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Web Crawler Python How to Create a Web Crawler From Scratch in Python

fprime profile image Frankie Updated on ・8 min read

Overview

Most Python web crawling/scraping tutorials use some kind of crawling library. This is great if you want to get things done quickly, but if you do not understand how scraping works under the hood then when problems arise it will be difficult to know how to fix them.

In this tutorial I will be going over how to write a web crawler completely from scratch in Python using only the Python Standard Library and the requests module (https://pypi.org/project/requests/2.7.0/). I will also be going over how you can use a proxy API (https://proxyorbit.com) to prevent your crawler from getting blacklisted.

This is mainly for educational purposes, but with a little attention and care this crawler can become as robust and useful as any scraper written using a library. Not only that, but it will most likely be lighter and more portable as well.

I am going to assume that you have a basic understanding of Python and programming in general. Understanding of how HTTP requests work and how Regular Expressions work will be needed to fully understand the code. I won't be going into deep detail on the implementation of each individual function. Instead, I will give high level overviews of how the code samples work and why certain things work the way they do.

The crawler that we'll be making in this tutorial will have the goal of "indexing the internet" similar to the way Google's crawlers work. Obviously we won't be able to index the internet, but the idea is that this crawler will follow links all over the internet and save those links somewhere as well as some information on the page.

Start Small

The first task is to set the groundwork of our scraper. We're going to use a class to house all our functions. We'll also need the re and requests modules so we'll import them

import requests    
import re    

class PyCrawler(object):    
    def __init__(self, starting_url):    
        self.starting_url = starting_url                       
        self.visited = set()    

    def start(self):    
        pass                 

if __name__ == "__main__":    
    crawler = PyCrawler()    
    crawler.start()
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You can see that this is very simple to start. It's important to build these kinds of things incrementally. Code a little, test a little, etc.

We have two instance variables that will help us in our crawling endeavors later.

starting_url

Is the initial starting URL that our crawler will start out

visited

This will allow us to keep track of the URLs that we have currently visited to prevent visiting the same URL twice. Using a set() keeps visited URL lookup in O(1) time making it very fast.

Crawl Sites

Now we will get started actually writing the crawler. The code below will make a request to the starting_url and extract all links on the page. Then it will iterate over all the new links and gather new links from the new pages. It will continue this recursive process until all links have been scraped that are possible from the starting point. Some websites don't link outside of themselves so these sites will stop sooner than sites that do link to other sites.

import requests    
import re    
from urllib.parse import urlparse    

class PyCrawler(object):    
    def __init__(self, starting_url):    
        self.starting_url = starting_url    
        self.visited = set()    

    def get_html(self, url):    
        try:    
            html = requests.get(url)    
        except Exception as e:    
            print(e)    
            return ""    
        return html.content.decode('latin-1')    

    def get_links(self, url):    
        html = self.get_html(url)    
        parsed = urlparse(url)    
        base = f"{parsed.scheme}://{parsed.netloc}"    
        links = re.findall('''<a\s+(?:[^>]*?\s+)?href="([^"]*)"''', html)    
        for i, link in enumerate(links):    
            if not urlparse(link).netloc:    
                link_with_base = base + link    
                links[i] = link_with_base       

        return set(filter(lambda x: 'mailto' not in x, links))    

    def extract_info(self, url):                                
        html = self.get_html(url)                               
        return None                  

    def crawl(self, url):                   
        for link in self.get_links(url):    
            if link in self.visited:        
                continue                    
            print(link)                 
            self.visited.add(link)            
            info = self.extract_info(link)    
            self.crawl(link)                  

    def start(self):                     
        self.crawl(self.starting_url)    

if __name__ == "__main__":                           
    crawler = PyCrawler("https://google.com")        
    crawler.start()
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As we can see a fair bit of new code has been added.

To start, get_html, get_links, crawl, and extract_info methods were added.

get_html()

Is used to get the HTML at the current link

get_links()

Extracts links from the current page

extract_info()

Will be used to extract specific info on the page.

The crawl() function has also been added and it is probably the most important and complicated piece of this code. "crawl" works recursively. It starts at the start_url, extracts links from that page, iterates over those links, and then feeds the links back into itself recursively.

