If you are serious about your web scraping activities, chances are that you are seeing the importance of using proxies while scraping the web. But how do you go about choosing and managing proxies for web scraping? There are several things to factor in before you decide and the proxy provider you choose plays a major role in the success of your web scraping.
For this reason, we created this ultimate guide to help you get started.
At the end of this article, you will learn:
- What proxies are why you need proxies for scraping
- The types of proxies and proxy solutions
- How many proxies you need
- The legal considerations when using proxies
- Web scraping use cases
What are Proxies and Why You Need Them For Web Scraping
Perhaps the simplest analogy I can use for proxy servers is that they work as a middleman between your web scraping tool and the websites it is scraping. This way, your HTTP request to any website will pass through the proxy server first and the proxy server will be the one to pass on the request to the target website using its credentials.
The target website won’t have any idea that the request is coming from you or a proxy server as they will see it like any normal HTTP request.
The main reason why you need a middleman or a go-between is to hide your scraper’s IP address from all websites to avoid getting blacklisted. The premise for needing proxies for web scraping is made up of three components:
1. Proxies mask your scraper’s IP address: The websites you are scraping will not see your scraping machine’s IP address since the proxy server will use its credentials when sending the request. IP masking is the primary advantage of using proxies, enabling you to remain anonymous despite all the online activities you’re doing.
2. Proxies help you avoid IP blocking: Since the target site can’t see your machine’s original IP address, it can’t block you if in case the machine exceeds the site’s limitations. It will block the proxy IP address instead. Although this scenario is unwanted, the good thing about it is that it’s not the scraper’s IP address that’s blocked and this can easily be remedied by switching to another proxy server.
3. Proxies help you bypass limits set by the target sites: Websites normally use software products that limit the number of requests a user can send in a certain amount of time. When they detect that there is an unusual number of requests coming from a single IP address, they will automatically ban that IP as it exhibits bot-like behaviour.
The limit is not so much with the number of requests per IP address but it’s with how these requests are being sent and the frequency of the requests in a short span of time. If for example, you set your scraper to obtain hundreds of data from a certain website within ten minutes, then that will raise a red flag.
Proxies can help you get around this limitation by distributing the requests among several proxies so that the target site will see that the requests came from different users. Spreading out the requests over a number of proxies will not alarm the target site’s rate-limiting software.
Generally, proxies also have benefits that you can take advantage of even when you are not scraping the web. Here is a couple of them:
1. Faster load times: Proxy servers cache data the first time you request for it. The next time a request for the same data is received, the proxy server returns the cached data, saving precious time and making load times shorter.
2. Better security: By using a proxy, you can filter out malicious requests and users so they can’t access your website. Proxies can provide you with an added layer of protection aside from the other benefits discussed above.
The Types of Proxies
Proxies can be public, shared, or dedicated. For web scraping activities, the best choice is dedicated proxies since you will have the proxies all for yourself. The bandwidth, servers, and the IP addresses are all yours.
With shared proxies, on the other hand, you will be using all the resources with other clients simultaneously. Shared proxies are cheaper than dedicated proxies, but if other users are also scraping the same target sites, then you run the risk of going over the rate limit and getting blocked. For this reason, dedicated proxies are the best proxies for web scraping.
Since we have already differentiated shared and dedicated proxies, there is also a need to warn you about using public or open proxies. From the name itself, these proxies can be used by anyone for free. Most proxy users with questionable intentions use public proxies which is why this is not a secure option for you. Aside from the danger, these proxies are of low quality. Imagine thousands of users from all over the world connecting to the same proxy server — the result is a very slow speed that won’t allow you to scrape even just a little bit of data.
Types of Proxy IPs
Aside from proxies being public, shared, or dedicated, you also need to understand the different types of proxy IPs so you will know your options. There are three types of proxy IPs: Datacenter IPs, residential IPs, and mobile IPs. From the names of these IPs, you probably have an idea about what they are already. For discussion, however, allow me to describe them one by one:
1. Datacenter IPs: This type of IP addresses is what most companies that do web scraping use as they are the most common IP. These IPs are that are maintained by datacenter servers and not by and Internet Service Provider (ISP).
