Python Web Scraping Prices

Table of Contents

Feb 01, 2020 Continuing on with the scraping, we search the page to find all of the div containers, and dive in a bit further to find the features we want to work with. I found that each row of the financial data is stored within a div container with a common class attribute of ‘D(tbr)’. In the example below there are additional pieces of data in the. The question clearly asks for a Python solution, your answer is highly appreciated, but isn't required in this context as it's written in Java. – user5530332 Jan 17 '19 at 5:54 Sorry but this is not Python as mentioned in the question and in the tags – Laurent Feb 27 '19 at 8:44. Clearly, Python is an extremely versatile language, and there’s a lot you can do with it. But you can’t do everything with it. In fact, there are some things that Python is not very well suited for at all. As an interpreted language, Python has trouble interacting with low-level devices, like device drivers.

Introduction to web scraping

Web scraping is one of the tools at a developer’s disposal when looking to gather data from the internet. While consuming data via an API has become commonplace, most of the websites online don’t have an API for delivering data to consumers. In order to access the data they’re looking for, web scrapers and crawlers read a website’s pages and feeds, analyzing the site’s structure and markup language for clues. Generally speaking, information collected from scraping is fed into other programs for validation, cleaning, and input into a datastore or its fed onto other processes such as natural language processing (NLP) toolchains or machine learning (ML) models. There are a few Python packages we could use to illustrate with, but we’ll focus on Scrapy for these examples. Scrapy makes it very easy for us to quickly prototype and develop web scrapers with Python.

Scrapy vs. Selenium and Beautiful Soup

If you’re interested in getting into Python’s other packages for web scraping, we’ve laid it out here:

Scrapy concepts

Before we start looking at specific examples and use cases, let’s brush up a bit on Scrapy and how it works.

Spiders: Scrapy uses Spiders to define how a site (or a bunch of sites) should be scraped for information. Scrapy lets us determine how we want the spider to crawl, what information we want to extract, and how we can extract it. Specifically, Spiders are Python classes where we’ll put all of our custom logic and behavior.

Selectors:Selectors are Scrapy’s mechanisms for finding data within the website’s pages. They’re called selectors because they provide an interface for “selecting” certain parts of the HTML page, and these selectors can be in either CSS or XPath expressions.

Items:Items are the data that is extracted from selectors in a common data model. Since our goal is a structured result from unstructured inputs, Scrapy provides an Item class which we can use to define how our scraped data should be structured and what fields it should have.

Reddit-less front page

Suppose we love the images posted to Reddit, but don’t want any of the comments or self posts. We can use Scrapy to make a Reddit Spider that will fetch all the photos from the front page and put them on our own HTML page which we can then browse instead of Reddit.

To start, we’ll create a RedditSpider which we can use traverse the front page and handle custom behavior.

Above, we’ve defined a RedditSpider, inheriting Scrapy’s Spider. We’ve named it reddit and have populated the class’ start_urls attribute with a URL to Reddit from which we’ll extract the images.

At this point, we’ll need to begin defining our parsing logic. We need to figure out an expression that the RedditSpider can use to determine whether it’s found an image. If we look at Reddit’s robots.txt file, we can see that our spider can’t crawl any comment pages without being in violation of the robots.txt file, so we’ll need to grab our image URLs without following through to the comment pages.

By looking at Reddit, we can see that external links are included on the homepage directly next to the post’s title. We’ll update RedditSpider to include a parser to grab this URL. Reddit includes the external URL as a link on the page, so we should be able to just loop through the links on the page and find URLs that are for images.

In a parse method on our RedditSpider class, I’ve started to define how we’ll be parsing our response for results. To start, we grab all of the href attributes from the page’s links using a basic XPath selector. Now that we’re enumerating the page’s links, we can start to analyze the links for images.

To actually access the text information from the link’s href attribute, we use Scrapy’s .get() function which will return the link destination as a string. Next, we check to see if the URL contains an image file extension. We use Python’s any() built-in function for this. This isn’t all-encompassing for all image file extensions, but it’s a start. From here we can push our images into a local HTML file for viewing.

