If you are planning on scraping the web any time soon, you will most definitely need to know what proxies are, what they are used for, and why they are so important in web scraping.
Take into consideration that managing proxies by yourself is quite a time-consuming task and can be more challenging than building the spiders themselves. Stick with us, though, and you will find out more about proxies and how to use them for web scraping purposes.
What’s a proxy?
Let’s go one step at a time. To understand what a proxy is, first, you need to know what an IP address is and what it is used for. As its name suggests, it is a unique address associated with every device that connects to an Internet Protocol network like the Internet.
220.127.116.11 is an example of an IP address. Each number can range from 0 to 255, so it can go from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255. These numbers might seem random, but they are not, as they are mathematically generated and allocated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).
You can think of a proxy as an intermediate connection point between you and the web page you visit, making your daily web browsing more secure and private. How does it work? Well, the requests you are sending will not see your personal IP address, but the proxies’ instead.
As technology advances and everyone possesses at least one device, the world quickly ran out of IPv4 addresses and is currently transitioning to IPv6 standards. Despite these needs for change, the proxy business is still using the IPv4 standard. If you’re interested, here’s an article on the difference between IPv4 and IPv6.
Why do you need a proxy pool for web scraping?
Now that we got the hang of what proxies are, it is time to learn how to use them while web scraping.
It’s relatively inefficient to scrape the web using a single proxy, as it limits your geotargeting options and your number of concurrent requests. If the proxy gets blocked, you won’t be able to use it to scrape the same website again. Well, not all requests have a happy ending.
A proxy pool manages a set of proxies, and its size may differ base on these aspects:
- Are you using Datacenter, Residential, or Mobile IPs? If you don’t know which to pick, don’t worry. We’ll soon talk about proxy types in more detail.
- What kind of websites are you targeting? Larger websites have anti-bot features, so you will need a larger proxy pool to counter this.
- How many requests are you sending? If you want to send requests en masse, a larger proxy pool is required.
- What kind of features do you want for your proxy management system? Proxy rotation, delays, geolocation, and so on.
- Do you want public, shared, or private proxies? Your results’ success depends on the quality of your proxy pool and your safety, as public proxies are often infected with malware.
While management functionalities are crucial for a program that uses proxies, the type and quality of said IPs are just as important. The first thing to check when considering an API for the job is what kind of proxies you’ll have access to.
What kind of proxies do you need?
There are three main types of IPs to choose from, each having its advantages and disadvantages depending on your proxies’ use.
As the name suggests, these IPs come from cloud servers and generally have the same subnet block range as the data center, making them easier to detect by the websites you’re scraping. Note that Datacenter IPs are not affiliated with an Internet Service Provider, or ISP for short.
These proxies are commonly used because they are the cheapest to buy compared to the other options but can do their job just fine with the proper proxy management.
These are the IPs of a person’s personal network. Because of that, acquiring them may be more difficult, and so, more expensive than the datacenter IPs. Working with residential proxies may raise legal issues since you use an individual’s network for web scraping or anything at all.
Datacenter IPs can achieve the same results, be more cost-efficient, and not violate someone’s property, but they may have a problem accessing geo-restricted content.
The advantages of using residential proxies are that they are less likely to get blocked by the websites you are scraping. You can access geo-restricted content worldwide, and they are entirely legitimate IP addresses coming from an ISP.
These proxies are even more challenging to obtain and so are even more expensive. Unless you need to scrape results shown to mobile users exclusively, using Mobile IPs isn’t recommended. They are even more problematic in the matter of the consent of said devices’ owner, as they aren’t always fully aware that you are crawling the web using their GSM network.
What do you need to use your proxy pool effectively?
There are several challenges and problems you’ll face while scraping the web. To circumvent them, you’ll need a few functionalities. Keep an eye out for these:
- Geolocation: In many situations, websites may have content accessible only from a specific geographical location, so you need to use a particular set of proxies to get those results.
- Delays: By adding delays here and there, helps to hide the fact that you are scraping their website from anti-bots.
- Retry: Even if your request encounters an error or some other technical problem, it must be able to retry the said request using different proxies.
- Identify problems: To fix a problem, you need to know what the problem is. The proxy must notify the error it encountered in order for you to fix it, such as captchas, honeypots, blocks, and so on.
- Proxy continuity: Sometimes, you need to maintain a session using the same proxy for the web crawling request. Configuring your proxy pool for such cases is mandatory.
- Anti-fingerprinting functions: By tracking online behavior, websites can detect bots. The API needs to periodically randomize the tracked parameters to avoid being identified.
I think we can agree that having a generous proxy pool makes crawling the web more efficient, but if your numbers exceed the 100s, it may be challenging to manage. You’d have to do all the steps mentioned above constantly. So, what’s the solution?
Can an API make proxy management easier?
Managing a proxy pool on your own can be pretty time-consuming. Have you thought about using an API?
This way, you won’t need to worry about anti-bots or infecting your machines with malware and other viruses, nor the size of your proxy pool and its compositions. Features like proxy rotation, avoiding browser fingerprinting, geolocation configuration, and so on are automatically managed by a well-developed API.
Using an API may call for an investment such as a monthly subscription for using their services, but it may save more money and time than doing it yourself.
What else can an API do?
As you may have noticed, web scraping can be pretty challenging in the absence of a properly managed proxy pool, as there are so many features to take into account. Won’t using a pre-built API be a more efficient approach? Some APIs can handle not only your proxies but do the scraping for you as well. It’s like shooting two birds with one stone!
I hope that this article clarified the difference between proxy types and their importance when using a web scraper. This is just one of the many industries where APIs make work easier, faster, and more enjoyable. As technology and software improves, APIs will stay crucial in keeping everything connected and functional.
If you’re interested in finding out more, you should read our introductory article on the different types of APIs, their uses, and their role in software development.