2. Residential IPs: Residential IPs are assigned by ISPs to residential homes. Residential proxies are a lot more expensive because they are more difficult to obtain compared to datacenter IPs. While these IPs can make your crawling activities look like it’s from a residence, it still achieves the same effect that the cheaper and more practical datacenter IP can give you.
The use of residential IPs in web crawling is also questionable especially in cases when the owner of the IP does not know that you are using his or her home network to conduct your web scraping activities.
3. Mobile IPs: These are the IP addresses of mobile devices, and they are maintained by mobile network providers. Like the residential type of IPs, mobile IPs are difficult to obtain and thus very expensive. There are also privacy concerns since the mobile device owner may not be aware that you are using his or her GSM network to scrape the web.
The most practical choice for your web scraping activities is to use datacenter IPs. They are cheaper than the other two IP address types, but it can give you the same results. Datacenter IPs also saves you from legal concerns surrounding the privacy of the IP owner as you don’t need anyone else’s permission to use them, just the data center that’s maintaining these IPs.
The Different Types of Proxy Solutions
At this point, you may have noticed that the subject of proxies is not a simple matter. There are different types of proxies, and yet there are also different types of proxy IP addresses. And yes, there are also different types of proxy solutions. All these are included in this guide so that you will know your options because only then will you be able to choose what’s best for your business.
When choosing the best proxy solutions for your company, there are several factors you need to take into account. However, the two most important things to consider are your budget and technical expertise. How much are you willing to pay for your proxies? Does your company have technical experts who can manage the proxies and web scraping for you?
Here are two proxy solutions you can choose from:
1. In-house proxy management: If your business has an online presence and you’re thinking about big data research, then you most probably have an in-house technical or IT team that can better manage your proxies and web scraping activities. What you need to do is to purchase proxies from a reliable proxy provider like Limeproxies. Limeproxies offer private and premium proxy plans, and with both plans, you can get dedicated IP addresses which are best for scraping the web.
This proxy management solution is cost-effective and budget-friendly since you can buy a proxy for as low as 75 cents. Your IT department can also manage the rotation of these proxies to make sure that your scraping machine is safe.
2. Outsourced proxy management: Some providers offer complete proxy management and will even do the scraping for you. However, this kind of solution presents some risks. First, you can’t be so sure if they are scraping the right kind of data for you and if they are being selective of the target sites.
There is also the issue of data privacy. Will the data they gathered at your request be safe from competitors? What if your competitors are also their clients? There will certainly be doubts around the data they scraped since you have no control over what they will do with it.
Lastly, these complete proxy for web scraping management solution comes at a hefty price which might not be cost-effective in the end. You will need to allocate $250 to $700 a month for data that may also be used by the competition, in which case you have lost your competitive advantage.
How Many Proxies You Need
Most proxy providers bundle their pricing plans based on the number of proxies, and this is also an inherent question most companies have. How many proxies should you purchase?
The short answer is: It depends. I know this is an annoying answer, but allow me to explain.
Remember the rate-limiting software that websites use? There is no way of knowing what the limit set by the website is unless we check their code, so all we can do is guess. Guess intelligently, that is.
Websites set rate limits, but they don’t want to let it affect authentic human traffic. Let’s say that a real person can make a maximum of 10 requests per minute, especially when the website is rich in content. The person can open links in different tabs, so a lot of requests can be sent in a matter of seconds. However, there will always be a pause in between requests as the person reads the content.
Given our estimate of 10 requests per minute, the ballpark figure that a real person can make is around 600 requests in one hour. We can deduce that sites have probably set their rate limit to around this figure and it’s, therefore, safer to set each of your proxies to send 600 requests an hour, or less. Of course, sites may have even stricter or more lax limits in place.
The next consideration is the total throughput of your scraper or the number of requests it can send per hour. If your machine can process 60,000 URLs per hour, then that will be:
60,000 URLs / 600 (ballpark rate limit) = 100 proxy server IP addresses
You need 100 proxies to be able to bypass the rate limit set by websites. This is just an estimate that rests on a number of assumptions and ultimately, it depends on your scraping machine. How much can it send in one hour? Just divide it by 600 requests, or to be safe you can lower this number down to 300 or 500.
