Big data analysis provides an opportunity for business development, regardless of size. Insights based on this analysis improve operational efficiency, help you make informed strategic decisions, and perform accurate forecasting. There are two proven methods for collecting and delivering data to the user: web scraping and scraping API. Which way and in what case is better?
What Is the Essence of the Methods?
Web scraping is a method of automatically extracting targeted data from the web. HTML scraping helps you take raw data from websites and convert it into a usable structured format. You can do it manually, but the efficiency of such work is extremely low compared to automatic scraping.
An application programming interface is an intermediary, allowing websites and scraping software to exchange data. To touch the API, you need to send a request. The client must specify the URL and HTTP method to process the request correctly. You can add headers, body, and request parameters depending on the technique. The API will process the request and send back the response received from the web server. Endpoints (an app that uses URLs to communicate with third-party services) work with API methods.
API scraping is data collection by sending requests to endpoints discovered by analyzing the traffic between a web server and a site or application.
Why Are These Two Methods So Important?
Data collection through web scraping or API scraping assumes the completeness and quality of the information obtained. On this basis, the business owner will make a data-driven decision, and an error in the original data can be costly at the end of the analysis.
These two scraping methods provide the declared completeness and quality of information collection since they complement each other.
2. Using the site API, you have fast scraping, regardless of the page structure, but not all Application Programming Interfaces are open to access.
Using both methods, covering all technological needs for collecting big data is possible.
The Difference Is in the Approach to Obtaining Data
The goal of both scraping web pages and APIs is to access data. Web scraping allows you to extract data from any website using special software. And APIs provide direct access to the data you need. As a result, you may find yourself in a situation where the API access is not available, or access to use API is too limited or expensive. In these scenarios, web scraping will allow you to access data while it is available on the website. In this case, you build the API for any site.
What exactly is the difference?
· With API scraping, data is retrieved from only one website, while with web scraping, data is available from multiple websites.
· The API allows one to get only a specific set of data. When web browsing, proxy servers are used, which is not the case with APIs.
· The web scraping tool conveniently organizes the extracted data in a structured format. But on the other hand, the developer will have to manage the data received using the API programmatically.
· Auto-saving data using the web scraping method allows users to download it later. This feature is not possible in the API.
· Compared to the API, web scraping is more customizable, complex, and has a set of rules.
Depending on what data you need
Data scraping is necessary for a business to develop and increase profits. And it is important not to lose more in collecting data than you will earn later. By understanding which method works best with which data, you can make an informed decision on choosing a scraping case.
1. In a technical sense, the API has speed limits, but not in scraping. Therefore, the cost of the API can be initially higher, and when you gather data, it can rise. From this point, web scraping is better, but you must carefully read the robot.txt file to avoid ethical extraction problems.
2. Even public data may not be available through the API. Sometimes, even with an API, you must use web scraping.
3. Web scraping provides custom capabilities — from data extraction to frequency, format, and structure. Such flexibility is excluded when working with the website API — the user has no control over the settings.
4. Some websites allow data scraping, but not all. Then using the API is the only way to contact (the most striking example is social media).
5. Databases obtained using the API cannot be updated in real-time, which is critical for some business sectors. For example, the scraping method is indispensable for a hedge funds forecasting model, as every second counts.
6. By extracting data using web scraping, the user remains anonymous. When using the API, this is not possible because registration on the site is required to obtain the key.
7. Learning an unstructured API takes a long time. Before getting the actual data, you will have to deal with queries. And since all sites want to rank in search engines with XHTML validation, this makes web scraping easier.
Each specific case requires its own decision, but web scraping can come in handy much more often regarding the types of data collected.
The legal side of the issue
The APIs are provided by the website you need the data from. Therefore, as long as you do not share your API access with any other party, extracting data in this way is entirely legal. Web scraping is legal if the user abides by the website's terms and conditions as specified in their robot.txt file. Companies using an in-house solution should check this step or use an external service provider.
General Limits of Application
Web scraping and the API method have their particular application areas and are vital in them. But on the away pitch, their complete helplessness is revealed. To understand where the segment in which the "interests" of scraping and API mining intersect, you need to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are. And then compare the strengths and see if they have anything in common.
Which method works best?
The answer to this question depends on the specifics of the particular task, but general provisions are the same for all use cases by default.
Strengths of web scraping
1. Scrapers automatically extract data from several target sites simultaneously, saving time and ensuring the completeness of the collected information.
2. Web scraping downloads and manages data on the local computer in spreadsheets or databases.
3. Allows you to schedule regular real-time data extraction and export in a convenient format.
4. Scraping is a simple and accurate method that does not require human intervention.
5. It gives you control over the amount of data and how often it is collected, giving you more flexibility than using an API.
