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I'm new to programming. I know a little python and a little objective c, and I've been going through tutorials for each. Then it occurred to me, I need to know which language is more flexible (python, obj c, something else) for screen scraping a website for content.

What do I mean by "flexible"?

Well, ideally, I need something that will be easy to refactor and tweak for similar projects. I'm trying to avoid doing a lot of re-writing (well, re-coding) if I wanted to switch some of the variables in the program (i.e., the website to be scraped, the content to fetch, etc).

Anyways, if you could please give me your opinion, that would be great. Oh, and if you know any existing frameworks for the language you recommend, please share. (I know a little about Selenium and BeautifulSoup for python already).

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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I recently wrote a relatively complex web scraper to harvest a TON of data. It had to do some relatively complex parsing, I needed it to stuff it into a database, etc. I'm C# programmer now and formerly a Perl guy.

I wrote my original scraper using Python. I started on a Thursday and by Sunday morning I was harvesting over about a million scores from a show horse site. I used Python and SQLlite because they were fast.

HOWEVER, as I started putting together programs to regularly keep the data updated and to populate the SQL Server that would backend my MVC3 application, I kept hitting snags and gaps in my Python knowledge.

In the end, I completely rewrote the scraper/parser in C# using the HtmlAgilityPack and it works better than before (and just about as fast).

Because I KNEW THE LANGUAGE and the environment so much better I was able to add better database support, better logging, better error handling, etc. etc.

So... short answer.. Python was the fastest to market with a "good enough for now" solution, but the language I know best (C#) was the best long-term solution.

EDIT: I used BeautifulSoup for my original crawler written in Python.

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Just curious, did you use a framework in the original python program? (BeautifulSoup, Selenium IDE, etc) –  MSe May 10 '11 at 12:48
    
Yes. BeautifulSoup was exactly what I used. Also, I had zero Python experience when I started so I learned from scratch while doing this. A testament to how awesome Python is, I think. I really really wanted to use Python and maybe migrate to IronPython for the production implementation, it was just easier to work in C# at the end. –  Jay Stevens May 10 '11 at 14:08
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I recently wrote a very simple web-scraper; I chose Common Lisp as I'm learning the language. See https://github.com/duncan-bayne/myfitnessdata for the codebase and http://codereview.stackexchange.com/questions/2277/simple-web-scraper-in-common-lisp-sbcl for a critique.

On the basis of my experience - both of the language and the availability of help from experienced Lispers - I recommend investigating Common Lisp for your purpose.

There are excellent XML-parsing libraries available for CL, as well as libraries for parsing invalid HTML, which you'll need unless the sites you're parsing consist solely of valid XHTML.

Also, Common Lisp is a good language in which to implement DSLs; a DSL for web-scraping may be a solution to your requirement for flexibility & re-use.

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I think its safe to say that Python is a better place to start than Objective C. Honestly, just about any language meets the "flexible" requirement. All you need is well thought out configuration parameters. Also, a dynamic language like Python can go a long way in increasing flexibility, provided that you account for runtime type errors.

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The most flexible is the one that you're most familiar with.

Personally, I use Python for almost all of my utilities. For scraping, I find that its functionality specific to parsing and string manipulation requires little code, is fast and there are a ton of examples out there (strong community). Chances are that someone's already written whatever you're trying to do already, or there's at least something along the same lines that needs very little refactoring.

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