What is Web Scraping and How Does It Work? | Octo Browser

MARCH 21, 2024 WEB-SCRAPING EXPERT OPINION
Your digital fingerprint: what it is and how it is used to deanonymize you.
Web scraping is a fast way to gather online information. Bots scan websites and extract product prices, the assortment of online stores, contacts of potential clients, and much more. This information is then sold or used for business development. Additionally, neural networks are trained on data collected by web scrapers. How to collect information from websites automatically? What tools are used in the process? How to access protected information? The Octo Browser Team has prepared a detailed guide with answers.

Contents

What is Web Scraping?

Web scraping is the process of gathering large volumes of information from the web using bots. The process consists of two stages: searching for the necessary information and structuring it. When you copy text data from a website and then paste it into a document, you are also essentially engaged in web scraping. The difference is that scripts work faster, avoid errors, and extract information from HTML code rather than the visual components of the page. Web scrapers collect databases used for price comparison, market analysis, lead generation, and news monitoring.

How do Web Scrapers Work?

 What kind of information is found in a browser fingerprint?
Scripts, bots, APIs, and GUI-based services for web scraping follow essentially the same pattern. First, you compile a list of websites that the robot will visit and decide what information it will extract. For example, for price comparison, you need the product name, store link, and the price itself. For competitive analysis, you will also need product specifications, shipping methods, and reviews. The fewer details you request, the faster the script will gather them.

Once the task is formulated, the bot accesses the pages, loads the HTML code, and extracts the information. More complex scripts are also able to analyze CSS and JavaScript.

Sometimes it is necessary to log into an account on the platform to collect data, e.g., when you need to gather specialists’ contact data on LinkedIn. In such cases an algorithm for bypassing the website protection measures is added to the information gathering algorithm.

The final step is the structuring of the gathered information in the form of a table or spreadsheet (CSV or Excel), a database, or in JSON format, which is suitable for API.

Web Scraping Tools

 What kind of information is found in a browser fingerprint?
To collect data, you’ll need a web scraper that will visit the target site and retrieve the necessary information from it. There are several options to choose from:
  • Open-source software specifically created for web scraping: Scrapy, Crawlee, Mechanize;
  • HTTP clients: Requests, HTTPX, Axios for extracting data from HTML, XML, RSS, for example, Beautiful Soup, lxml, Cheerio;
  • Browser automation solutions: Puppeteer, Playwright, Selenium, and other services that can connect to a browser, retrieve HTML/XML, and parse the document;
  • Services like Zyte, Apify, Surfsky, Browserless, Scrapingbee, Import.io, which provide API or CDP and act as an intermediary between the client script and the target service.
We have discussed these services in more detail here.

To perform web scraping successfully, you will need the following in addition to a parser:
  • A tool to bypass CAPTCHAs;
  • Proxies;
  • A browser for multi-accounting.
Website owners apply protection measures from web scraping by tracking IP addresses and unique device identifiers called digital fingerprints. If the protection systems detect suspicious activity, such as too frequent requests from one device, they block access to the website.

Some websites add CAPTCHAs to prevent web scrapers from collecting data. Special services, such as 2Captcha, CapSolver, Death By Captcha, and BypassCaptcha are able to solve CAPTCHAs. You need to integrate the service into the application, call it via API, pass the CAPTCHA, and get the solution in a matter of seconds. CAPTCHA-solving tools support popular programming languages, such as PHP, JavaScript, C#, Java, and Python.

The problem of blocking by IP addresses is solved by using several dynamic proxy servers. Be sure to monitor the frequency of requests to avoid overloading online resources. This way, the bot will attract less suspicion, reducing the likelihood of getting banned.

Tracking by digital fingerprint is bypassed with the help of Octo Browser, which is specifically designed for multi-accounting. This software replaces the fingerprint of your device with another of a real user. Anti-detection profiles of a multi-accounting browser are indistinguishable from other regular visitors, so they are not blocked or forced to solve CAPTCHAs.

In addition to fingerprint spoofing, Octo offers other useful features that simplify web scraping, such as:
  • Mass adding of proxies to save time;
  • API for automation;
  • A headless browser that reduces device load and resource consumption.