Weaknesses of web scraping
1. Sites constantly change their HTML structure, so scrapers or crawlers can break. Regular maintenance is required to keep the tools working properly.
2. The collected data must be presented conveniently for reading and processing, which takes time and other resources.
3. Scraping large sites requires a massive number of requests. Some websites may block IP addresses that receive many requests due to a suspected DDoS attack.
4. Many sites restrict access by geolocation and require residential proxies to work. At the same time, free or cheap IP addresses, as a rule, are already blocked by the site you are looking for.
Scraping API Pros
1. There is no additional load on the equipment.
2. The developer implements API cleanup in the application based on credentials.
3. The results are provided in XML or JSON format - the data is already structured and easy to process.
5. The API handles the collection of vast amounts of data faster.
Cons of collecting data using the API
1. The developer can set a dataset for accessing the endpoint, making it unavailable to scrape data. For the completeness of the data collected, you will have to refer to several endpoints.
2. Not all sites provide access to the API but return a request only with the page's content in the form of HTML code.
3. Some APIs limit the frequency of data retrieval from services, reducing the scraping efficiency.
4. APIs only provide access to a specific set of developer-specified features.
Compare the task with all the pros and cons from the table and determine which scraping option is right in this case. Both methods may be worth using if they cover all your needs for fast and high-quality data collection.
The work for web scraping
Many companies use web scraping to create massive databases and extract industry information. Then access to this data can be sold to other business people from the same industry.
For example, a company may collect and analyze a wealth of data on oil prices, exports, and imports to sell ideas to oil companies worldwide.
A prime example is the brand HiQ Labs, which was caught collecting public data from LinkedIn. The trial lasted five years. As a result, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recognized the legality of web scraping. The court ruled that the social network LinkedIn has no right to prohibit hiQ Labs from collecting public data about its users.
One of the most popular uses for web scraping remains lead generation. It is widespread in B2B, where potential customers make their business public. DATAFOREST is one of the market leaders in data science and has blog articles and completed case studies on this topic.
A good reason for API scraping
Many real estate agencies use web scraping to populate a database with available listings for sale or rent. For example, you can collect Multiple listing service information for APIs that directly populate this information on a website. So, they can act as a real estate agent when someone finds this listing on their site. Most of the listings on a real estate site are automatically generated by the API.
Or such an example. The Echo Nest, an intelligent music platform API, is built around several content types: artists, songs, tracks, and genres. Except for genres, all content is separated by unique identifiers to obtain information about them through API calls.
Most Popular Scraping Solutions
Web scraping involves custom solutions that allow you to complete a particular technical task. During the development of data science in general and scraping in particular, many such private keys have accumulated, and some have become generally accepted. They are called scraping tools and techniques because they solve everyday problems for data seekers.
· Libraries are software packages that provide out-of-the-box functions and tools for web scraping tasks. They simplify navigating, parsing HTML data, and finding elements to extract.
· A tool is a program that automatically collects data from sources. Depending on the task, you can use an internal scraper or a third-party one.
· Scraping APIs give access to data from websites. They provide web scraping APIs such as Twitter API, Amazon API, and Facebook API. But not all sites expose an API for the target data, which requires a web service.
· Optical character recognition is a technology that allows you to extract text data from images (by screen scraping) or scanned documents.
· Headless browsers (PhantomJS, Puppeteer, or Selenium) allow you to collect web data offline because they work without a graphical user interface.
· HTML parsing is another technique that automatically extracts data from web page code.
· DOM parsing allows you to parse HTML or XML documents within the Document Object Model. It is part of the W3C standard, which provides methods for navigating the DOM and retrieving the required data — text and attributes.
· Manual website navigation is preferred if the data is scattered across multiple pages or inaccessible using automated scraping methods. For example, Screen Capture takes screenshots of the target website's data.
There is another non-standard tool — hybrid scraping. It combines automated and manual data methods if they do not fully extract the necessary info.
Web scraping tools
Data science has developed many application scraping tools; here are only the top three.
· BrightData is the world's largest SaaS for open data collection on the web, an open-source scraper and data collector providing an automated and customizable flow.
· ParseHub is a free online data scraper as a downloadable desktop application. It provides the ability to scrape and download images and files, as well as CSV and JSON files.
· Octoparse — with a simple and user-friendly interface, helps non-developers manage the data extraction process. The main advantage of using it is to provide cloud storage services.
DATAFOREST had examples of successful cooperation with a law firm when we developed an algorithm for scraping court websites.
Scraping tools that use the API also have their hit parade.
· ScrapingBee is a cloud-based scraping tool that manages a proxy server and thousands of headless browsers without consuming RAM and CPU. The service effectively manages engineering operations and routine marketing, as it is built on a REST API for easy Google parsing.
