Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) provide access to systems developed and maintained by other companies. They facilitate communication between two applications, allowing them to send and receive data. When used in the context of web scraping, which refers to the process of extracting data from a website, APIs enable developers who may not wish to create web scrapers from scratch to access powerful scraping tools at a fee. This has given rise to the concept of scraper APIs. But, given there is a technical programming aspect, are scraper APIs becoming more user-friendly to accommodate parties that may not have a programming background? This article aims to answer this question. But first, what is a scraper API?
What is a Scraper API?
A scraper API is a powerful data extraction tool designed for developers looking to add web scraping capabilities to their web-based applications. It is designed to eliminate the need for developers to expend unnecessary time and resources, equipping their systems with a capability that they may not use frequently. Therefore, the scraper API supports and provides on-demand web scraping services as and when needed.
To learn more about a real-life example of a quality Scraper API, read this article from Oxylabs.
The basic functionality of the scraper API is simple. First, it receives GET or POST requests from a third-party application detailing the websites from which to extract the data. Next, it extracts the relevant data from the sites through a process known as parsing and stores it in a structured format using file systems such as JSON or CSV. Lastly, it sends the files containing the retrieved back to the developer’s application via an API.
For instance, a scraper API is used in the following ways:
- To extract keyword data from search engine results pages (SERP) in order to create search engine optimization strategies
- Monitoring prices on search engines
- Reputation monitoring
- Review monitoring
- Competitor analysis and market research
Indeed, scraper APIs offer numerous benefits. But how user-friendly are they, and has the user-friendliness improved with time?
User Friendliness of Scraper APIs
A scraper API solves three disadvantages of web APIs highlighted in a 2020 study. First, the study mentioned that web APIs are not standardized. This makes them hard to understand even by programmers. Additionally, this means that a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply, given that the proposed standard query GUI only applied to web APIs for which a specification existed. Lastly, they must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. This implies that the use of web APIs to extract data from websites may not apply to large-scale web scraping projects.
The scraper API solves these problems. It utilizes powerful web scraping tools that are capable of handling even the most complex web page structures. Its pool of proxies, which are rotated frequently, prevent anti-scraping measures such as IP blocking or CAPTCHA puzzles from kicking into action. This is because the scraper mimics human browsing behavior. It also supports numerous requests per second, making it ideal for large-scale projects.
Additionally, a scraper API takes a different approach from a web API. While the latter facilitates communication with the back-end system, circumventing the need to access the front end, the former does the opposite. It establishes communication with the developer’s applications, automatically sending them extracted and structured data instead of raw data, as is the case with the web API.
Lastly, the scraper API’s service providers often provide detailed documentation to help their clients set up the scraper API. So, are scraper APIs becoming more user-friendly? Yes, they are. With that out of the way, let’s discuss how to use a scraper API.
How to Use a Scraper API
It is noteworthy that the procedures vary from one service provider to another. It is therefore essential to go through the documentation first. Nonetheless, here is a simple procedure on how to start scraping using a scraper API:
- Open your terminal, and, using a curl function, input your API user credentials
- You will then choose the integration method you desire and type it as part of the URL identifying the exact location of the scraper API
- Open the web scraping function
- Add to the code the parameters that will enable you to narrow down the volume of data extracted based on your preferences and requirements. For instance, you can set the geo-location, parsing requirement, parsing type, and more. You should also specify the output you would like the scraper API to send during this step.
- Enclose the function
Scraper APIs are becoming more user-friendly because they are inherently different from standard web APIs, which require a programming background. They enable developers to connect their applications with powerful scraping tools. This arrangement facilitates successful data extraction by relying on the scraper’s built-in features such as proxies, CAPTCHA-solving services, and more.