.

An example use of this utils API is where a SVG image of the molecule with id CHEMBL25 is obtained (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. SVG image obtained from ChEMBL utils API.



Activity 1

Choose a chemical and, using the web services presented in this module, obtain as much information as you can about it. Present the collected information in a report indicating, for each piece the complete URL (parameters included) for the query and the response obtained.


Activity 2

Make a diagram or schema that summarizes which APIs allows you to convert from one information of a chemical to another. At least, the schema should include the following informations: name, IUPAC name, molecular weight, boiling point, SMILES, unique SMILES, mol file, InChI, formula, 2D molecular drawing...






8.4 Other relevant source for data: Other web APIs & web scrapping

Many other data sources are available on the Net. Some of them have APIs to access them programmatically. Some of them can be found in the following directories:


Wikipedia API

In this module, we will only explore the Wikipedia API, both as an example and as a huge multilingual information source. As you know, Wikipedia is the largest encyclopedia on the Internet. It is free-to-access and is edited by its users.

In terms of processing, we must be aware that it contains semi-structured data which makes it somewhat harder to work with.

Elements of Wikipedia of major interest for a chemist:

●Substance description
●Substance name translations
●Chemboxes (
●Data pages for specific substances: “Properties of” pages, like and supplementary data pages:
●Data tables, for example, or


Wikipedia contents can be accessed through the MediaWiki, the wiki engine behind Wikipedia and other projects, API. Its documentation can be accessed at, and A more RESTful API is in development,

The API entry point for each localized Wikipedia is https://LANGUAGE_CODE. The language codes for each wikipedia can be looked up at

The major actions (action=...)  to extract data from the MediaWiki API are

  • query: to access the data of a page or to look up something in the wikipedia. The major parameters to be set are, prop=revisions, rvprop=content, titles=... and rvcontentformat=...
  • parse: to get the processed version of the page. Here the major parameters are prop=text, page=... and contentformat=...

In any case, the response will need to be processed to extract the desired information.

Some example calls are:,

Other pages at MediaWiki can also accept parameters sent via GET or POST methods. The most important page is index.php. More information can be found at and


Web scraping

Some information on the web can only be accessed via HTML, that is as a browser does. Even in these cases, the HTML file can be parsed/processed to extract any relevant  information. This is called web scraping or also screen scraping.

When making a limited number of accesses, it can be assumed similar to looking up the information with a browser, this does not hold when making a more intensive use of a site. In this later case, one must be aware of the permitted uses of the web site and licenses on the informations you are scraping.

Some example websites with chemical information that could be scraped are listed below:

●Kaye and Laby Online,
●Common Chemistry,
●NIST Chemistry Webbook,
●Other NIST free access databases,
●Open Notebook Science,
●FDA Substance Registration System,
●EMD Millipore Catalog,
●Sigma Aldrich Catalog,
●Alfa Caesar Catalog,
●Iowa State University Chemistry Material Safety Data Sheets,


Many more resources are there that can be processed for almost any information that can be needed, including Google ( In fact, any website that is either static or accepts GET parameters can be used programmatically with the same procedures we will use for web APIs.





8.5 An introduction to programming and to using string functions

We will use this part of the course to introduce a bit of programming and to illustrate the use of the string functions introduced in the first week on the module. Feel free to skip this part if you have experience with programming and processing textual data.


Using strings and string functions in a spreadsheet

In a spreadsheet, strings are typed directly into cells. In fact, any information that cannot be interpreted as a number, a formula, a date or a logical values, is taken to be a string (text).


Any entry can be forced to be interpreted as text by writing a single quote as the first character or by entering it using a formula. In this case the text must be quoted with double quotes.


Figure 1. Main string functions in a spreadsheet.


Figure 1 shows how the different functions are used in a spreadsheet to manipulate textual data. On the left, the formulas are shown; on the right, we can see the results of each formula.


If you have never used these functions, please take some time to replicate Figure 1 and to make yourself familiar to these functions. More information on string functions in spreadsheets can be found at and





A minimal introduction to programming UDF (User Defined Function) in Microsoft Excel for Windows and LibreOffice/OpenOffice Calc

As you may know, spreadsheets can include programming code to extend its functionality. Although different types of programming can be achieved within a spreadsheet, the most common of them is coding user defined functions (UDF). This allows us to create new functions in spreadsheets.