If you think of the web like a series of doors and rooms, then essentially what this code is doing is looking for those doors and walking through them until it gets to a room with no doors. When this happens it works its way back to a room that has unexplored doors and enters that one. It does this forever until all doors accessible from the starting location have been accessed. This kind of process lends itself very nicely to recursive code.

If you run this script now as is it will explore and print all the new URLs it finds starting from google.com

Extract Content

Now we will extract data from the pages. This method (extract_info) is largely based on what you are trying to do with your scraper. For the sake of this tutorial, all we are going to do is extract meta tag information if we can find it on the page.

import requests    
import re    
from urllib.parse import urlparse    

class PyCrawler(object):    
    def __init__(self, starting_url):    
        self.starting_url = starting_url    
        self.visited = set()    

    def get_html(self, url):    
        try:    
            html = requests.get(url)    
        except Exception as e:    
            print(e)    
            return ""    
        return html.content.decode('latin-1')    

    def get_links(self, url):    
        html = self.get_html(url)    
        parsed = urlparse(url)    
        base = f"{parsed.scheme}://{parsed.netloc}"    
        links = re.findall('''<a\s+(?:[^>]*?\s+)?href="([^"]*)"''', html)    
        for i, link in enumerate(links):    
            if not urlparse(link).netloc:    
                link_with_base = base + link    
                links[i] = link_with_base    

        return set(filter(lambda x: 'mailto' not in x, links))    

    def extract_info(self, url):    
        html = self.get_html(url)    
        meta = re.findall("<meta .*?name=[\"'](.*?)['\"].*?content=[\"'](.*?)['\"].*?>", html)    
        return dict(meta)    

    def crawl(self, url):    
        for link in self.get_links(url):    
            if link in self.visited:    
                continue    
            self.visited.add(link)    
            info = self.extract_info(link)    

            print(f"""Link: {link}    
Description: {info.get('description')}    
Keywords: {info.get('keywords')}    
            """)    

            self.crawl(link)    

    def start(self):    
        self.crawl(self.starting_url)    

if __name__ == "__main__":    
    crawler = PyCrawler("https://google.com")     
    crawler.start()
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Not much has changed here besides the new print formatting and the extract_info method.

The magic here is in the regular expression in the extract_info method. It searches in the HTML for all meta tags that follow the format <meta name=X content=Y> and returns a Python dictionary of the format {X:Y}

This information is then printed to the screen for every URL for every request.

Integrate Rotating Proxy API

One of the main problems with web crawling and web scraping is that sites will ban you either if you make too many requests, don't use an acceptable user agent, etc. One of the ways to limit this is by using proxies and setting a different user agent for the crawler. Normally the proxy approach requires you to go out and purchase or source manually a list of proxies from somewhere else. A lot of the time these proxies don't even work or are incredibly slow making web crawling much more difficult.

To avoid this problem we are going to be using what is called a "rotating proxy API". A rotating proxy API is an API that takes care of managing the proxies for us. All we have to do is make a request to their API endpoint and boom, we'll get a new working proxy for our crawler. Integrating the service into the platform will require no more than a few extra lines of Python.

The service we will be using is Proxy Orbit (https://proxyorbit.com). Full disclosure, I do own and run Proxy Orbit.

The service specializes in creating proxy solutions for web crawling applications. The proxies are checked continually to make sure that only the best working proxies are in the pool.

import requests    
import re    
from urllib.parse import urlparse    
import os    

class PyCrawler(object):    
    def __init__(self, starting_url):    
        self.starting_url = starting_url    
        self.visited = set()    
        self.proxy_orbit_key = os.getenv("PROXY_ORBIT_TOKEN")    
        self.user_agent = "Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/51.0.2704.103 Safari/537.36"    
        self.proxy_orbit_url = f"https://api.proxyorbit.com/v1/?token={self.proxy_orbit_key}&ssl=true&rtt=0.3&protocols=http&lastChecked=30"    

    def get_html(self, url):                                                                                                               
        try:                                                                                                                               
            proxy_info = requests.get(self.proxy_orbit_url).json()                                                                         
            proxy = proxy_info['curl']                                                                                                
            html = requests.get(url, headers={"User-Agent":self.user_agent}, proxies={"http":proxy, "https":proxy}, timeout=5)        
        except Exception as e:                                                                                                        
            print(e)                                                                                                                  
            return ""                                                                                                                 
        return html.content.decode('latin-1')                                                                                         