To start, we begin collecting the HTML file contents as a string which will be written to a file called frontpage.html at the end of the process. You’ll notice that instead of pulling the image location from the ‘//a/@href/‘, we’ve updated our links selector to use the image’s src attribute: ‘//img/@src’. This will give us more consistent results, and select only images.

As our RedditSpider’s parser finds images it builds a link with a preview image and dumps the string to our html variable. Once we’ve collected all of the images and generated the HTML, we open the local HTML file (or create it) and overwrite it with our new HTML content before closing the file again with page.close(). If we run scrapy runspider reddit.py, we can see that this file is built properly and contains images from Reddit’s front page.

But, it looks like it contains all of the images from Reddit’s front page – not just user-posted content. Let’s update our parse command a bit to blacklist certain domains from our results.

If we look at frontpage.html, we can see that most of Reddit’s assets come from redditstatic.com and redditmedia.com. We’ll just filter those results out and retain everything else. With these updates, our RedditSpider class now looks like the below:

We’re simply adding our domain whitelist to an exclusionary any()expression. These statements could be tweaked to read from a separate configuration file, local database, or cache – if need be.

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Extracting Amazon price data

If you’re running an ecommerce website, intelligence is key. With Scrapy we can easily automate the process of collecting information about our competitors, our market, or our listings.

For this task, we’ll extract pricing data from search listings on Amazon and use the results to provide some basic insights. If we visit Amazon’s search results page and inspect it, we notice that Amazon stores the price in a series of divs, most notably using a class called .a-offscreen. We can formulate a CSS selector that extracts the price off the page:

Python

With this CSS selector in mind, let’s build our AmazonSpider.

A few things to note about our AmazonSpider class: convert_money(): This helper simply converts strings formatted like ‘$45.67’ and casts them to a Python Decimal type which can be used for computations and avoids issues with locale by not including a ‘$’ anywhere in the regular expression. getall(): The .getall() function is a Scrapy function that works similar to the .get() function we used before, but this returns all the extracted values as a list which we can work with. Running the command scrapy runspider amazon.py in the project folder will dump output resembling the following:

It’s easy to imagine building a dashboard that allows you to store scraped values in a datastore and visualize data as you see fit.

Considerations at scale

As you build more web crawlers and you continue to follow more advanced scraping workflows you’ll likely notice a few things:

  1. Sites change, now more than ever.
  2. Getting consistent results across thousands of pages is tricky.
  3. Performance considerations can be crucial.

Sites change, now more than ever

On occasion, AliExpress for example, will return a login page rather than search listings. Sometimes Amazon will decide to raise a Captcha, or Twitter will return an error. While these errors can sometimes simply be flickers, others will require a complete re-architecture of your web scrapers. Nowadays, modern front-end frameworks are oftentimes pre-compiled for the browser which can mangle class names and ID strings, sometimes a designer or developer will change an HTML class name during a redesign. It’s important that our Scrapy crawlers are resilient, but keep in mind that changes will occur over time.

Getting consistent results across thousands of pages is tricky

Slight variations of user-inputted text can really add up. Think of all of the different spellings and capitalizations you may encounter in just usernames. Pre-processing text, normalizing text, and standardizing text before performing an action or storing the value is best practice before most NLP or ML software processes for best results.

Performance considerations can be crucial

You’ll want to make sure you’re operating at least moderately efficiently before attempting to process 10,000 websites from your laptop one night. As your dataset grows it becomes more and more costly to manipulate it in terms of memory or processing power. In a similar regard, you may want to extract the text from one news article at a time, rather than downloading all 10,000 articles at once. As we’ve seen in this tutorial, performing advanced scraping operations is actually quite easy using Scrapy’s framework. Some advanced next steps might include loading selectors from a database and scraping using very generic Spider classes, or by using proxies or modified user-agents to see if the HTML changes based on location or device type. Scraping in the real world becomes complicated because of all the edge cases, Scrapy provides an easy way to build this logic in Python.

This post is a part of Kite’s new series on Python. You can check out the code from this and other posts on our GitHub repository.

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Once you’ve put together enough web scrapers, you start to feel like you can do it in your sleep. I’ve probably built hundreds of scrapers over the years for my own projects, as well as for clients and students in my web scraping course.

