Do you remember the wild west phase of the Internet, when every website designer just did their own things, and pages would be filled with mismatched colors, weird UI choices, and stretched-out images? What a time to be alive.
Moreover, think back to how those websites looked if you accessed them from a phone or tablet. Navigation wasn’t just a chore, it was downright painful.
In short, JS is excellent when you’re optimizing a website for humans. Bots, on the other hand, don’t deal with it as well. In fact, basic web scrapers can’t extract any HTML from dynamic websites without extra functionalities. Don’t worry, we’ll cover why that is and how to overcome the problem in this article.
Websites, much like homes, need a solid foundation. The very ground of this foundation is HTML code. By adding some tags and elements, you can use HTML to build and arrange sections, headers, links, and so on.
There are very few things you cannot do with HTML code when building a website. The anatomy of an HTML element consists of an opening tag, a closing tag, and the content in between. The website will show the information between these two tags according to the format they dictate.
By learning this simple coding style, you will be able to add headers, links, pictures, and much more to your website. Later on, you can use CSS to specify which styles apply to each element.
CSS, short for Cascading Style Sheets, is the pizzazz to your HTML. If the HTML is your structure, CSS is the decoration. It allows you to change colors, fonts, and page layouts throughout the page.
At this point, the website is good to go, if a bit flat. It can also suffer long loading times if you put too much data on too few pages or become tedious to navigate if you spread the content over too many pages.
Here are a few examples of the many things you can use it for:
- Audio and video players on a website
- Zooming in and out of photos
- Gliding through images on a homepage
- Creating confirmation boxes
As of late, many websites have become increasingly complex, and there’s a sudden need for statefulness in which the client’s data and settings are saved.
What is statefulness in web design?
A stateful system is a dynamic component in the sense that it remembers important events as state data and adapts the website according to it. It’s easier to understand with an example:
Bob accesses a website and signs up for an account. The system will remember his login and remember his state the next time he accesses the website. This way, Bob will not have to go to the login page because the website will automatically redirect him to the site’s members-only section.
Behind the scenes, a process creates an intermediary system that remembers the user details and automatically redirects him to the correct server or website.
On the other hand, a stateless system will not remember nor adapt, and will send the user to the login page and require him to reenter his credentials every time.
This principle can apply to any part of web design. Whatever you modify in the body, the state will follow accordingly. It manipulates a myriad of components that show up on the web page. Statefulness allows the website to store user-specific information to offer a personalized experience (access rights), including history interaction and saved settings.
Web design allows you to store info about your users on a server, while browser storage can still remember data but only up to the end of the session.
In short, websites that use JS can’t be scraped without the proper tools, and scrapers that can’t execute JS are a lot easier to catch than those who can.
Once the headless browser handles the JS code, the website will send regular HTML, the data you actually want.
Another advantage headless browsers have over others is their speed. Since it doesn’t have to bother with the GUI, loading JS or CSS, it can process pages a lot faster, which is excellent for web scraping since it doesn’t slow down the bot too much.
If you want a DIY data extraction solution, there are two favored programming languages: Python and Node.js.
Python and Selenium
Originally built as a tool for cross-browser testing, Selenium has quickly become a well-rounded collection of tools for web browser automation. Since many websites are constructed as Single Page Applications that spam CAPTCHAs even to real users, extracting data is starting to sound more and more like a daunting task due to the hypervigilance around bot detection.
But if you’re scraping in Python, don’t just stop at Selenium. You can follow up with the BeautifulSoup library that makes HTML and XML parsing a breeze and then get Pandas for extracting and storing your data to a csv file.
Node.js and Puppeteer
Puppeteer is a Node.js package that lets you operate headless Chrome or Chromium and integrate the DevTools protocol. The Chrome DevTools team and a fantastic open-source community look after it.
This solution will help you manage a web scraper in the context of a website’s ever-changing structure. The main hurdle of scraping is that the tools require constant updates to adapt and not be restricted by the servers.
But let’s focus on the web scraping star. Puppeteer allows you to handle a web browser manually — everything from completing forms and taking screenshots to automating UI tests.
If you haven’t worked with these libraries before or just beginning your web scraping journey, I understand how all this can seem intimidating. However, there is an even more convenient solution that does all the work for you: an API.
Also known as Application Programming Interface, APIs allow the users to get the data straight away. By making a request to the API endpoint, the app will give you the data you need. On top of that, it automatically comes in JSON format.
The greatest advantage of using an API is how simple it is to connect it with your other software products or scripts. With only a few lines of code, you can feed the scraped data straight to other apps after receiving your unique API key and reading the documentation.
Here’s a quick rundown of everything WebScrapingAPI does for you:
- uses a rotating proxy pool containing hundreds of thousands of residential and datacenter IPs to mask your activity
- Offers access to the request headers so you can customize your API calls and ensure that the scraper is indistinguishable from normal visitors
- Employs anti-fingerprinting and anti-captcha features
- Returns the data already parsed into a JSON file.
A hassle-free web scraping solution
Check out what the API can do and, if you’re not yet convinced, hit up our incredibly responsive customer support for guidance.