Build a Crawler to Extract Web Data in 10 Mins

5 min read

Web crawling makes it possible for all people to gather large amounts of data efficiently and save much time and effort. With the help of no-coding web crawling tools, people that know nothing about coding, ie. non-coders, are not excluded from utilizing this technology. In this article, we will introduce you to what web crawling is, the steps to crawl a website, as well as how a no-code web crawling tool can help. 

Web Crawling Basics

What is Web Crawling?

Web crawling refers to the process of extracting specific HTML data from certain websites by using a program or automated script. A web crawler is an Internet bot that systematically browses the World Wide Web, typically for creating search engine indices. Companies like Google or Facebook use web crawling to collect data all the time.

Simply put, we can view a web crawler as a particular program designed to crawl websites in orientation and glean data. However, we are unable to get the URL address of all web pages within a website containing many web pages in advance. Thus, what concerns us is how to fetch all the HTML web pages from a website.

Traverse All the URLs

traverse all the urls

 Normally, we could define an entry page: One web page contains URLs of other web pages, then we could retrieve these URLs from the current page and add all of these affiliated URLs into the crawling queue. Next, we crawl another page and repeat the same process as the first one recursively. Essentially, we could assume the crawling scheme is a depth-search or breadth-traversal. And as long as we could access the Internet and analyze the web page, we could crawl a website. Fortunately, most programming languages offer HTTP client libraries to crawl web pages, and we can even use regular expressions for HTML analysis.

  • General Web Crawler Algorithm
  • Start with a list of initial URLs, called the seeds.
  • Visit these URLs.
  • Retrieve the required information from the page.
  • Identify all the hyperlinks on the page.
  • Add the links to the queue of URLs, called crawler frontier.
  • Recursively visit the URLs from the crawler frontier.

How to Crawl a Website?

crawl a website

Two Major Steps to Build a Web Crawler

To build a web crawler, one must-do step is to download the web pages. This is not easy since many factors need to be taken into consideration, like how to better leverage the local bandwidth, how to optimize DNS queries, and how to release the traffic in the server by assigning web requests reasonably.

After we fetch the web pages, the HTML pages complexity analysis follows. In fact, we can’t get all HTML web pages straight. And here comes another issue. How to retrieve the content generated by Javascript when AJAX is used everywhere for dynamic websites? Plus, the Spider Trap occurring frequently on the Internet would make an infinite number of requests or cause a poorly constructed crawler to crash.

While there are many things we should be aware of when building a web crawler, in most cases, we just want to create a crawler for a specific website. Thus, we’d better do deep research on the structure of target websites and pick up some valuable links to keep track of, in order to prevent extra costs on redundant or junk URLs. Also, we could try to only crawl what we are interested in from the target website by following a predefined sequence if we could find out a proper crawling path concerning the web structure.

For example, if we’d like to crawl the content from mindhack.cn, and we have found two types of pages that we are interested in:

1. Article Lists, such as the main page, or the URL with /page/\d+/ and etc.

By inspecting Firebug, we could find out that the link of each article is an “a Tag” under h1.

2. Article Content, such as /2008/09/11/machine-learning-and-ai-resources/, which includes complete article content.

Thus, we could start with the main page, and retrieve other links from the entry page – wp-pagenavi. Specifically, we need to define a path: We only follow the next page, which means we could traverse all the pages from start to end, and be set free from a repetitive judgment. Then, the concrete article links within the list page will be the URLs we’d like to store.

  • Some Tips for Crawling
  • Crawl Depth – How many clicks from the entry page do you want the crawler to traverse? In most cases, a depth of 5 is enough for crawling from most websites.
  • Distributed Crawling – The crawler will attempt to crawl the pages at the same time.
  • Pause – The length of time the crawler pause before crawling to the next page.
  • The faster you set the crawler, the harder it will be on the server (At least 5-10 seconds between page clicks).
  • URL template – The template will determine which pages the crawler wants data from.
  • Save log – A saved log will store which URLs were visited and which were converted into data. It is used for debugging and prevents crawling a visited site repeatedly.

An Automatic Web Crawling Tool

We can say a web crawler collects data thoroughly as everything on the web will eventually be found and spidered if it keeps visiting pages; however, it is also really time-consuming as it needs to go through all the links and it will drive you crazy when you have to recrawl every page to get the latest information.

In addition, other significant tactical challenges exist today in the world which come along with web crawling:

  • IP address blocking by target websites
  • Non-uniform or irregular web structures
  • AJAX loaded content
  • Real-time latency
  • Anti-Crawling aggressive website

Tackling all the issues is not an easy task, and it may be even troublesome. Fortunately, now you don’t need to crawl a website the way it used to be and get stuck in a technical problem. A new method to crawl data from target websites is proposed alternatively. Users will not be required to deal with complex configurations or coding to build a crawler by themselves. Instead, they could concentrate more on data analysis in their respective business domains.

This method I’d mention is Octoparse, a precise tool for web scraping purposes. Not only does it save the amount of time for downloading the exact set of data that you want, but it also intelligently exports data into a structured format such as a spreadsheet or database. 

As a no-coding tool, Octoparse makes crawling available for everyone. Users could use the built-in templates and APIs to crawl data with a user-friendly point & click UI. Many other extensions are offered in this application to deal with the rising issues within a few configuring steps. Troubles are wrestled in a more efficient way with its powerful functions including:

  • IP proxy servers to prevent IP blocking
  • Built-in Regex Tool to re-format data fields
  • AJAX setting to load dynamic content
  • Cloud service to split the task and speed up extraction, etc.

Till now, Octoparse has helped users to build their own data crawlers in the amount of 3,000,000. Every user can create crawlers with points and clicks.

To learn more about this web crawler software, you may check out the video below to learn how to get started with Octoparse and begin your crawling.   

If you’re interested in more cases of crawling data with Octoparse, come to our case tutorial site or contact us to see how we can help you make your own crawler!

More resources for web crawling study applied in different cases:

Scrape search results from Google Scholar

Web Scraping for Sports Stats

Hot posts

Explore topics

Get web automation tips right into your inbox
Subscribe to get Octoparse monthly newsletters about web scraping solutions, product updates, etc.

Get started with Octoparse today


Related Articles