The incredible amount of data on the Internet is a rich resource for any field of research or personal interest. To effectively harvest that data, you’ll need to become skilled at web scraping. The Python libraries requests and Beautiful Soup are powerful tools for this job.
Web scrapping is the process of gathering information from the Internet. Even copy-pasting the lyrics of your favorite song is a form of web scraping! However, the words “web scraping” usually refer to a process that involves automation. Some websites don’t like it when automatic scrapers gather their data, while others don’t mind.
Why Scrape the Web?
Say you’re a surfer (both online and in real life) and you’re looking for employment. However, you’re not looking for just any job. With a surfer’s mindset, you’re waiting for the perfect opportunity to roll your way!
There’s a job site that you like that offers exactly the kinds of jobs you’re looking for. Unfortunately, a new position only pops up once in a blue moon. You think about checking up on it every day, but that doesn’t sound like the most fun and productive way to spend your time.
Thankfully, the world offers other ways to apply that surfer’s mindset! Instead of looking at the job site every day, you can use Python to help automate the repetitive parts of your job search. Automated web scraping can be a solution to speed up the data collection process. You write your code once and it will get the information you want many times and from many pages.
In contrast, when you try to get the information you want manually, you might spend a lot of time clicking, scrolling, and searching. This is especially true if you need large amounts of data from websites that are regularly updated with new content. Manual web scraping can take a lot of time and repetition.
There’s so much information on the Web, and new information is constantly added. Something among all that data is likely of interest to you, and much of it is just out there for the taking. Whether you’re actually on the job hunt, gathering data to support your grassroots organization, or are finally looking to get all the lyrics from your favorite artist downloaded to your computer, automated web scraping can help you accomplish your goals.
What is Beautiful Soup?
Beautiful Soup is a pure Python library for extracting structured data from a website. It allows you to parse data from HTML and XML files. It acts as a helper module and interacts with HTML in a similar and better way as to how you would interact with a web page using other available developer tools.
- It usually saves programmers hours or days of work since it works with your favorite parsers like lxml and html5lib to provide organic Python ways of navigating, searching, and modifying the parse tree.
- Another powerful and useful feature of beautiful soup is its intelligence to convert the documents being fetched to Unicode and outgoing documents to UTF-8. As a developer, you do not have to take care of that unless the document intrinsic doesn’t specify an encoding or Beautiful Soup is unable to detect one.
- It is also considered to be faster when compared to other general parsing or scraping techniques.
Types of Parsers