For simple UDF, the flavors of Basic included in Microsoft Excel for Windows and in LibreOffice/OpenOffice are identical. In both cases, the first steps are to open the Basic IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and to add a New Module.


In Microsoft Excel, this is done pressing Alt+F11 and then inserting a module. In LibreOffice/OpenOffice, we will go to the Tools/Macros/Organize Macros/LibreOffice Basic dialog and there add a new module and press Edit.


Figure 2. A simple example UDF


Figure 2 shows a simple UDF. Copy it in your module and it will then be usable in formulas in your spreadsheet as the function nameAnalyzer (The name is given in the first line of the code).


More information about Excel VBA and LibreOffice/OpenOffice Basic can be found at and


A minimal introduction to programming in JavaScript

To program a similar functionality in JavaScript (JS), you need to open a text editor (e.g. Notepad on Windows, Vim, LeafPad, Kate or gEdit on Linux, TextEdit on MacOS-X...) and copy the text shown on Figure 3.



Figure 3. A simple example script in JavaScript


As you can see, JavaScript is coded inside an HTML document. Although it can be used in other contexts, JavaScript is one of the key languages of the web with HTML and CSS.


Save your text file using “html” or “htm” for its extensions and open it with a browser. You have coded a HTML/JS page! (A very simple one though).


More information on Javascript is available at, and





8.6 Calling the APIs programmatically from desktop and web based applications: Spreadsheets, Javascript & Google scripts

8.6.1: Calling APIs from spreadsheet formulas (no programming)

The simplest way to use a web API from an spreadsheet consist in using the functions HYPERLINK and WEBSERVICE to either create a link to access the information or extract the information itself to further process it.

A minor issue is that the function WEBSERVICE was only recently added to the spreadsheet editors. It is only available from Microsoft Excel 2013 and LibreOffice Calc 4.2. If compatibility with previous versions is required, a Basic based solution will have to be used.

An example file called M8_Example1_Spreadsheet.xlsx is provided in



8.6.2: Calling APIs from VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), the macro language in Microsoft Office

A web API can also be called from VBA by using several techniques. The two of the simplest options are:

●Calling the worksheet function WEBSERVICE from VBA:  . Note this will work only for Microsoft Excel and will be equivalent to the solution just discussed.
●Using an OLE HTTP Client: or . This solution will also work on others flavors of VBA and is compatible with previous editions of Excel.

An example file using the second of this options, M8_Example2_VBA.xlsm is available at


8.6.3: Calling APIs from LibreOffice/OpenOffice Basic

Similarly, LibreOffice/OpenOffice Basic also offer different ways to query a web API. The simplest option consist in opening a file pipe from an URL by using the Open instruction.

An example is presented in M8_Example3_LOBasic.ods, which can be found at

Other options like accessing the WEBSERVICE function through the UNO (Universal Network Object) interface or using other programming languages like Python are also possible but won’t be considered here.


8.6.4: Calling APIs from JavaScript

Web APIs can also be called from JavaScript, for example to build online applications. The most common procedures for accessing web services are using the XMLHttpRequest method and the JSONP technique.

XMLHttpRequest is the main interface in Ajax programming. An explanation of this interface can be found at

An example of querying a web service with the XMLHttpRequest method, M8_Example4_JS_xmlHttpRequest.html, is available


The main limitation of this technology is the same-origin policy enforced by the browsers for security reasons.

The second technique, JSONP (JASON with Padding), is used as an alternative for bypassing the same-origin policy. This technique implies receiving the response as a callback function with a JSON string as an argument. Then this is processed in specially crafted JavaScript function. More information about this technique can be found at

M8_Example5_JS_JSONP.html, available at contains an example of this technology, which is required when calling Wikipedia web API.


8.6.5: Calling APIs from Google Sheets


We have created a tutorial for you to work through to learn how to access chemical information from Google spreadsheets - gChem. It is available at
We have copied the material from the above link to this page so that we can discuss it.

gChem: Chemistry Tools for Google Spreadsheets
Researchers: Richard L Apodaca, Jean-Claude Bradley, Andrew SID Lang
Note: All scripts are released under the MIT license


In 2011, Richard Apodaca had the idea to enhance Google Spreadsheets with common functions useful for cheminformatics and made the first custom script that gave Google Spreadsheets access to the Chemical Identification Resolver, a webservice that allows one to convert one chemical structure identifier into another (e.g. common name into SMILES). Jean-Claude Bradley and Andrew Lang then extended the functionality to include many of their previously developed ONS web-services. Here we present step-by-step tutorials on how to develop your own custom cheminformatics scripts.

