Web Scraping Basics – Why and How

It is difficult for modern man to envision a time when news spread via word of mouth. Tidings or historical accounts of events and occurrences would be shared by travelers and visitors often as part of a greeting. Town criers and heralds would convey information from one person to the other.

In the old Roman Empire, any event or data from the government would be transferred in written accounts over long distances on horseback. It is rather difficult to describe these tidings as ‘news’. News is a new word, fully linked to technology.

The invention of the Gutenberg press in 1456, invented news, or the relaying of the latest invents. The news media took over the dispersion of information in the 20s, making data accessible to everyone. Access to data has become much easier due to technology advancements that led to the rise of radio, TV, and the internet.

What is web scraping?

Today, anyone can access news in an instant. If you need to know the price of a vehicle, you do not need to visit the showroom or look for a newspaper ad. Simply go online and visit the seller’s pages. Even better, open a few web pages selling the same vehicle, key in your search details, and compare prices.

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Unfortunately, the internet has become massively flooded with data. It can take hours or days and tons of coffee to sift through it and find actionable insights.

This situation can be grave for businesses that leverage big data for market research, competitive price analysis, and other data-based business applications.

They require an easier, affordable, and more accurate method of accessing and analyzing massive amounts of data. Businesses and individuals that need real-time access to data utilize a process of mining, organizing, and downloading massive amounts of data from online sources known as web scraping.

Data scraping eliminates the legwork of searching massive amounts of web pages by merely sending bits of code to perform this action on your behalf.

Web crawlers and scrapers are fast, affordable, efficient, and accurate data miners. These bots can provide data that gives your business the upper hand in various industrial and business applications.

The basics of data scraping

A web crawler has two primary tools of operation; a spider and a scraper. Web crawlers, also known as spiders, precede the actions of the scraper. The crawler is, therefore, more like the horse, while the scraper is the carriage. The spider is code powered by artificial intelligence technology.

This bot runs through tons of web pages, indexing, and searching for suitable content. The spider follows links and explores each piece of code to ensure that the scraper has enough data to harvest.

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The web scraper, on the other hand, is designed to run after the crawler, quickly and accurately extracting all indexed content. There are different types of web scrapers out there, whose complexity and design vary depending on budget and usage. Nevertheless, they fall into two main classes of scraper design.

The pre-built or DIY scraper

Building a web scraper is not as complicated as it sounds. Anyone with some programming knowledge or access to scraper building information can create a scraping tool from the ground up. The only catch here is that scrapers with advanced features require advanced programming knowledge.

Consequently, most DIY scrapers are only suitable for individual or very low-key business data scraping activities. If you do not want to go through the hassle of building a simple web scraper, you can download a pre-built scraper online and set to scraping in an instant.

A few pre-built scrapers are so well designed that they incorporate advanced features such as JSON exports and scrape scheduling.

Browser software or plugin

You can also purchase web scraping computer apps or browser extensions. The plugins are compatible with most common web browsers such as Firefox and Google Chrome. Web scraping plugins are lightweight and easier to install, but their operations can be limited by the browser.

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If you need an advanced scraper, you need to procure the software version of data scrapers. Some advanced features such as rotating of proxies might not work at all via web scraping extensions. The software version of scrapers is downloaded and installed into the hard disk of the computer.

The web scraping process

    • Purchase, download, or build a web-scraping tool. If you are searching for a web scraping tool that fits your business needs, visit Oxylabs for more information.
    • Target the data required and set your scraper to extract it.
    • The web scraper will download the HTML version of the data then parse it to extract the most essential raw data.
    • The scraper then saves the extracted data in easy to read formats such as .CSV or in a database.

Conclusion

Technological advancements such as web scraping are designed to save time and effort when accessing real-time data from massive online sources. Time is money, so save as much as you can, through web scraping.

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