HTTP Headers and Web Scraping Guide for Beginners

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Market research and market intelligence play a major role in every business. A company that does not understand the market operates on sheer luck.

Data collected through market research enables a business to:

  1. Understand what the customer needs
  2. Know the latest trends in the market
  3. Understand consumer behavior
  4. Compare the performance of various products in the market 

Through the data obtained and insights derived, it becomes easy to come up with effective strategies and make decisions that gear the business towards profitability. 

Although HTTP headers for web scraping are not mandatory, they can make the process easier. Before getting into the details of these benefits, let’s understand the two main terms. 

Defining Web Scraping

Web scraping refers to the use of intelligent scraping tools to retrieve large amounts of data from websites. 

A web scraper extracts data from the websites quickly and accurately. The data collected can be price, product details, contact information, and customer reviews. The tool then transfers the data collected into a file in the computer or database. 

Some websites are keen on preventing web scraping in their sites. They quickly block any IP address displaying suspicious tendencies. Web scraping with the use of properly configured HTTP headers reduces the chances of detection. 

What is an HTTP Header?

An HTTP header allows the exchange of additional information between a client and a server. The additional information can be in the request or the response. It is an optional parameter in the transaction. And the HTTP request and response can each have a different HTTP header. 

In simple terms, HTTP headers act as the code that facilitates the transfer of data between a server and a browser.

The HTTP header is made up of a case-insensitive name, next is a colon, and then value, ignoring leading whitespace. Configuring the HTTP header correctly is vital. It will prevent the web server from detecting your web scraper and blocking your IP address. 

The Importance of Http Headers for Web Scraping

When browsing, you key in a URL in the address bar of your device, and it sends an HTTP request header to your server. The request header has details about the browser making the request.

After the HTTP response header receives the request, it prompts the server to respond with an HTTP response header back to your browser. The HTTP response header carries information regarding the file sent back to you and the server.  

Here are the benefits these communications can have.

1) It Prevents Blocks

The user-agent HTTP request header enables the network protocol to identify the user making the request. It contains details of the requesting software user agent such as operating system, type of browser, and version. To avoid getting blocked, ensure your browser has a valid user-agent string.

2) Automated Log-in 

The server can send a set-cookie to the user’s request. The user can then store and send it back with a cookie request. It makes it possible to tell if a request is coming from the same user and keep them logged-in. Cookies can enhance your web-scraping experience by reducing the time needed to log-in to previously visited websites. It also increases the speed of the connection.

3) To Obtain Relevant Data

The server may send an accept-language request HTTP header when it can’t identify the language preferred using URL or other ways. Ensure that the request sets a language that is relevant to your IP location and data-target domain. Requesting multiple languages under the same IP address could have you blocked.    

4) You can Save on Storage Space

An accept-encoding request header goes to the server to ask for a compression algorithm. It communicates that a user is willing to accept compressed information. This is beneficial in that by receiving compressed data, you can save on storage space and traffic volume.  

5) To Have a More Organic Communication with the Server

A user can communicate with the web server on the type of data format it should respond to the user using the accept request header. A well-configured accept request header will result in more organic communication between you and the server. It reduces the chances of detection and getting blocked. 

Winding up, web scraping is an effective method of obtaining data from websites and using the data to gain market insights. But it can attract the attention of website owners and have your IP address blocked from access. 

To prevent blocks, optimize on HTTP headers. As long as you configure the HTTP headers correctly, it will promote a more organic interaction between your device and the web server. It also makes the web scraping process smoother. 

By the use of cookies and requesting compressed data, you save on space, traffic volume, and time used logging in to numerous sites.

HTTP headers for web scraping also increase the quality and relevance of the data collected, and this, in turn, produces more accurate market insights.

Avatar
Marie Foster
Marie Foster is a reporter based in UK. Marie has also worked as a columnist for the various news sites.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Very interesting post.this is my first-time visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog, thanks for the post.

  2. Website security is among the top 10 ranking factors used by Google since they are a strong advocate of creating a secure web. If you have the budget for it you should get an SSL certificate and moving your website from HTTP to HTTPS now. Don’t you agree?

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