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Gabija Fatenaite

Jun 26, 2019 6 min read

If you work with development (whether part of the team or work in a company where you need to communicate with the tech team often), you’ll most likely come across the term data parsing. Simply put, it’s a process when one data format is transformed into another, more readable data format. But that’s a rather straightforward explanation.  

In this article we’ll dig a little deeper on what is parsing of data, and discuss whether building an in-house data parser is more beneficial to a business, or is it better to buy a data extraction solution that already does the parsing for you. 

Data parsing

Definition

Data parsing is a method where one string of data gets converted into a different type of data. So let’s say you receive your data in raw HTML, a parser will take the said HTML and transform it into a more readable data format that can be easily read and understood.

What does a parser do?  

A well-made parser will distinguish which information of the HTML string is needed, and in accordance to the parsers pre-written code and rules, it will pick out the necessary information and convert it into JSON, CSV or a table, for example.

It’s important to mention that a parser itself is not tied to a data format. It’s a tool that converts one data format into another, how it converts it and into what depends on how the parser was built.

HTML converts to JSON format

Parsers are used for many technologies, including:

  • Java and other programming languages
  • HTML and XML
  • Interactive data language and object definition language
  • SQL and other database languages
  • Modeling languages
  • Scripting languages
  • HTTP and other internet protocols

To build or to buy?

Now, when it comes to the business side of things, an excellent question to ask yourself is, “Should my tech team build  their own parser, or should we simply outsource?” 

As a rule of thumb, it’s usually cheaper to build your own, rather than to buy a premade tool. However, this isn’t an easy question to answer, and a lot more things should be taken into consideration when deciding to build or to buy. 

Let’s look into the possibilities and outcomes with both options.

Build or buy data parser?

Building a data parser

Let’s say you decide to build your own parser. There are a few distinct benefits if making this decision:

  • A parser can be anything you like. It can be tailor-made for any work (parsing) you require. 
  • It’s usually cheaper to build your own parser.
  • You’re in control whatever decisions need to be made when updating and maintaining your parser. 

But, like with anything, there’s always a downside of building your own parser:

  • You’ll need to hire and train a whole in-house team to build the parser.
  • Maintaining the parser is necessary – meaning more in house expenses and time resources used.
  • You’ll need to buy and build a server that will be fast enough to parse your data in the speed you need.
  • Being in control isn’t necessarily easy or beneficial – you’ll need to work closely with the tech team to make the right decisions to create something good, spending a lot of your time planning and testing.

Building your own has its benefits – but it takes a lot of your resources and time. Especially if you need to develop a sophisticated parser for parsing large volumes. That will require more maintenance and human resources, and valuable human resources because building one will require a highly-skilled developer team. 

Buying a data parser 

So what about buying a tool that parses your data for you? Let’s start with the benefits:

  • You won’t need to spend any money on human resources, as everything will be done for you, including maintaining the parser and the servers.
  • Any issues that arise will be solved a lot faster, as the people you buy your tools from have extensive know-how and are familiarized with their technology. 
  • It’s also less likely that the parser will crash or experience issues in general, as it will be tested and perfected to fit the markets’ requirements. 
  • You’ll save a lot on human resources and your own time, as the decision making on how to build the best parser will come from the outsourcing.

Of course, there are a few downsides to buying a parser as well:

  • It will be slightly more expensive.
  • You won’t have too much control over it.

Now, it seems that there are a lot of benefits to simply just buy one. But one thing that might make things easier to choose is to consider what sort of parser you’ll need. An expert developer can make an easy parser probably within a week. But if it’s a complex one, it can take months – that’s a lot of time, and resources. 

It also falls to whether you’re a big business that has a lot of time and resources on their hands to build and maintain a parser. Or you’re a smaller business that needs to get things done to be able to grow within the market. 

How we do it: Real-Time Crawler 

Here at Oxylabs, we have a data gathering tool called Real-Time Crawler. This product is specifically built to gather data from search engines and e-commerce websites in large quantities. We covered what Real-Time Crawler is and how it works in great detail in one of our articles, so make sure to check it out. Also, here’s a video below:

But why are we bringing up this tool? Well, Real-Time Crawler not only gathers the data – it also has a built-in parser that turns your HTML into JSON. If you choose to use Real-Time Crawler Callback method, after every job request, you’ll be provided with a URL to download the results in HTML or parsed JSON format. 

Our built-in parser handles quite a lot of data daily. On February, 12 billion requests were made! And that’s back in February! Based on our 2019, Q1 statistics, the total requests grew by 7.02% in comparison to Q4 2018. And these numbers continue to rise in accordance in Q2, 2019.

Our tech team has been working with this project for a few years now, and having this much experience we can say with confidence that the parser we built can handle any volume of data one might request. 

So – to build or to buy? Well, building several years of experience, improvements, and maintenance of a tool that does its job to perfection – honestly, quite expensive. 

Wrapping up

Hopefully, now you have a decent understanding of what is parsing of data. Taking everything into account, keep in mind whether you’re building a very sophisticated parser or not. If you are parsing large volumes of data, you will need good developers on your team to develop and maintain the parser. But, if you need a less complicated, smaller parser – probably best to build your own.

Also be mindful if you are a large company with a lot of resources, or a smaller one, that needs the right tools to keep things growing.

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About Gabija Fatenaite

Gabija Fatenaite is a Content Manager at Oxylabs with an interest in tech. Having grown up on video games and the internet, she grew to find the tech side of things more and more interesting over the years. So if you ever find yourself wanting to learn more about proxies (or video games), feel free to contact her - she’ll be more than happy to answer you.

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