Last updated on March 19th, 2023 at 04:40 pm
As the markets become more saturated and competition harsher, businesses rely on data to achieve success. However, to pull public data from websites, companies have to use data scraping. All other methods are simply less efficient and more time-consuming. At the same time, website owners and target servers want to protect their websites from bots, including the scraping ones.
They implement various strategies to do so – use CAPTCHA, introduce complicated web page structures, and enforce login requirements. However, most common user agents provide a way to avoid these nuances and continue collecting the public data you need. Below you will find everything you need to understand user agents and how they facilitate web scraping operations.
What is a user agent?
Every person and bot that browses websites online has a user agent. The easiest way to understand a user agent is to look at it as your personal online ID. A user agent represents you whenever you make contact with web servers. Every time you want to access a website, it requests you to provide certain information.
The information includes an operating system, browser, device type, and software. Imagine if you had to manually provide these details for hundreds of your scraping bots accessing thousands of websites? This is why your browser does it automatically when you surf. A typical user agent looks like this:
“Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/77.0.3865.90 Safari/537.36”
Most common uses of user agents
Most common user agents are included in the website’s HTTP header. But why is this string of information required, and why is it so important? Without user agents, a web server would serve the same content to all website visitors. However, with the information contained in a user agent, a web server can custom-tailor the content for every visitor. You can learn more about most common user agents in this article by one of the biggest proxy service providers globally, Oxylabs.
The story with user agents doesn’t end here. User agents have found a use case in web scraping. Pulling information from websites would be impossible without them. However, to understand their role in web scraping operations, you first need to know how the web scraping process works.
Web scraping process
Businesses can benefit from a variety of data found online. For instance, they can scrape prices to develop a competitive pricing strategy in any given market. They can also run extensive background checks on potential employees or gauge customer sentiment after launching a new product. Instead of manually copy-pasting information, businesses can use web scraping.
Web scraping refers to the automatic gathering of publicly available data on websites. The web scraping process starts and ends with web scraping bots or web scrapers. It is a piece of software capable of extracting specific data from targeted websites.
A web scraping is a 3-step process:
- Making an HTTP request to the target websites
- Parsing the web server response to filter the data you need
- Storing the data in the database for future use
How user agents help scraping
You will find the most common user agents during the first step of the web scraping process. Unlike browsers, scraping bots cannot create user agents on their own and pass them on to the target websites. This is how websites can quickly tell a real human user from a bot. Many websites have certain restrictions in place regarding the bots.
If you are using bots without user agents, the chances are that your IP address will get blocked for a couple of hours if not banned permanently. Interruptions such as this one are fatal for web scraping operations, especially the time-sensitive ones such as price scraping.
User agents help to scrape by making the scraping bots appear as real human visitors. In addition, they help avoid restrictions and ensure web scraping completes without any interruptions.
Main user agents for web scraping
When it comes to user agents, you need to know that there could be hundreds of variations. The reason for this is because not all people use the same browsers or regularly update their OSs. However, the majority of people keep their systems updated and mostly use only a couple of browsers. It leads to the conclusion that there are some most common user agents.
Long story short the main user agents for web scraping go as follows:
- Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/91.0.4472.77 Safari/537.36
- Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64; rv:89.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/89.0
- Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_15_7) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/91.0.4472.77 Safari/537.36
User agents give the webserver information about your device and software. Web servers use this information to display web pages correctly. User agents are essential in the web scraping niche. Using the most common user agents, you will ensure that your HTTP requests appear organic and prevent servers from blocking you.