We suppose you have heard about headless browsers before if you are into terms such as data extraction and web scraping. Do not worry, we are here to tell you what are headless browsers and how can you use them. First things first, let's start with what happens when you are entering a web page in accordance with how scraping frameworks work.
It is nearly impossible to read this article without access to some kind of web browser whether on your computers or mobile devices. However, you may have read this via screenshots. But still, someone has to reach some sort of web browser to send you these hypothetical screenshots.
Shortly, browsers are parts of software that render web pages that show you the page on your device. Browsers are turning codes from servers to make sure you could have seen some meaningful and readable texts, images, pop-ups, animations, and so on, on your devices. Shortly, everything that comes to mind. However, browsers also ensure you interact with the pages via clicking on them, scrolling them, and swiping them.
How Does Browsers Work?
Actually, your device, let's say a computer, does the work. Thousands of HTTP requests are sent by the browsers to the server. Later, your browser needs to reach the raw HTML page content. After that, it will be a pain in the neck by making a string of further requests to the server to provide additional elements such as images and fonts.
As you know, most websites are built on HTML and CSS. And, they have to provide rich and interactive experiences to the users. In other words, we can say that most modern websites depend on the JavaScrpit which is rendering all nice content on a page and is real-time to make sure that users have a nice surfing experience.
The browsers need to understand, download, decide what to do with these, and have to render all of the information that is served from websites such as tracking codes, user analytics codes, social media codes, and so on.
In this scenario, let's think of you as a person that wants to write a scraping script that helps you to automate the extracting data process from various websites. There are lots of possibilities. In another scenario, let's say you have to write a code that compares products' prices between different online marketplaces. It will be so hard to do it if the product's price does not be found on the raw HTML code.
Whether you compare prices on different online marketplaces or write all of the codes on your own, you need an automated solution for sure. Well, it is also near impossible to hire hundreds of people and expect them to write down everything they saw. Here's what I say, that is why you need headless browsers!
Okay, so what are headless browsers actually? A headless browser is giving a clue about itself actually with the name "headless". The headless browsers are not under the control of any human. They interact with websites by the graphical interface and basically mouse movements.
Scraping, Data Extraction and Headless Browsers
Instead of hiring hundreds of people to interact with a website and save information one by one, you simply write code that tells the headless browser where to go and what to get from a page. Yes, it really is that simple.
Thus, you can have an automatically created page and get all the information you need easily and effortlessly. There are some programmatic interfaces available for browsers. Basically, all programmatic interfaces do a similar job. So much so that it lets you write code that tells the browser to visit a page, click a link, hover over an image, and take a screenshot of what it sees.
So, is the best way to scrape to use a headless browser? Actually, there is no definite answer to this. This really depends on the situation.Most popular scraping frameworks don't usually use headless crawlers. This is because headless browsers are not the best way to get data in most use cases.
However, we can say that scraping is available for the benefit of people and their interaction with their websites. However, scrapers often do not actually care if there is a noteworthy image on a page. The scraper will only see the raw HTML code. This means that it is not easy for humans to read, but highly effective and legible for a machine.
Explore more: How can data scraping benefit your business