· Diffbot is another web scraping tool, one of the best content extractors. It allows you to automatically identify pages using the Analyze API function and extract products, articles, discussions, videos, or images.
· Scrape.do is a simple tool that provides a scalable and fast endpoint web scraper API. This tool is one of the best in terms of economic efficiency and capabilities since it is not expensive.
DATAFOREST uses all scraping tools and develops its own. We are always in touch if you need high-quality, complete information about competitors.
Working Together Is More Efficiently
Websites contain a lot of helpful business info. The extracted data is used depending on how the business wants to get the final information. If web scraping is not possible, APIs come to the rescue. But for maximum data collection efficiency and high quality, combining web scraping and API makes sense.
DATAFOREST is always happy to use various data science tools to benefit customers. Need business insights driven by big data? Let's find them together!
What is the difference between web scraping and API approaches?
Web scraping is extracting data from a website by parsing the HTML and other data on the web page. Web scraping service is generally used when no official API is available for accessing the data or when the open API does not provide the required data.
API, on the other hand, stands for Application Programming Interface, which is a set of protocols, tools, and standards for building software applications. APIs provide a standardized way for different applications to communicate and exchange data.
The key difference between web scraping and API is that web scraping involves extracting data by analyzing the HTML and other data in a web page, while API means accessing data through a predefined interface provided by the website or web service.
How to navigate the choice between web scraping and API?
Choosing between web scraping and API for your data needs depends on a few factors, such as the type of data you need, the purpose of your data harvesting, and the availability of an API.
If the website you want to extract data from has an API available, it is generally recommended to use the API as it is designed specifically for accessing the data and is likely to be more reliable and efficient.
However, web scraping may be the only option if no API is available or the API needs to provide the required data. In this case, you should ensure that web scraping is legal and ethical and that you have the necessary technical skills to perform web scraping effectively.
Is it possible to use web scraping and API together?
Yes, web scraping and APIs can be used together in many cases. APIs provide structured and organized data that can be accessed programmatically, while web scraping is used to extract data from websites that may not have an API or to extract additional data not provided by an API.
For example, you want to collect data about books from a website that has an API, but it only provides a limited set of data. In that case, you can use web scraping techniques to extract additional info such as customer reviews, ratings, and comments from the website.
Web scraping and API: which method is more reliable?
The reliability of either approach depends on several factors, including the website or API's stability, the code's quality, and the data's accuracy. It's essential to evaluate the pros and cons of each approach and choose the one that best suits your specific use case.
APIs are more reliable because they provide structured data that is designed to be accessed programmatically. On the other hand, web scraping relies on extracting data from websites, which can be less reliable because website content and structure can change without notice.
What is more efficient from an economic point of view — web scraping or API?
In some cases, APIs can be more cost-effective because they are designed to provide specific data and can be accessed with a few lines of code, reducing development and maintenance costs. In other cases, web scraping can be more cost effective because it allows one to extract data from websites without an API or obtain more data than what an API provides.
Do web scraping and APIs collect real-time data?
Both web scraping and APIs can be used for real-time data extraction, and the choice depends on the specific use case and data sources. If real-time data access is critical, an API may be more suitable. You can request the API server to return the requested data in real-time.
Why is web scraping better than API?
Here they are:
· Web scraping allows you to extract any data you need from a website, regardless of whether an API provides it.
· Web scraping can extract data from websites that do not provide an API, making it a valuable tool for accessing information that would otherwise be inaccessible.
· Web scraping can be more cost-effective than using an API, especially if the amount of data needed is relatively small, and the website is easy to scrape.
· Web scraping can be used for real-time data extraction, especially for websites that update their content frequently and do not provide an API.
· With web scraping, you have more control over the data mining process, including the data format, data cleaning, and data storage.
Why is API better than web scraping?
There are several advantages to API using over web scraping:
· APIs provide structured data designed to be accessed programmatically, making it easier to work with data analytics.
· APIs typically come with support and documentation, which can help you get started quickly and ensure you use the API correctly.
· APIs can provide more secure data access than web scraping, which can put a higher load on the website and may be considered unethical or illegal, depending on the website's terms of service.
· APIs can handle large amounts of data API requests, making them more scalable than web scraping, which may put a higher load on the website and be subject to rate limiting or IP blocking.
· APIs are usually more stable and require less maintenance than web scraping, which relies on the website structure and content that can change without notice.
Are there risks when using web scraping or APIs?
Risks of web scraping: it may be considered unethical or illegal; it can be technically challenging; it can put a higher load on the website and can result in data that is incomplete or inaccurate.
Risks of APIs: APIs may require payment for data access, and there may be limits; APIs can be technically challenging to work with; APIs can change their versions, which may result in compatibility issues, and APIs may provide inconsistent or outdated data.