How to use Proxies for Web Scraping

How to Use Proxies for Web Scraping
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While many things may seem optional, proxies for scraping are definitely not. Website administrators often look down upon bots and automated web data extraction. If they detect automation, they will often choose to ban the offending IP address.

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If your IP address is banned, you lose access to the website. Unfortunately, even with all the best practices in the world and human-like automation, getting banned by a target website is an inevitable outcome. Proxies let you bypass these limitations by providing a multitude of IP addresses.

What is a proxy server?

A proxy server is an intermediary machine between your device and the internet. It takes all of your requests and forwards them to the target website or application. 

 

Since it is an independent machine just like your device, it has its own IP address, which is used to communicate with websites. In most cases, a proxy server sends requests on your behalf without revealing the true originator. As a result, a proxy server veils your IP address.

 

Additionally, most IP addresses have an associated location with them. Since proxy servers have their own IP addresses, you can use them to bypass any geographical content restrictions. All it takes is a proxy provider with a large enough pool and location customization options.

 

Finally, if the pool of IP addresses is decently sized, bans are not an issue. If one proxy server receives a ban from a target website, all you have to do is switch IP addresses and you regain access.

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What are the different types of proxies?

Proxy servers can be separated into many different types. Some use different connection protocols such as HTTP or SOCKS5. Others can be separated into shared and dedicated proxy servers. Finally, they are categorized by their origin into residential and datacenter proxies.

 

For web scraping, HTTP(S) proxies are employed almost exclusively. They are fast enough, reliable, and are easier to set up. A SOCKS5 proxy server can be significantly faster, however, such speeds are only useful for extremely traffic-intensive tasks such as video content monitoring.

Public, shared, and dedicated proxies

The decision between, on the other hand, dedicated proxies and shared ones is a little more complicated. Most of it is driven by monetary incentives. Dedicated proxies will always be more expensive as only one person can use the IP address at a time. Shared proxies are simply more cost-efficient for providers.

 

Shared proxies, unfortunately, come with a slightly larger host of problems. First, since several people use them at the same time, each of them slows down the machine. As it attempts to run many concurrent requests, it may start to lag or even break down.

 

Additionally, if one user sends too many requests to a website, the proxy IP likely gets banned. In turn, that limits access to the website for everyone using the proxy server. It means that you are partly reliant on other users.

 

Finally, there’s a possibility of using public proxies, which are generally free and have open access. We cannot recommend using such proxy servers as maintaining IP addresses is costly. Whoever hosts them, has to recoup the investment somehow. That usually happens by stealing user data.

 

In the end, dedicated proxies will nearly always be better as long as you can afford them. If they cut too much into operating costs, choose shared ones. Never choose public proxies.

Datacenter and residential proxies

One of the most important differences between proxy servers for web scraping projects is the division between datacenter and residential proxies. These two types have the most differences that influence a web scraping project.

 

Datacenter proxies originate from servers. They are usually housed in data centers, managed by IT professionals, and are generally significantly more powerful both in computing power and connectivity than any household device. 

 

These servers are used to create virtual proxies on them. Since a single server can potentially create multiple IP addresses, a datacenter proxy pool is significantly cheaper. Due to being housed in powerful infrastructure, these proxy servers are much faster than their residential counterparts.

 

Residential proxy servers, on the other hand, are created within household devices. These can range from personal computers to mobile devices. Usually, only a single proxy IP can be created out of machines such as mobile devices.

 

Additionally, a proxy provider will have significantly more issues managing these IPs. Even the best proxy services will have downtimes, simply due to the nature of the pool. A user of a household device can choose to power it down and no proxy management can save the provider from losing the IP for a short period of time.

 

As a result, a residential proxy pool is slightly less reliable than a datacenter one. They do have an important benefit, though. They all are unique IPs, which come from different sources, while datacenter ones come from a single source. In turn, that provides more flexibility if you need to spoof your location with a proxy server.

 

Websites can detect that multiple IPs are coming from a single server and ban the entire block. As such, rotating proxies (changing IP addresses frequently) is significantly more effective with a residential proxy service. 

 

Finally, since they come from household devices, these IPs are harder to detect as proxies for websites. It can significantly enhance a proxy management solution by improving the value achieved out of each IP. That, however, rests upon a user having a well-defined action plan and a great proxy management solution.

 

In the end, for a web scraping project, datacenter proxies will be better in most cases. Residential ones are better if there’s additional stealth needed against targets with powerful anti-bot systems or if better location targeting is required.

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Benefits of using proxies for web scraping

Avoiding CAPTCHA and IP bans

Accessing geo-restricted content

Ensuring anonymity

Increasing security

Enabling high-volume scraping operations

Improving scraping success rates

How many proxies do I need for web scraping?

While a larger proxy pool is always better, calculating the lower end of the range is slightly more complicated. Good proxy management practices state that you have to let them “cool down” after intense scraping, because if you send too many requests you get banned.

 

As a result, there’s a multitude of variables that change with each project. First, different websites will be more or less strict on what they consider botting and the threshold for bans. Second, websites will revive banned IP addresses after different periods of time.

 

Finally, the scale of a project is also important. Only a dozen proxies may be required for projects who send up to a thousand requests per day. For projects that send millions of requests, they’ll likely need thousands of IPs, if not more.

 

There’s no clear cut answer here, unfortunately. If it’s the first scraping project, we’d recommend starting out with shared datacenter IPs and estimating how many times they need to be changed. That should provide a fair estimation of how many proxies are needed for that project.

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