Occasionally though, I find myself referencing documentation or re-reading old code looking for snippets I can reuse. One of the students in my course suggested I put together a “cheat sheet” of commonly used code snippets and patterns for easy reference.

I decided to publish it publicly as well – as an organized set of easy-to-reference notes – in case they’re helpful to others.

While it’s written primarily for people who are new to programming, I also hope that it’ll be helpful to those who already have a background in software or python, but who are looking to learn some web scraping fundamentals and concepts.

Table of Contents:

  1. Extracting Content from HTML
  2. Storing Your Data
  3. More Advanced Topics

Useful Libraries

For the most part, a scraping program deals with making HTTP requests and parsing HTML responses.

I always make sure I have requests and BeautifulSoup installed before I begin a new scraping project. From the command line:

Then, at the top of your .py file, make sure you’ve imported these libraries correctly.

Making Simple Requests

Make a simple GET request (just fetching a page)

Make a POST requests (usually used when sending information to the server like submitting a form)

Pass query arguments aka URL parameters (usually used when making a search query or paging through results)

Inspecting the Response

See what response code the server sent back (useful for detecting 4XX or 5XX errors)

Access the full response as text (get the HTML of the page in a big string)

Look for a specific substring of text within the response

Check the response’s Content Type (see if you got back HTML, JSON, XML, etc)

Extracting Content from HTML

Python Web Scraping Prices

Now that you’ve made your HTTP request and gotten some HTML content, it’s time to parse it so that you can extract the values you’re looking for.

Using Regular Expressions

Using Regular Expressions to look for HTML patterns is famously NOT recommended at all.

However, regular expressions are still useful for finding specific string patterns like prices, email addresses or phone numbers.

Run a regular expression on the response text to look for specific string patterns:

Using BeautifulSoup

BeautifulSoup is widely used due to its simple API and its powerful extraction capabilities. It has many different parser options that allow it to understand even the most poorly written HTML pages – and the default one works great.

Compared to libraries that offer similar functionality, it’s a pleasure to use. To get started, you’ll have to turn the HTML text that you got in the response into a nested, DOM-like structure that you can traverse and search

Look for all anchor tags on the page (useful if you’re building a crawler and need to find the next pages to visit)

Look for all tags with a specific class attribute (eg <li>...</li>)

Look for the tag with a specific ID attribute (eg: <div>...</div>)

Look for nested patterns of tags (useful for finding generic elements, but only within a specific section of the page)

Look for all tags matching CSS selectors (similar query to the last one, but might be easier to write for someone who knows CSS)

Get a list of strings representing the inner contents of a tag (this includes both the text nodes as well as the text representation of any other nested HTML tags within)

Return only the text contents within this tag, but ignore the text representation of other HTML tags (useful for stripping our pesky <span>, <strong>, <i>, or other inline tags that might show up sometimes)

Convert the text that are extracting from unicode to ascii if you’re having issues printing it to the console or writing it to files

Get the attribute of a tag (useful for grabbing the src attribute of an <img> tag or the href attribute of an <a> tag)

Putting several of these concepts together, here’s a common idiom: iterating over a bunch of container tags and pull out content from each of them

Using XPath Selectors

BeautifulSoup doesn’t currently support XPath selectors, and I’ve found them to be really terse and more of a pain than they’re worth. I haven’t found a pattern I couldn’t parse using the above methods.

If you’re really dedicated to using them for some reason, you can use the lxml library instead of BeautifulSoup, as described here.

Storing Your Data

Now that you’ve extracted your data from the page, it’s time to save it somewhere.

Note: The implication in these examples is that the scraper went out and collected all of the items, and then waited until the very end to iterate over all of them and write them to a spreadsheet or database.

I did this to simplify the code examples. In practice, you’d want to store the values you extract from each page as you go, so that you don’t lose all of your progress if you hit an exception towards the end of your scrape and have to go back and re-scrape every page.

Writing to a CSV

Probably the most basic thing you can do is write your extracted items to a CSV file. By default, each row that is passed to the csv.writer object to be written has to be a python list.