Master Spreadsheet

For those of you who would just like to view the finished product, please feel free to make a copy of the master spreadsheet. [edit link]

Adding a Custom Function to Google Spreadsheets

1. Make a copy of the gchem quickstart spreadsheet.

2. Open up the spreadsheet and let's use the inbuilt custom function to pull a 2D-image of a structure using a ChemSpider ID. Select cell B2 (click on it) and then go to the custom menu gONSand select the custom function getCSImage. [You will need to give the script access and permissions to run. You only have to do this once.]


If everything works correctly, you should then see the following image appear:


Feel free to explore the function by changing the number or adding a new number (2424 for example) to the first column of a new row. Change the size of the cell to change the size of the image. If you don't enter a number, you will see the following image.
More on this later.

3. The code that makes this happen can be found under the menu item Tools > Script editor

 * Menu For All Functions - Requires identifier to be in the first column and the same row as selected cell
function onOpen() {
  var ss = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSpreadsheet();
  var onsmenu = [ {name: "getCSImage", functionName: "InsertgetCSImage"}];
  ss.addMenu("gONS", onsmenu);
 * Function that adds the custom formula to the cell contents
function InsertgetCSImage() {
 var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
 var ac = sheet.getActiveCell();
 var r = ac.getRow();
 var c = ac.getColumn();
 sheet.getRange(r, c).setFormula('=image(getCSImageURL(' + sheet.getRange(r, 1).getA1Notation() + '))');
 * Function that gets the URL to the ChemSpider image
function getCSImageURL(id) {
  var csid;
  csid = id;
  if (isNaN(csid)) {
    return '';
    return '' + csid;

The first function onOpen is a special function that executes automatically every time you open your spreadsheet. Within the onOpen function is the code that creates the new menu gONS. TheInsertgetCSImage function inserts an image into your currently highlighted cell (ac.getRow() and ac.getColumn()) using the already built in function image. Within the InsertgetCSImage function we call the getCSImageURL function to make sure that the user passed a ChemSpider ID (CSID). If the cell to the left of the highlighted cell contains a number, it is assumed to be a CSID and it returns the URL of the appropriate image, otherwise it will return the URL of the NotFound.png image.

Two: gChem - Adding a New Menu gChem - The Chemical Identification Resolver

1. Make a copy of the gChem CIR sheet. Again you will have to give it permissions the first time you use the scripts.

2. Open up the spreadsheet and let's use the inbuilt custom functions under the gChem menu to populate the spreadsheet. Your spreadsheet should turn from this:
to this:
3. Now edit the SMILES and watch all the entries automatically update.
4.The new code added to created another menu:

var menuEntries = [ {name: "getImage", functionName: "InsertgetImage"},
                      {name: "getChemSpiderID", functionName: "InsertgetChemSpiderID"},
                      {name: "getCAS", functionName: "InsertgetCAS"},
                      {name: "getSMILES", functionName: "InsertgetSMILES"},
                      {name: "getSDF", functionName: "InsertgetSDF"},
                      {name: "getInChIKey", functionName: "InsertgetInChIKey"},
                      {name: "getInChI", functionName: "InsertgetInChI"},
                      {name: "getSynonyms", functionName: "InsertgetSynonyms"}];
  ss.addMenu("gChem", menuEntries);

The menu commands execute the following functions that hit the Chemical Identification Resolver

