Politely Scrape Websites by Following Robots.txt

Web scraping provides both individuals and businesses with the tools to mine large amounts of data online. Unlike time-consuming manual research, web scraping software gives you an automatic, cost-effective solution. Along with the choice of the right scraping tools, you’ll need a good rotating proxy server to enhance your data security and help prevent potential roadblocks when scraping. As with just about any internet activity, following good etiquette is a requirement. Let’s look at how robots.txt files work and why it’s a good idea to respect them.

What is robots.txt?

A robots.txt file is basically a set of instructions that tells search engine bots which pages or files the bot can or cannot request from a site. Although the file gives instructions, it can’t actually enforce them, which means that bots can easily bypass the robots.txt. Even though this action may not be illegal, it’s considered highly unethical and not the polite way to scrape.

How does a robots.txt file work?

The robots.txt file is a simple file hosted on the webserver. Because there is no link to it on the site, you won’t come across it accidentally. However, if you want to scrape politely, you need a bot that will look for this file before proceeding. All sub-domains should have their own robots.txt. Search engines crawl the web and index content, and on each site where they land, the robots.txt file will direct the bot on how to proceed.

Following the rules

Simply bypasing the instructions will probably get you blocked from the site. Even though your intentions may not be malicious, lots of websites will automatically block you for ignoring the rules. By honoring the robots.txt, you are demonstrating respect for the website owner and their content. Also, following the rules helps other users visiting the website because robots.txt manages traffic to the site to prevent an overload.

Scraping politely

To scrape politely, find the website’s robots.txt file. This is usually at the root of the website, e.g., www.xxxxxxxxx(site name).com/robots.txt. In addition, you’ll need a web scraper that adheres to the instructions that the site has set, usually which pages you’re allowed to access. The rules may also vary for different bots. Other common instructions you’ll encounter include crawl-delay directives, length-of-visit rules, and request rates. These instructions serve to determine how and when bots can operate on their site, keeping the server running efficiently by preventing more requests than it can handle. You can read more details about the robots.txt standard to learn about all the different directives that may be present.

Wrap up

Following the instructions defined by robots.txt means maintaining ethical practices by respecting website owners and their content. The legal issues aren’t quite as clear and can vary from region to region. By scraping politely you’ll always be on the right side. And if you partner with a quality rotating proxy server, your scraping will yield great results.

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