    def get_links(self, url):    
        html = self.get_html(url)    
        parsed = urlparse(url)    
        base = f"{parsed.scheme}://{parsed.netloc}"    
        links = re.findall('''<a\s+(?:[^>]*?\s+)?href="([^"]*)"''', html)    
        for i, link in enumerate(links):    
            if not urlparse(link).netloc:    
                link_with_base = base + link    
                links[i] = link_with_base    

        return set(filter(lambda x: 'mailto' not in x, links))    

    def extract_info(self, url):    
        html = self.get_html(url)    
        meta = re.findall("<meta .*?name=[\"'](.*?)['\"].*?content=[\"'](.*?)['\"].*?>", html)    
        return dict(meta)    

    def crawl(self, url):    
        for link in self.get_links(url):    
            if link in self.visited:    
                continue    
            self.visited.add(link)    
            info = self.extract_info(link)    

            print(f"""Link: {link}    
Description: {info.get('description')}    
Keywords: {info.get('keywords')}    
            """)    

            self.crawl(link)    

    def start(self):    
        self.crawl(self.starting_url)    

if __name__ == "__main__":    
    crawler = PyCrawler("https://google.com")    
    crawler.start()
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As you can see, not much has really changed here. Three new class variables were created: proxy_orbit_key, user_agent, and proxy_orbit_url

proxy_orbit_key gets the Proxy Orbit API Token from an environment variable named PROXY_ORBIT_TOKEN

user_agent sets the User Agent of the crawler to Firefox to make requests look like they are coming from a browser

proxy_orbit_url is the Proxy Orbit API endpoint that we will be hitting. We will be filtering our results only requesting HTTP proxies supporting SSL that have been checked in the last 30  minutes.

in get_html a new HTTP request is being made to the Proxy Orbit API URL to get the random proxy and insert it into the requests module for grabbing the URL we are trying to crawl from behind a proxy.

If all goes well then that's it! We should now have a real working web crawler that pulls data from web pages and supports rotating proxies.

UPDATE:

It seems that some people have been having trouble with the final script, specifically get_html method. This is likely due to the lack of a Proxy Orbit API token being set. In the constructor there is a line, self.proxy_orbit_key = os.getenv("PROXY_ORBIT_TOKEN"). This line attempts to get an environmental variable named PROXY_ORBIT_TOKEN which is where your API token should be set. If the token is not set, the line proxy = proxy_info['curl'] will fail because the proxy API will return JSON signifying an unauthenticated request and won't contain any key curl.

There are two ways to get around this. The first is to signup at Proxy Orbit and get your token and set your PROXY_ORBIT_TOKEN env variable properly. The second way is to replace your get_html function with the following:

    def get_html(self, url):                                                                                                               
        try:                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
            html = requests.get(url, headers={"User-Agent":self.user_agent}, timeout=5)        
        except Exception as e:                                                                                                        
            print(e)                                                                                                                  
            return ""                                                                                                                 
        return html.content.decode('latin-1')
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Note that if you replace the get_html function all of your crawler requests will be using your IP address.

Discussion (9)

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adikwok profile image
adikwok

may i ask, sir?

why the proxy script returned 'curl' in my screen?

thank you and best regards,
adi kwok

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hkdennisk profile image
hkdennisk

I got the same error, the problem is the api key for proxyorbit.com.

if you print the proxy_info after line 16 "proxy_info = requests.get(self.proxy_orbit_url).json()"
then you should see {u'error': u'API token is incorrect'}

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redapemusic35 profile image
redapemusic35

How do we fix this error? I am guessing that it might have something to do with getting a new api token?

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phi16180 profile image
phi16180

Any updates on how to solve this issue?

Thread Thread
fprime profile image
Frankie Author

I have updated the post, check the bottom UPDATE section.

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fprime profile image
Frankie Author

Since there has been a lot of confusion about the curl issue I have updated the post to address the reason and possible workarounds.

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hossain000 profile image
Hossain000

That code was awesome. In this code you have extracted meta description, can you show how to extract <div class , PLEASE

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hossain000 profile image
Hossain000 • Edited

That code was awesome. In this code you have extracted meta description, can you show how to extract <div class , PLEASE

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