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What Is Web Scraping & How Is It Used in 2024

What is web scraping?
Iveta Vistorskyte

Iveta Vistorskyte

2024-01-245 min read

The internet is full of invaluable public data that can assist companies in achieving their goals. A challenge lies in getting web data without a dedicated team manually collecting the required information around the clock. 

The concept of web scraping is becoming familiar to every modern company aiming to base its decisions on data. This article will explain web scraping and how to effectively incorporate it into your business.

What is web scraping?

Web scraping, also known as internet scraping or website scraping, refers to the automated process of collecting publicly available data from a website. Instead of gathering data manually, web scraping tools can acquire vast amounts of information in a matter of seconds.

You can use web scraping to extract data from various websites, depending on the goals of the scraping project. For instance, e-commerce businesses leverage web scraping to monitor competitors and refine their strategies by collecting public pricing data, customer reviews, product descriptions, and more. Meanwhile, cybersecurity companies employ web scraping to monitor threats across the web.

Is web scraping legal?

The web scraping legality is a frequently discussed topic and it’s especially important for businesses. Therefore, there are some things you need to know before starting web scraping: 

  1. Even if you're gathering publicly available data, ensure that you’re not breaching laws that may apply to such data, e.g., downloading copyrighted data. 

  2. Avoid logging in to websites to get the required information because by doing that you must accept Terms of Service (ToS) (or other legal agreement) and that may forbid automated data gathering processes. 

  3. Data for personal usage should also be collected cautiously, according to websites’ policy. 

Before engaging in web scraping activities of any kind, we advise you to seek legal consultation to ensure you’re not violating any laws.

Web scraping vs. web crawling

Simply put, web crawling means navigating the web to index content, while web scraping is focused on extracting public data from a target website. Both scraping and crawling complement each other in the overall public data gathering process, often done sequentially – one following the other. Learn more about web scraping vs. web crawling by reading our in-depth article about this topic.

Web scraping vs. web crawling

Web scraping vs. web crawling

The process of web scraping

To clearly define what web scraping is, it's crucial to explain the basic web scraping process. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to scrape data:

1. Identify target websites

Depending on your objective, the initial step in any scraping project involves identifying the specific web pages from which you intend to gather public information.

2. Collect target page URLs

To make your web scraping process more efficient, collecting specific URLs can help you save your resources. You'll collect only the needed data without vast amounts of irrelevant information.

3. Make requests to get the HTML of the page

This critical step is where the essence of the entire project unfolds. By making requests, you retrieve the HTML of the desired pages containing all the necessary information.

4. Navigate & extract information from the HTML

Following the acquisition of HTML code, the scraper navigates through it to extract specific data, presenting it in the structured format specified by the user.

5. Store scraped data

This is the final step of the whole web scraping process. The extracted public data needs to be stored in CSV, JSON formats, or in any database for further usage.

Types of web scrapers 

If you're interested in web scraping, exploring various options is advisable to find out what best suits individual preferences. Each alternative comes with its own set of advantages and drawbacks, so it's important to make a thoughtful choice based on individual needs.

  • Building an in-house web scraper

Building your own web scraping solution offers several advantages, including customization, complete control, and cost management. However, it also requires an experienced developers team with specific coding knowledge. Python and JavaScript are the most common programming languages for web scraping. Also, if you're choosing this option, you have to ensure all the resources for your developers. For example, for any projects based on web scraping, it’s necessary to use and maintain proxies. Using proxies is crucial for gathering vast amounts of data without being blocked by targeted websites. 

  • Third-party web scrapers

Third-party Scraper APIs are pre-built solutions, enabling quick implementation without extensive development time. Notably, you typically don't need advanced coding skills to leverage third-party APIs, as they often come with user-friendly documentation and interfaces. Despite a few drawbacks associated with third-party solutions, such as limited customization, cost considerations, and the challenge of finding a reliable provider, there are decent options available that can cater to your specific needs. For instance, you may explore our Scraper APIs to address your requirements.

  • Datasets

If you wonder whether web scraping is a suitable solution for you, datasets, even if they're not a type of web scraper, can serve as an excellent alternative for acquiring the required public data. You don’t need to manage the whole web scraping process with datasets because you get ready-to-use data in a preferred format. However, it's important to note that maintaining the relevance of datasets can pose challenges, particularly in dynamic fields where information is constantly changing. 

Choosing the right web data extraction solution or datasets always depends on your needs. Before making any decision, you should think of what you expect from it now and, of course, in the future. 

Types of web scrapers

Choosing the right solution depends on your needs

Web scraping challenges

Web scraping poses various challenges that can make the web data extraction process complex. The primary hurdles include the risk of being blocked by target websites, issues related to scalability, unique HTML site structures, and the ongoing need for infrastructure maintenance.

  • Getting blocked by target websites

Websites commonly employ strategies to regulate incoming traffic, including measures such as CAPTCHAs, rate limiting, IP addresses blocking, browser fingerprinting, etc. Using proxies from reputable providers and managing user agents may help you overcome this challenge.

  • Scalability

Building a highly scalable web scraping infrastructure is challenging due to the required resources and knowledge. Choosing pre-built web scraping tools that support a high volume of requests will help you save time to achieve your goals. 

  • Website structure changes

Websites are constantly improving their user experience, meaning their design, features, or layout might change occasionally. These changes can impact a web scraping process, meaning your web scraping tool needs to be constantly updated.

We suggest checking our blog post dedicated to main web scraping challenges and how to overcome them. 

Wrapping it up

There isn’t any hesitation that web scraping is a crucial process for businesses that make data-driven decisions. Whether companies build their own web scraping tools or use third-party solutions, implementing data scraping in their daily tasks is a definite improvement and a step forward. 

If you want to perform web scraping right away, try our Web Scraper API for free with up to 5K results, or check various tutorials on our blog for more information.  

Frequently asked questions

What is web scraping used for?

Web scraping is used for extracting data from a website for various purposes, such as data analysis, research, monitoring, and content aggregation.

What is an example of web scraping?

A great example of web scraping is extracting product prices and reviews from e-commerce websites to analyze market trends and make informed business decisions.

Can you get banned for web scraping?

Yes, web scraping can lead to being banned or blocked by websites, as it may violate terms of service and policies. This is the reason why seeking legal consultation to ensure you’re not violating any laws before engaging in web scraping activities is important.

About the author

Iveta Vistorskyte

Iveta Vistorskyte

Lead Content Manager

Iveta Vistorskyte is a Lead Content Manager at Oxylabs. Growing up as a writer and a challenge seeker, she decided to welcome herself to the tech-side, and instantly became interested in this field. When she is not at work, you'll probably find her just chillin' while listening to her favorite music or playing board games with friends.

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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  • What is web scraping?

  • The process of web scraping

  • Types of web scrapers 

  • Web scraping challenges

  • Wrapping it up

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