Web Scraping Use Cases
Learning the intricacies involved in choosing proxies for web scraping may have clouded your mind against web scraping in general, so let’s also touch up a bit on how web scraping is being used in the real world.
Web scraping has six primary uses, and these are content scraping, research, contact scraping, price comparison, weather data monitoring, and website change detection.
This chart from taken from Distil Networks shows the top uses of web scraping, by percentage.
- 38.2% of companies use web scraping to gather ideas and curate content.
- 25.9% of companies use web scraping to do market research and get the perception of consumers about certain companies and products or services/
- 19.1% scrape the web to get the email address and other contact information of potential and existing customers.
- 16.1% of companies use web scraping tools to track and monitor competitor prices.
- Less than 1% of companies use web scraping as a way to monitor weather data and changes in competitor websites.
As you can see, data research is among the top uses of web scraping, and most industries (if not all) use data to develop business strategies and plans. Towards Data Science have published an exhaustive list of industries and fields of studies that use web scraping and how it is being applied. Among them are:
- Retail and manufacturing
- Equity and financial research
- Data science
- Risk management
- Product, marketing, and sales
- News media and journalism
- Classified ads
Legal and Ethical Considerations When Web Scraping With Proxies
There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to the legality of web scraping and the use of proxies. As everyone knows, there are people who use proxies for dubious reasons and activities, but it doesn’t make the use of proxies in general illegal. It’s what you do while connected to proxy servers that matter.
With the onset of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), however, your choice of proxy IP address can already get you in trouble regardless of how you are using the proxies. I’m referring to residential IPs and mobile IP addresses, particularly those that belong to the EU countries. GDPR rules require that the owners of these IP addresses give you explicit permission to use their IP. If you own the residential IP addresses you use as proxies, then there’s no problem. But when a third party provider is involved, that’s another story.
Make sure that if you decide to use third party residential proxies, these companies have direct, expressed and clear consent of the IP owners. Otherwise, you will face legal ramifications. The safest route is to use datacenter IP addresses so there are no privacy issues.
Web Scraping Ethical Best Practices
Web scraping in itself is not illegal, as you can even scrape your website to aid your analytics. The problem is when you scrape other sites and your activities become a burden to them because of the number of requests you are sending. This is primarily the reason why websites had employed mechanisms to detect bot behaviour and block them.
To avoid any problems and also to keep your scraping activities ethical, here are some best practices that we have learned from clients we assisted in their proxies for web scraping needs:
1. Behave well: This entails limiting your requests to every target site so that they will not feel invaded. Do not bombard them with too many requests since doing so might raise a red flag.
2. Do not cause any harm: Make sure that your bots do not harm the websites you are scraping. Too many requests might overload their server and may cause damage.
3. Be respectful: When a website detects your web scraping activities, they may contact your proxy provider and ask you to slow down or even stop scraping. When this happens, respect their decision and do what they want. After all, it’s their website you’re scraping.
The Bottom Line
Web scraping has become a norm in today’s data-driven business world. Even journalists and non-profit organizations are employing this big data research methodology to shape their visions and get ahead in the industry.
When we tackle web scraping, we also need to talk about proxies as these two tools go hand in hand. Without proxies, your web scraper might face hurdles such as throttling or worse, IP blocking, when the target sites detect unusual behaviour.
To aid you in choosing proxies for web scraping, we have discussed the types of proxies including the different types of proxy IP addresses and proxy management solutions. I’ve also given you a ballpark figure of the number of proxies you will need, which you can change depending on your scraper’s throughput.
Do not be too complacent when you are hiding behind proxies while scraping the web, as most companies are prone to do. Keep in mind the best practices above so you won’t encounter any legal problems.
Finally, the proxy provider and type of proxy IP you choose is also very important. Limeproxies offer dedicated datacenter IPs that are suitable for your web scraping activities. Our support team is also available 24/7 to assist you with all of your concerns.