What’s the Difference between Web Scraping and Screen Scraping

5 min read

When it comes to data extraction, there are variable terms such as data scraping, web scraping, and screen scraping. What are the differences? Generally speaking, they are all techniques to gather data for different uses and sometimes can be used interchangeably. Under certain circumstances, they may differ.

What Is Data Scraping?

Data scraping is a process that undertakes the automatic capturing of data on websites, applications, or legacy systems. As data or information is scattered around a great number of different places on the Internet, data scraping is a powerful technique for people to integrate needed data and information spanning across various channels. It’s also one of the most efficient ways to get data from the web, and in some cases to channel that data to another website.

The basics of data scraping are relatively easy to master. In general, it is a technique that helps you to get the needed data. Data scraping is a broad concept, it includes different branches. 

Below we will look into two main branches of data scraping in more detail: Web Scraping and Screen Scraping.  

Web Scraping: Scraping Data from Websites

We browse websites using a browser. That’s because the information is written in an HTML form and the browser is the tool to help display it in a readable way. Scraping data from websites is very much like human behaviors browsing over a number of sites. The difference is that to get information available in a local file, web scraping extracts data from web pages into neatly organized documents for download.

Web scraping can be done manually and automatically. Manually here refers you copy and paste all the data from the websites. Automatically means using web scrapers to do the scraping work. There’s no doubt, using a web scraping tool is faster and more accurate than doing it manually. Some of the web scraping tools are capable of API connection. API is the acronym for Application Programming Interface, which is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. In this case, the application can be tuned to work in harmony with another system. As they are well connected, scraped data in the application will be simultaneously updated on the given system. 

Web scraping plays an important role in data scraping that generates business values. It is used in different industries. The use of web scraping may be more extensive than you think, ranging from e-commerce, consulting industry, and journalism to gambling. Web scraping is way more than you think. Let’s take look at a few use cases.

Web scraping is widely used in cases like:

  • E-commerce Marketing: with scheduled scraping, users can get real-time data from various online marketplaces simultaneously. Pricing information can be used for price monitoring. Sensational analysis can be made as buyers’ reviews are scraped. Data such as sales, stocks, and rankings will help marketers make wiser decisions.
  • Content Aggregation: many people and businesses are making money by sourcing valuable content online, reworking and aggregating them into an organized structure. People would love to pay for such a service to prevent themselves from being swallowed by a sea of information. Building a job board is a bit like this – gathering valuable job postings from different channels. However, there is more about content aggregation.
  • Academic Research: Octoparse is serving more than 400 educational institutes in support of their research projects, both quantitative and qualitative. Research topics involve financial data, the development of a specific industry, linguistic studies, social media analysis, etc. 

As we mentioned before, automated tools are recommended because they cost less and work at a faster rate. While there are many web scrapers available to choose from, we obviously recommend Octoparse. Here are the reasons.

Web scraping tool: Octoparse

Octoparse turns web pages into structured spreadsheets with clicks.

  • Free-for-life plan
  • Easy to use with auto-detection of web data
  • Templates to scrape from popular sites like Amazon, Facebook, and Yelp.
  • Advanced functions to keep the process smooth: IP rotation, Schedule scraping, API, and Cloud service.

Octoparse is a handy tool for non-coders to get data from the web and also offers advanced services for enterprises to get specific data. It is friendly for new starters with great user support. You can find tutorials in the Help Center and the community is also available for Q&A. 

More web scraping tools await your exploration.

Screen scraping: scraping data from the screen

Screen scraping is also one of the data scraping techniques. Unlike web scraping, screen scraping does not specifically target information on websites or help parse the information selected. It’s more like a visual detector to extract directly from the computer terminal screen. 

Screen scraping is applicable to scrape information from the UI of the applications or texts from scanned documents (See Copyfish below). OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is applied – if you have ever used a tool to transfer PDF into WORD, you know what I am talking about.

And for many companies, screen scraping is also used to retrieve data from Legacy systems. The system itself is outdated by today’s standards but still contains vital data. For many reasons, rewriting the source code as a way to update the Legacy system could be such a costly project, or even impossible. Thus, people would use screen scraping to get the data from the screen and pass it to a modernized UI for display. In this way, screen scraping can help save heavy IT costs as a modernization solution to an obsolete system. Now, let’s see some screen scraping tools.

Screen scraping tool


“Screen Scraping that works everywhere”

  • Screen OCR for Citrix or virtualized applications
  • Works everywhere – Flash, PDF, Legacy, Siebel
  • Screen scraper – extract screen text from running apps

Uipath offers 100% accurate text capture from applications like MS Office, WPF, PDF, Flash, etc. Besides, Uipath also offers solutions pertaining to automation and Artificial Intelligence.


“Copy, paste, and translate text from any image, video, or PDF.”

Copyfish is a Chrome extension for easy screen scraping. It’s browser-based. You can extract texts from the UI of the browser, no matter if it is an image or a video clip. Anytime you want to copy the content which is protected and not allowed to select by click, this could be a helpful tool to crack it.

Both techniques can be used at the same time to ensure you gather the right type of data properly for your own research. While they are sounded similar, they perform different functions and will be used in different cases. The biggest difference between the two is the goal. You use web scraping tools to extract data on a website, such as URLs, text, or even video while using a screen scraping tool to get visual data that shows on the screen like charts.

Closing Thought

Only profound, solid data analysis can guide corporations with valuable insights and shed light on what decisions should be made to further boost the business. There are many web scraping and screen scraping tools available that can help you with your analysis and project nowadays. Data scraping, therefore, is widely adopted by all businesses. Go through your project, pick a tool, and start your journey on data scraping. The efforts will pay back.

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