Browser automation for data harvesting explained by Dexodata
Contents of article:
- Introduction to browser automation with trusted proxy websites
- Relevant examples of browser automation
- Several best browser automation tools compared
- Conclusions on successful browser automation
As the World Bank has correctly put it, manual data harvesting, i.e. extracting data piece by piece on your own, is time-consuming and tedious. Being a trusted proxy website with geo targeted proxies, where people can buy residential IPs and resort to paid proxy free trial periods, the Dexodata data gathering ecosystem knows this well. That is why automation is the key to successful and cost-effective scraping processes. Luckily, there exist quite a few available browser automation tools out there in the market, ranging from all-in-one suites requiring an ability to code to simple yet paid no-code options. Let's discuss them.
Browser automation refers to programmatically carrying out certain tasks in the browser and entrusting such tasks to bots. As such, it is invaluable for a great variety of use cases, including data extraction. By applying a proper browser automation tool, one can perform applicable manipulations quickly, precisely, and at a scale incomparable with humans.
For instance, with Selenium (we will discuss it below) users can:
- Make clicks
- Take screenshots
- Fill out and submit various forms
“Why is that needed?”, one might ask. In this case of doubts, the line of argument is as follows:
“All I want to do is to scrape a bunch of pages. For this purpose, I can use a specifically designed bot (i.e., basically, a script) to extract data. The bot will send my queries, get answers from the HTML pages of interest, and save the results as, say, a CSV file. Why bother with browser automation”?
The answer is simple. With static websites, it is that easy indeed. When it comes to them, their content always stays intact and unaltered, unless someone deliberately modifies it. The only active party involved here is the server side. With dynamic content it is totally different. Their content changes, depending on the location of a user, their language preferences, and other properties of a user profile. So the client-side also matters here.
Now is the key thing. Data of dynamic pages is generated individually, per each user query, after the first page load request. So, to set things in motion, we must (ideally, with geo targeted proxies provided by a trusted proxy website, e.g. Dexodata, where a person, say, buys residential IPs or tries a paid proxy free trial) commit certain actions and do something to this page. That is when people need browser automation tools to scroll, click, enter data, submit filled forms, etc.
Again, the mission of browser automation solutions is to enable their users to automate their browsers and make them resemble real web surfers. In this respect, they offer much more than just web scraping. For example, one is able to run website tests, identify broken links, carry out repetitive tasks, and more. However, in this piece, we focus on web scraping.
We have already named the key reason why browser automation is needed, i.e. to work with dynamic content, and that’s the lion’s share of all content worldwide. In addition, it offers the following advantages:
- Browser automation practices that make it is easier to keep the scraper unblocked, as it is simpler to mingle the browser in the “crowd”, in comparison with raw HTTP queries.
- After one invests some effort in it, their life gets much easier, as everything is rolling on its own, faster.
- Concurrent tasks can be tackled.
- The human factor and mistakes are eliminated.
What can be scraped this way? Almost anything a company depending on data and the Web might need. You could grab:
- E-commerce rankings and pricing info
- Search engine info
- Social media info
- Event tickets
- Sneakers on sale, and much more.
Just make sure to apply geo targeted proxies in collaboration with a trusted proxy website. For instance, with Dexodata one is able not only to buy residential IPs. Among other things, a paid proxy free trial is also available for new users. You can learn more in our special FAQ section.
No more theory, let’s get to practice. What are the best browser automation solutions available as of now? In our opinion, this is a proper shortlist:
If one googles “browser automation tool for web scraping”, Selenium is likely to be on the top. As an open-source tool, it is widely applied to scraping activities, indeed, by advanced and professional users.
Its advantages include the fact that it is totally free. There is no problem with adjusting its code to one's unique requirements. As for the OS it is compatible with, they include Windows, Linux, as well as Apple. On top of that, the scripts people create for it can be simultaneously executed with a diversity of browsers, encompassing Chrome and Safari. As a tool, Selenium takes pride in its enormous community, so it is not a problem to find answers and ready-to-use recipes for one's needs.
