Not everyone on the internet knows what is a web crawler, and even though it is what helps us use the internet as seamlessly as we do, most users are oblivious to how it works and where it started.
This is not surprising considering how the average internet user jumps on the internet, gets what they want then jumps around a little more before going someplace else.
However, businesses cannot afford such luxury, and every brand on the internet needs to understand what is a web crawler and how it can be incorporated with web scraping to make data extraction more efficient.
Retail e-Commerce is projected to cross $6.54 trillion this year, mostly due to data and how it influences decisions for both brands and customers.
But to understand how to harvest this data, we need to know what web crawling is, where it started from, and what it has evolved into.
A Detailed Description of What a Web Crawler Is
A web crawler can be defined as computer software built for the sole purpose of interacting with web pages and websites, gathering data from them, and then using hyperlinks contained in those websites to visit other websites and collect data from those as well. Oxylabs have researched the topic of crawling extensively, and, as such, they wrote and published a useful tutorial as to what crawlers and crawling are.
The process of web crawling is often commonly mistaken for web scraping, but those who have used both can guarantee you of the significant differences that exist between these two methods.
For instance, while web scraping is used to scrape publicly available data from targeted destinations, web crawling is used to navigate from one website to the next and gather data and URLs in the process.
Interestingly, while both of these processes can be used to extract data, web crawling takes it all further to include the ability to have a cleaner and more organized web and the capacity. Performing regular checks for vulnerabilities on public data sources such as websites becomes easier as well.
The History and Evolution of Web Crawlers
To paint a clearer picture of a web crawler, we need to rewind time and consider how it all started. This can be fused with the current state of things to help you not only understand how to use this very important tool but how to solve any challenges that people face while using these tools.
Web crawlers started as far back as 1994 as simple bots that were used to learn about all websites and web pages on the internet, collect statistics about each one from indexing them and make it simpler to answer queries entered by internet users.
The deal was simple; internet users would come searching for answers on the internet, and there was the need to create a simple solution that helped the internet decide on what resources were most relevant and what web page to display to users quickly.
The first web crawlers were then tasked with crawling websites and applications, gathering the most important information needed to determine what each website and web page was all about, and indexing that information for search engines.
But like all things tied to the internet, it didn’t take long before this functionality evolved to include other areas.
For instance, the new generation web crawlers can crawl, search, and index websites while validating user accessibility and running vulnerability checks.
This means that not only are they performing crawling and indexing at even a much larger scale, but they are also being used to check how easy regular internet users have it while navigating websites. So that by running this software on your website, you are not only helping your website get indexed, but you can also be sure of the website’s accessibility.
You can also use today’s web crawlers to know of any vulnerability that may exist on your website. This is a simpler way to identify and fix website issues rather than having regular users experience pointing them out.
However, even these new and better versions of web crawlers are faced with certain challenges that anyone looking to use them might care to know about.
For instance, using this tool to crawl several web pages manually is not only a tedious exercise but may also lead to several blockades and limitations. The result may also be less than desirable as the data harvested may be laced with multiple errors.
The best way to handle this is to use automated crawlers that automatically crawl through billions of pages in short periods without breaking or crashing.
Another challenge is that no one knows how much of the internet has been crawled and how much is left. This is especially the case because while the concept of web crawling and its corresponding tools are seeing significant advancements, the web is also enjoying unprecedented expansion, with more data being generated and added each minute.
Nonetheless, once you fully comprehend what web crawler is, how it works, and how far it has come, you can confidently use it for the same several reasons that other businesses are using it today.