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HTTP Headers: Things to Keep In Mind When Scraping

The internet is constantly growing and expanding, so it’s only natural that all internet-related technologies need to cope with these changes. In the case of web scraping, it’s continually advancing, bringing new techniques and benefits for both residential and commercial internet users.

Whether you’re a business or an individual internet user, web scraping can help you in many ways, from making your online activities more anonymous to keeping an eye on your competitors.

However, target websites don’t take kindly to your scraping efforts, and they will set all sorts of security and defensive mechanisms to prevent your scraping bots from accessing the precious data. The two most important things to consider when it comes to web scraping are – avoiding getting blocked and improving the quality and accuracy of extracted data.

That is where HTTP headers come into play. Aside from allowing your bots to scrape target sites freely, HTTP headers can do so much to make your scraping sessions more effective. Let’s see what common HTTP headers are and how they help web scraping. If you want to learn even more on the topic, here’s your common http headers article.

What is an HTTP header?

Hypertext Transfer Protocol or HTTP headers allow both the internet user and web servers to maintain communication and transfer data within the request or response header. Each HTTP data transfer has its own HTTP headers, also known as parameters.

Each HTTP request and response have their own unique HTTP headers. The HTTP protocol is what makes the internet functional. Without it, HTTP-based online data transferring wouldn’t be possible, as HTTP headers are the building blocks of every HTTP request and response.

HTTP headers contain data about the internet user, the version of a web browser they’re using to make requests, the websites they’re trying to access, and the server that makes it happen. No matter what type of online content you’re trying to access, almost all online content is sent and received via HTTP headers.

Where they are used and how

HTTP headers and header referrers are all used by both the internet users (clients) and web servers. They rely on HTTP headers to transfer valuable data with an HTTP request and response. In most HTTP transactions, web servers and browsers insert HTTP header messages automatically.

However, there are also situations when internet users need to add headers manually for different purposes. It can be enabling data compression, formatting headers to match specific format requirements of web servers, or optimizing HTTP headers to make your internet requests appear as organic traffic.

When it comes to web scraping, HTTP headers are used to eliminate the risk of getting your web scraping bots detected, blocked, and blacklisted by target websites. They can also significantly improve the quality of scraped and extracted content from the web.

The most significant benefit of using HTTP headers for web scraping is that they act as content filters, allowing you to choose the type of data you want to scrape from the web.

How HTTP headers help web scraping

HTTP headers can improve your web scraping operations by ensuring two crucial things:

  • Avoiding blocks and bypassing geo-restrictions
  • Extracting the most relevant and accurate content from the web

To use common HTTP headers for web scraping, you need to optimize them to make sure each type of the HTTP request header you make gets through defensive and anti-scraping mechanisms and completes the data extraction mission without any disturbances.

Since one of the most common HTTP headers for web scraping is the client request header, there are five types of this HTTP header that you can optimize to ensure your web scraping operations are successful.

These five types include:

  1. User-agent – optimizing this HTTP header allows you to appear like genuine internet users as you send multiple scraping requests. That’s how you reduce the risk of getting your bots blocked.
  2. Accept-language – optimizing this HTTP header also makes sure your scraping bots appear like genuine internet users and bypass any anti-scraping mechanisms.
  3. Accept-encoding – you can significantly speed up your scraping operation by allowing the web server to compress data and reduce the traffic load.
  4. Accept – a fully optimized Accept header request allows you to determine the type of data you need to scrape and extract.
  5. HTTP header referer – ensures additional protection against getting blocked or banned.

HTTP headers make sure your scraping bots appear like genuine internet users, thus reducing the chance of getting detected, banned, or blocked. They can speed up your scraping operations and allow you to choose the type of data you want to extract.

Conclusion

There is no communication with web servers without HTTP headers. They make the internet functional and allow you to target websites, access the content online, scrape, and extract the specific types of data you need for your unique purposes. If you want to ensure your web scraping efforts give the desired results, you can use both HTTP headers and proxies to improve your scraping efficiency.

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