function InsertgetImage() {
 var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
 var ac = sheet.getActiveCell();
 var r = ac.getRow();
 var c = ac.getColumn();
 sheet.getRange(r, c).setFormula('=image(getImageURL(' + sheet.getRange(r, 1).getA1Notation() + '))');
function InsertgetCAS() {
 var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
 var ac = sheet.getActiveCell();
 var r = ac.getRow();
 var c = ac.getColumn();
 sheet.getRange(r, c).setFormula('=getCAS(' + sheet.getRange(r, 1).getA1Notation() + ')');
function InsertgetSMILES() {
 var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
 var ac = sheet.getActiveCell();
 var r = ac.getRow();
 var c = ac.getColumn();
 sheet.getRange(r, c).setFormula('=getSMILES(' + sheet.getRange(r, 1).getA1Notation() + ')');
function InsertgetSDF() {
 var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
 var ac = sheet.getActiveCell();
 var r = ac.getRow();
 var c = ac.getColumn();
 sheet.getRange(r, c).setFormula('=getSDF(' + sheet.getRange(r, 1).getA1Notation() + ')');
function InsertgetInChIKey() {
 var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
 var ac = sheet.getActiveCell();
 var r = ac.getRow();
 var c = ac.getColumn();
 sheet.getRange(r, c).setFormula('=getInChIKey(' + sheet.getRange(r, 1).getA1Notation() + ')');
function InsertgetInChI() {
 var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
 var ac = sheet.getActiveCell();
 var r = ac.getRow();
 var c = ac.getColumn();
 sheet.getRange(r, c).setFormula('=getInChI(' + sheet.getRange(r, 1).getA1Notation() + ')');
function InsertgetSynonyms() {
 var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
 var ac = sheet.getActiveCell();
 var r = ac.getRow();
 var c = ac.getColumn();
 sheet.getRange(r, c).setFormula('=getSynonyms(' + sheet.getRange(r, 1).getA1Notation() + ')');
 * Beginning of gChem Reference Functions
function getImageURL(id) {
  return '' + id + '/image?width=150&height=150&format=png';
function getCAS(id) {
 var content = lookup(id, 'cas');
 return content ? content : 'NOT FOUND';
function getSMILES(id) {
  var content = lookup(id, 'smiles');
  return content ? content : 'NOT FOUND';
function getSDF(id) {
  var content = lookup(id, 'sdf');
  return content ? content : 'NOT FOUND';
function getCSID(id) { // returns first ChemSpider ID
  var content = lookup(id, 'chemspider_id');
  if (!content) {
    return 'NOT FOUND';
  var csids = content.split('\n');
  return csids[0];
function getInChIKey(id) {
  var content = lookup(id, 'stdinchikey');
  return content ? content.split('=')[1] : 'NOT FOUND';
function getInChI(id) {
  var content = lookup(id, 'stdinchi');
  return content ? content : 'NOT FOUND';
function getSynonyms(id) {
  var content = lookup(id, 'names');
  if (!content) {
    return 'NOT FOUND';
  var names = content.split('\n');
  if (names.length <= 5) {
    return content;
  return names.join('\n') + '\n...';
 * Main lookup function that queries the CIR service
function lookup(id, representation) {
  var url = '' + encodeURIComponent(id) + '/' + representation;
  var result;
  try {
    var response = UrlFetchApp.fetch(url);
    result = response.getContentText();
  } catch (error) {
    // do nothing
  return result;

The main function that actually does the work is the lookup function which is at the bottom of this section of code.

Three: Adding a New Menu gCDK - CDK Descriptors

The Chemistry Development Kit is an Open Source program and webservice that allows one to calculate many physical/chemical properties including fingerpriints directly from structure. It is a simple matter to add these functions to the spreadsheet. I've added some to a new menu "gCDK," see if you can add one more. Click to download the latest spreadsheet: gChem - CDK.

Four: Adding Other Webservices - gONS

Your turn. Try adding new functionality to the spreadsheet under the gONS menu (or if you prefer create your own menu) by hitting your favourite API, e.g. the PubChem API, the OPSIN API, etc.

We have created a tutorial for you to work through to learn how to access chemical information from Google spreadsheets - gChem. It is available at




Module 8: Assignment

Week I activities


Activity 1

Choose a chemical and, using the web services presented in this module, obtain as much information as you can about it. Present the collected information in a report indicating, for each piece the complete URL (parameters included) for the query and the response obtained.


Activity 2

Make a diagram or schema that summarizes which APIs allows you to convert from one information of a chemical to another. At least, the schema should include the following informations: name, IUPAC name, molecular weight, boiling point, SMILES, unique SMILES, mol file, InChI, formula, 2D molecular drawing...



Week II activities


Activity 3

Adapt one of the example documents annexed to part 8.6 to resolve a CAS RN from a substance name and vice versa.


Activity 4

Choose a specific property and design a minimal program (spreadsheet, Basic, JS or Google script) that searches its value for a chemical introduced by the identifier of your choice.