It’d be difficult to overstate the effect that web scraping had on numerous modern businesses. Gathering large amounts of data for analysis, forecasts, monitoring, and countless other cases has become a foundation upon which many industries rely. But, like any useful tool, its advantages depend on the correct and efficient application.
If you asked developers focused on web scraping what their language of choice is, most would likely answer Python, and for a good reason. Python excels in its ability to encompass most requirements set out by web scraping operations. Whereas other languages may be particularly efficient in one area, Python is efficient in nearly all processes involved in data extraction.
Scraping and crawling are I/O-bound tasks, as the crawler spends a lot of time waiting for a response from the crawled website. Python is very well suited to handle these tasks as it supports both multithreading and asynchronous programming patterns. What is more, Python is easy to write in, and there are many libraries that make it even easier to achieve almost any goal.
Eivydas Vilčinskas, Tech Team Lead
Furthermore, tapping into the myriad of advantages Python provides is also a relatively simple process (made even simpler by avoiding using semicolons and curly braces). Its direct use of variables when a situation demands it enhances ease of use even further since they enable the same program to execute various sets of data.
Equally crucial to scraping tasks are Python’s frameworks. Beautiful Soup, a Python library, is specifically designed with simplicity and quick, high-efficiency data extraction in mind. Since it structures HTML or XML web pages to get the required data, even a poorly written page can be scraped. Curiously, with Beautiful Soup, a couple of lines of code may be all you need to start a simple scraping job.
Scrapy, another popular Python framework for web scraping, offers similarly impressive benefits. When scraping at scale, it can effectively handle validating, multithreading, crawling, and a plethora of other features.
Yet, even with all the advantages mentioned in the above sections, we’re still only looking at the tip of the iceberg regarding Python web scraping. So, to understand other aspects of Python without endlessly listing them, let’s compare it to another commonly used language for web scraping, R.
R, similarly to Python, is often used by statisticians and data hunters to both collect and analyze data. In some cases, R may appear as a language that shares quite a few similarities with Python. For example, both are open source, have large communities, contain a continuously growing selection of libraries, and easily extract data. Yet there are crucial differences between the two.
Overall, you can claim that Python is a general-purpose language. R, on the other hand, isn’t and primarily thrives in statistical analysis within the use case of web scraping. This is due to R being packed with quality plots and symbols in mathematics and statistical formulae. As a result, R becomes more functional, while Python is object-oriented. Furthermore, R has built-in data analysis, whereas Python’s data analysis depends on the packages.
Therefore, when comparing the two for web scraping, the choices rely entirely on your specific requirements. In most cases, Python being general purpose, makes it a prime choice for most web scraping tasks. Yet, in others, where more complex data visualization and analysis are required, R may prove to be the superior choice.
Core advantages of Node.js for scraping:
A single Node.js process takes only one CPU core, which can be exploited to run multiple instances of Node.js on different cores.
A multitude of built-in libraries.
Great for anything live, such as streaming or live web scraping.
Made to handle API and socket-based activities, resulting in Node.js being a perfect choice for using APIs with your web scraper.
Speaking of simplicity, it’d be difficult to ignore Ruby. Arguably its main selling point, the ease with which Ruby can be used, makes it one of the most sought-after open-source programming languages. Importantly, however, there are benefits to Ruby’s use beyond its straightforward syntax and other similarly accessible features.
The Nokogiri library, for example, gives you a simpler way to deal with broken HTML fragments. When you combine it with other Ruby extensions like Loofah or Sanitize, you get a language that addresses broken HTML with great efficiency.
Although, Ruby’s usefulness in web scraping is more than just dealing with broken HTML. Ruby can also:
Help you set up your web scraper with ease using HTTParty, Pry, and Nokogiri.
Simplify and speed up the building of unit tests with its exceptional testing frameworks.
Interestingly, Ruby also outperforms Python in terms of cloud development and deployment. You can attribute this to the Ruby Bundler system since it manages and deploys packages from GitHub incredibly well, which altogether makes Ruby a wonderful choice if your requirements are just smooth and simple web scraping.