2. Puppeteer serves as an open source Node.js library in high demand. Its mission is to grant you access to a high-level API and enable you to work with (headless) Chrome or Chromium browsers by means of the DevTools Protocol. Since the project’s documentation is in great shape and its community is growing actively, people will be quick to find remedies for any pain points. Practically, what it executes is the launch of a headless browser for data gathering with almost no time spent on loading.
Playwright is comparable with Puppeteer. This tool functions as a Node.js library. As you might have guessed already, it is an open-source option, too. On the surface, the only significant difference is that, while Puppeteer is inextricably linked with Google, Playwright was created by the Microsoft team. But this is not the only difference.
It is relatively easy to master. One simply enters some basic code to launch this headless tool, and it will take care of the rest instead of you. Since this tool works fine with Chromium, Firefox, and Safari and is notable for its speedy execution time, it is a great match for large-scale data scraping initiatives based on browser automation. What makes this option palatable is that you are free use Node.js, Python, Java, and. NET with it and rely on informative documentation. To sum up, it is a great cross-browser, cross-language, and cross-platform tool which also supports proxy usage. So you could make use of geo targeted proxies offered by trusted proxy websites (like Dexodata) by, for example, buying residential IPs or trying a paid proxy free trial.
Are there any stumbling blocks? There is a block. It is a relatively young product, so if the availability of a wide community is a must for you, as of now, skip it.
Cypress may look as a surprising option. It is not a headless browser. More than that, it is, officially, a dependable framework for testing. In this capacity, it works as a free (with paid features) and open source Test Runner and a Dashboard-based Service that has to be locally installed. As such, it is supposed to test progressive web-apps functioning on the basis of such modern technologies as the React and AngularJS. At the same time, it can be used for web scraping.
Its obvious advantage is that it does not mandate configuration and can be installed as an .exe file. After that, all the applicable drivers and dependencies will be in place automatically.
Finally, let’s assess the most simple type of tools. In case you are looking for no-code solutions, then you must have heard of Axiom. It works as a Chrome extension, and requires no coding skills. To get things rolling, one simply could resort to the "Get data from a webpage" functionality. It is possible to specify what data needed to be obtained, by making a click on the "Select Data" button. As a tool, Axiom enables users to save the scraped info as a table structure, consisting of columns and rows. Each column represents an individual sort of data to be scraped and saved.
Seemingly, it is elementary. However, as with any other tools, there might be problems. First, one needs to pay for Axiom. Second, there is an issue with types of data one could extract. The fact is that Axiom offers the following process: to choose info for a column, one is supposed to click on it. In theory, Axiom is pre-prepared to handle typical issues, so the chosen type will be highlighted in a color. After that, the chosen type will be shown in the preview table. Could anything be wrong?
Well, the Axiom team explicitly warns their users: in case anything you intend to select is missing, make a click on this too. After that, Axiom will, automatically, attempt to identify a pattern in the element clicked and find similar elements. According to them, typically, all it takes is 2 or 3 clicks. But sometimes it might take more.
That is exactly what we mean. Whenever you opt for no-code options, you have to rely on their “brains” and internal browser automation machinery to get the results. One is unable to code the ideal result, test the written code, and get exactly what they want.
Which of the solutions described above would we recommend? There is no one-size-fits-all answer (the only universal rule is that geo targeted proxies from trusted proxy websites are a must for reliable web data collection, so do not ignore the idea to buy residential IPs or try a proxy free trial). For greater convenience, we have created a simple decision tree below.
How to choose a browser automation solution
Another way to comprehend what to do, is to analyze what other users prefer. Here are some figures concerning their downloads.
Download trends of popular browser automation solutions
As it can be seen, most people try to avoid over-complexity and try to steer a middle course by trying Puppeteer and Cypress.
We at Dexodata, as a trusted proxy website offering geo targeted proxies at affordable prices (here you can both buy residential IPs and resort to a paid proxy free trial), would say something like this: as long as coding for Puppeteer is not that challenging and Chrome and Chromium-like browsers account for the majority of web surfing tools, we would recommend Puppeteer in the context of browser automation. In our further articles, we will show a couple of practical case studies of how to write simple code for web scraping with Puppeteer.