Programming Languages for Web Scraping

You can find frameworks, libraries and tools for web scraping in various languages. Bright Data highlights five most popular ones:

  1. Python has a rich ecosystem of libraries. Its simple syntax and ready-to-use tools like Beautiful Soup and Scrapy make it an ideal choice for web scraping. However, Python may perform worse compared to compiled languages.
  2. JavaScript is used in front-end development, so it supports in-built browser features. JavaScript has asynchronous capabilities and handles HTML on web pages. You can use libraries like Axios, Cheerio, Puppeteer, and Playwright for these purposes; however, the capabilities of this language are limited to the browser environment.
  3. Ruby attracts developers with its simple syntax, flexibility, a variety of web scraping libraries (such as Nokogiri, Mechanize, httparty, selenium-webdriver, OpenURI, and Wati), and an active community. However, Ruby lags behind other languages in terms of performance.
  4. PHP is suitable for server-side development and integration with databases. An active community and a variety of available tools are the main advantages of PHP, and libraries like PHP Simple HTML DOM Parser, Guzzle, Panther, Httpful, and cURL are suitable for web scraping. However, performance and flexibility of PHP may be slightly lower compared to other languages.
  5. C++ boasts high performance and full control over resources. A rich selection of libraries, including libcurl, Boost.Asio, htmlcxx, and libtidy, and community support make it attractive for web scraping. However, C++ syntax is more complex than that of other popular languages. You also need to be able to compile code, which may deter some developers.

Types of Web Scrapers

There are four key parameters for choosing the right scraping tool.

Self-built or pre-built

You can create a web scraper yourself if you know how to code. The more features you want to add, the more knowledge you'll need to write the bot. On the other hand, you can find ready-made programs online that are understandable even to those who can't code. Some of them even have additional features, such as scheduling, JSON export, and integration with Google Sheets.

Browser extension vs software

Web scraping with Octoparse
Working with an extension installed within a browser is the easiest option, but its capabilities are limited. For example, IP rotation may not be available. At the same time, stand-alone software programs are more complex but offer more features. For instance, in Octoparse you can create your own web scraper that will scan sites on a schedule, provide guidance during the process, and solve CAPTCHas.

User interface

Some web scraping solutions only have a command-line interface and minimal UI, while others display the website, allowing you to select the information you want to collect. Some services even include tooltips to help users understand the purpose of each function.

Cloud vs Local

Local web scrapers utilize the local device RAM, so you can't run other processes simultaneously. Cloud-based tools work on a remote server. While the parser collects data, you can perform other tasks on your device. Cloud services also include additional features, such as IP rotation.

What is Web Scraping Used For?

Spreadsheets created by web scrapers are used by marketing specialists, analysts, and businesspeople. The popular ways of using databases collected from the Internet are:

Market Research

Marketing specialists analyze advantages and disadvantages of products, prices, delivery methods, and competitors’ strategies. Through web scraping, marketers obtain large volumes of accurate data, which helps improve forecasting accuracy and optimize marketing strategies.

Price Tracking

Aggregators compare prices and search for the cheapest products, and specialized services analyze price changes. Some companies constantly monitor their competitors’ prices and adjust their own to remain the lowest. All of them obtain the necessary information through web scraping.

Business Automation

Company employees spend a lot of time collecting and processing large volumes of information. For example, researching 10 competitor websites could take up to several days. A script can do the same job in a couple of hours and save the employee's resources.

Lead Generation

Finding clients is the main task of marketers. To do this, they research user needs, problems, interests, and behaviors. Web scraping speeds up the search for potential clients. This method is especially convenient for the B2B sector, as companies do not hide online information about themselves.

News & Content Monitoring

Company reputation affects customer trust and revenues. To react to negative mentions timely, PR managers monitor news through Brand Analytics daily and keep track of news about their competitors. Such websites collect brand mentions using web scrapers.

Is Web Scraping Legal?

A significant portion of online information is available to all users. For example, you can visit Wikipedia, read an article, and copy its text. There's nothing illegal about doing the same automatically. It's prohibited to scrape content that:

  • is protected by copyright;
  • contains personal data;
  • is accessible only to registered users of the service.

Another problem is the load on websites created by bots. If there are too many requests from robots, users won't be able to access the resource. To comply with the law, monitor the information you collect and how often you send requests.

Everything You Need to Know About Web Scraping

Web scraping is the process of collecting data from the Internet, which is then used in marketing analysis, price and news monitoring, and automation of routine processes. You can extract information from websites manually or through special tools called web scrapers. Conventionally, they are divided into four types: open-source software, browser extensions, HTTP clients, and API- and CDP-based services.

During web scraping, scrapers may run into website protective measures: CAPTCHAs, various traps, IP address- and fingerprint-based blocking. These are bypassed or avoided with the help of three additional services: CAPTCHA-solving tools, proxies, and multi-accounting browsers.

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