PHP, unlike some of the languages covered in this article, wasn’t made with scraping, as one of its use cases, in mind. Its primary purpose is web development, more specifically, server-side scripting. As such, PHP allows developers to create dynamic web pages quickly and easily but offers little in terms of web scraping support. Although, that’s not to say that it's useless.
PHP does have some tools and libraries that help it become a more efficient language for scraping, such as Simple HTML DOM Parser, Goutte, and PhantomJS. It’s also one the most commonly learned languages as numerous coders will have experience using it.
In short, if your scraping project requirements are simple and your core expertise is with PHP, then using this language is a valid choice. Although if that’s not the case, the complexity of PHP, along with its weak support for multithreading and async, makes it a subpar choice for web scraping.
C++ has existed since the 80s and contains various features that make it an attractive language today. Key examples could be its high performance allowing for fast and efficient programming, control over memory management, availability of libraries, and many more. Unsurprisingly, as a general-purpose programming language, it can also do scraping tasks, though the question arises, how well?
Sadly, C++ offers some similar issues to PHP, for example:
Parsing HTML. Both PHP and C++ need to be able to parse HTML to extract the necessary information. HTML can be complex and non-standard, which can make parsing difficult.
Scalability. Both PHP and C++ need to handle large volumes of data when scraping. This can include managing multiple requests and processing large amounts of data quickly and efficiently.
Some of the strengths of C++ mentioned in the section initially overlap with the needs of web scraping projects. For example, the high performance ensures code can be executed very quickly, making C++ a good choice for web scraping tasks that involve processing large amounts of data.
The large availability of libraries also helps, as some are created with scraping in mind. The libcurl library provides an easy-to-use interface for making HTTP requests, while the HTML Tidy library can be used to clean up and parse HTML data.
Overall, even with the benefits mentioned above, C++ remains a suboptimal choice if you don’t already have expert coders that use it. As a language, it's time-consuming to learn and expensive to implement.
Another common language, Java, continues to be one of the most widely used programming languages today. Java is a strong choice for effective web scraping and is filled with numerous tools, libraries, and external APIs aimed explicitly at easing scraping tasks.
JSoup, for example, with its simple API, extracts and manipulates data from HTML and XML documents efficiently. Jsoup is also being actively developed, so you can be sure that at least some of its current quirks and limitations will likely be solved in the future.
But how does Java compare to the commonly regarded top language, Python?
Regarding speed, Python wins significantly as Java is a compiled language while Python is scripted. However, the victor changes if the user's simplicity and beginner friendliness become vital criteria. One of Python’s greatest advantages is its ease of use for beginners.
On the other hand, Java features complex syntax and concepts like strong typing, which does help to avoid errors but makes writing code quickly for beginners difficult. Lastly, where both languages appear of similar quality is libraries. Each contains multiple quality data-gathering libraries that make your scraping projects smoother.
There is an overarching theme that’s ever-present when you compare the best programming languages for effective web scraping, and it's that the answer is case-dependent. While some might claim that Python is the king of web scraping languages, for someone well versed in C++, that might not be the case as the classic issues of C++, like complexity and expensive implementation, may be less relevant. The same can be said for effectively all languages; therefore, while Python, on average, is the most common recommendation for web scraping tasks, make sure you examine your needs thoroughly and see if, perhaps, there is a more appropriate programming language for your specific use case.
If you're searching for an all-in-one web scraping solution, check out our Web Scraper API, and if you have any questions, be sure to reach out to our excellent support team or our 24/7 available live chat.
About the author
Danielius Radavičius is a Copywriter at Oxylabs. Having grown up in films, music, and books and having a keen interest in the defense industry, he decided to move his career toward tech-related subjects and quickly became interested in all things technology. In his free time, you'll probably find Danielius watching films, listening to music, and planning world domination.
All information on Oxylabs Blog is provided on an "as is" basis and for informational purposes only. We make no representation and disclaim all liability with respect to your use of any information contained on Oxylabs Blog or any third-party websites that may be linked therein. Before engaging in scraping activities of any kind you should consult your legal advisors and carefully read the particular website's terms of service or receive a scraping license.
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