What is Web Scraping? Everything you need to know before writing your first scraping code

In this post, we are going to cover an introduction to web scraping. The aim of this post is to answer questions like: What is web scraping? When to use web scraping? The web scraping process and the python web scraping library which you can use.

What is Web Scraping?

The process of web scraping involves fetching or downloading a web page, extracting data from it, and saving it to a DB or spreadsheet. It is an automated process of retrieving structured data from a website. 

Why Web Scraping?

Consider that you need to collect data from a website. There are three different ways to collect Structured Data from a website.

  1. Download .csv file from a website
    You can download the .csv extension file from a website but not in all cases this file is available. In most of the cases, attachments/downloads aren’t available.
  2. Copy and Paste to a CSV or Excel File
    This is the simplest step you can do but it is meant for hard-working people and not smart working. It is time-consuming and complex when there are multiple records to look at. When it comes to multiple web pages or multiple web sites then the task gets tedious and also impossible in some use cases by this technique.
  3. API (Application Programming Interface)
    APIs are comparatively simpler and a better choice than the rest of the two but it is charged and is costly. Also, it does not provide relevant data in the preferred structure. It also takes time to request data using an API.

To overcome the above shortcomings, we can replace these traditional methods with web scraping. Web-scraping is used in several domains. Let us understand the web scraping use cases in a much better way by looking at the following examples –

  • Price Comparison Engines
    Get prices of an item from different websites and present them in a structured manner for comparisons.
  • News AggregationAggregating top news articles from multiple websites to one site.
  • Sentiment AnalysisCollect tweets or hashtags to analyze people’s sentiments on particular issues such as politics or products
  • Hotel IndustryScraping hotel prices and images and comparing them for a better choice for customers or target audience. 

What is BeautifulSoup Library?

  1. BeautifulSoup transforms HTML text/script into a tree format for easy readability.
  2. This will make it easy to search for what we want inside the HTML/CSS contents.
  3. You can search for classes, headers, tables, paragraphs, etc which are presented in a readable structure by BeautifulSoup.
  4. BeautifulSoup will help with isolating the titles, tags, and links from the HTML documents so that we can extract the content that we want (text/image).

Web Scrapping Process

Obtain web URL & download the web page

Use the python requests library & obtain the source code

Parse the downloaded data into an HTML parser & get data in a readable and structured format

Use the BeautifulSoup library to extract the data that we need

Store/Save the data as pandas dataframe, CSV, JSON, SQL DB, etc.

So, this is all that you need to know for now. In the next post, we will cover how we can write our first scraping code using the BeautifulSoup library and create a pandas dataframe out of it.

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