In order for the spreadsheet to make sense and have consistent columns, you need to make sure all of the items that you’ve extracted have their properties in the same order. This isn’t usually a problem if the lists are created consistently.

If you’re extracting lots of properties about each item, sometimes it’s more useful to store the item as a python dict instead of having to remember the order of columns within a row. The csv module has a handy DictWriter that keeps track of which column is for writing which dict key.

Writing to a SQLite Database

You can also use a simple SQL insert if you’d prefer to store your data in a database for later querying and retrieval.

More Advanced Topics

These aren’t really things you’ll need if you’re building a simple, small scale scraper for 90% of websites. But they’re useful tricks to keep up your sleeve.

Javascript Heavy Websites

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need any special tools to scrape websites that load their content via Javascript. In order for the information to get from their server and show up on a page in your browser, that information had to have been returned in an HTTP response somewhere.

It usually means that you won’t be making an HTTP request to the page’s URL that you see at the top of your browser window, but instead you’ll need to find the URL of the AJAX request that’s going on in the background to fetch the data from the server and load it into the page.

Python Web Scraping Prices List

There’s not really an easy code snippet I can show here, but if you open the Chrome or Firefox Developer Tools, you can load the page, go to the “Network” tab and then look through the all of the requests that are being sent in the background to find the one that’s returning the data you’re looking for. Start by filtering the requests to only XHR or JS to make this easier.

Once you find the AJAX request that returns the data you’re hoping to scrape, then you can make your scraper send requests to this URL, instead of to the parent page’s URL. If you’re lucky, the response will be encoded with JSON which is even easier to parse than HTML.

Content Inside Iframes

This is another topic that causes a lot of hand wringing for no reason. Sometimes the page you’re trying to scrape doesn’t actually contain the data in its HTML, but instead it loads the data inside an iframe.

Again, it’s just a matter of making the request to the right URL to get the data back that you want. Make a request to the outer page, find the iframe, and then make another HTTP request to the iframe’s src attribute.

Sessions and Cookies

While HTTP is stateless, sometimes you want to use cookies to identify yourself consistently across requests to the site you’re scraping.

The most common example of this is needing to login to a site in order to access protected pages. Without the correct cookies sent, a request to the URL will likely be redirected to a login form or presented with an error response.

However, once you successfully login, a session cookie is set that identifies who you are to the website. As long as future requests send this cookie along, the site knows who you are and what you have access to.

Delays and Backing Off

If you want to be polite and not overwhelm the target site you’re scraping, you can introduce an intentional delay or lag in your scraper to slow it down

Python Web Scraping Tools

Some also recommend adding a backoff that’s proportional to how long the site took to respond to your request. That way if the site gets overwhelmed and starts to slow down, your code will automatically back off.

Spoofing the User Agent

By default, the requests library sets the User-Agent header on each request to something like “python-requests/2.12.4”. You might want to change it to identify your web scraper, perhaps providing a contact email address so that an admin from the target website can reach out if they see you in their logs.

More commonly, this is used to make it appear that the request is coming from a normal web browser, and not a web scraping program.

Using Proxy Servers

Even if you spoof your User Agent, the site you are scraping can still see your IP address, since they have to know where to send the response.

If you’d like to obfuscate where the request is coming from, you can use a proxy server in between you and the target site. The scraped site will see the request coming from that server instead of your actual scraping machine.

If you’d like to make your requests appear to be spread out across many IP addresses, then you’ll need access to many different proxy servers. You can keep track of them in a list and then have your scraping program simply go down the list, picking off the next one for each new request, so that the proxy servers get even rotation.

Setting Timeouts

If you’re experiencing slow connections and would prefer that your scraper moved on to something else, you can specify a timeout on your requests.

Handling Network Errors

Just as you should never trust user input in web applications, you shouldn’t trust the network to behave well on large web scraping projects. Eventually you’ll hit closed connections, SSL errors or other intermittent failures.

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more about web scraping, I currently have an ebook and online course that I offer, as well as a free sandbox website that’s designed to be easy for beginners to scrape.

You can also subscribe to my blog to get emailed when I release new articles.