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Data scraping is crucial in improving business intelligence. Companies use it to analyze data and take fact-based actions five times faster than usual. However, web scraping can be tedious. You must pick the right tool that matches the data you want to scrape.
BeautifulSoup and Selenium are two of the best web scraping tools you can find. These two libraries make the scraping process easier and more efficient.
This article will compare the two libraries to help you decide which one to use: BeautifulSoup vs. Selenium. Keep reading to know more about what makes the two different.
Selenium and BeautifulSoup are both open-source libraries. They are excellent tools for web scraping projects. Each one offers features that will help speed up your scraping. However, they have differences that can affect your project.
If you can't decide between the two, here are some of their main differences:
Easy to use
Complicated to set up and use
Compatible with Python
Best for scraping dynamic Pages
Best for scraping static pages
Runs in Chrome, Edge, Safari, Opera, Firefox, Brave, and Internet Explorer
Does not need a browser to run
Slower scraping because it works on the entire page and waits for it to load first
Quicker scraping because it only works on page sources
Best for simple projects that involve HTML and XML documents
Best for complex tasks that involve web pages with buttons, forms, and links
Parses and extracts HTML and XML
Scrapes and manages WebDriver
Continue reading to get a better look at Selenium and BeautifulSoup. Understand what they are and how they work in the following sections.
Selenium is an open-source tool suite used for automated web browser testing. It is efficient for scraping and checking web apps in various platforms and browsers. With Selenium, you can create testing scripts in several programming languages since it can support Python, Java, and C#.
Some of Selenium’s main frameworks are:
🔍 What the research says
According to statistics, 78,921 companies use Selenium (or have the history of using it). Most are based in the United States and are in the Information Technology and Services industry.
Selenium has been around for around 20 years now since 2004. Here's a timeline that shows Selenium's development since its beginning:
The typical use cases of Selenium are for scraping dynamic webpages. These pages are the ones that need user interaction to work.
Some web pages have the following with the help of Selenium:
BeautifulSoup is a tool Python package developers use to parse HTML and XML documents. It creates a parsing tree for pages, allowing quicker web scraping. BeautifulSoup also automates the document conversion to Unicode, so developers don't have to worry about encodings.
This tool has simple functions for developers to navigate, search, and update parsing trees. With BeautifulSoup, you can work on and transform HTML or XML files into Python objects.
Its developer, Leonard Richardson, mentioned that hundreds of projects and companies have used BeautifulSoup. However, there's no data or record kept for it. Here are some of the top projects powered by BeautifulSoup:
The typical use cases of BeautifulSoup are for scraping static webpages and XML. These pages have simple structures and don't need user interaction to work.
Some web pages that BeautifulSoup scrapes are:
Scraping web pages is legal if the data is publicly available. This principle applies regardless of any tool or method you use. If you scrape sensitive data for commercial use, you must have the target website’s consent.
It is apparent that while BeautifulSoup and Selenium are both vital elements when handling data, the two have clear distinctions. This section compares both libraries using several aspects to help you pick the best for your project.
Here’s an in-depth comparison between BeautifulSoup and Selenium:
Selenium is an automation tool, while BeautifulSoup is a parsing library. Due to the differences in nature, Selenium offers more functionality than BeautifulSoup.
The former can connect with web pages, making it the ideal tool for scraping dynamic pages. Meanwhile, BeautifulSoup has limited features that work only on HTML and XML.
Selenium has more features since it can run scripts for browser actions. It lets you fill out forms, click buttons, and navigate pages automatically for better scraping. On the other hand, BeautifulSoup only works for data parsing and extracting—making it more suitable for scraping data from static pages.
✅ Pro Tip
Always consider your scraping target and the data it contains. Choose Selenium for its functionality and BeautifulSoup for its simplicity.
BeautifulSoup works faster than Selenium. Unlike the latter, the former does not need or use a browser.
Another factor that slows Selenium down is that it waits for the entire page to load before it starts scraping. Meanwhile, BeautifulSoup only works on the page source.
When used to scrape the same data, BeautifulSoup will work 70% quicker than Selenium. Regardless, you must also consider the type of data and page you're scraping.
Ease of Use
BeautifulSoup is more effortless to use than Selenium. With BeautifulSoup, beginner developers can extract data with a simple API instead of web scraping scripts.
Users also only need a little experience to understand how this tool works. Meanwhile, Selenium isn't ideal for beginners because it has a tedious setup process. Moreover, using this tool requires at least the basic programming concepts. Selenium is more complex since it offers more functions and features.
BeautifulSoup's ecosystem covers many dependencies. Thus, it won't work well with complicated data scraping projects.
On the other hand, Selenium offers a better ecosystem. The only downside is that setting it up is challenging when scraping web pages with proxies.
👍 Helpful Article
When scraping a website, you may need rotating proxies. These proxies change IP addresses in specific intervals, making your requests look like they come from different servers.
Rotating proxies lets you avoid IP bans when sending multiple requests in seconds. The good thing is it is easy to set up rotating proxies. Check out this TechJury guide to learn how you can rotate proxies in Selenium.
Another difference between Selenium and BeautifulSoup is the project scope where they work.
Selenium is the ideal option if you're scraping complex and dynamic pages. Since this tool automates browsers, you can scrape every data included in a single web page.
Meanwhile, BeautifulSoup is the ideal option if you're working on simple projects. It offers simple scraping features, making it suitable for pages with well-structured sources. If you're scraping static pages, you can have a faster process using BeautifulSoup.
Each tool offers different features from the other. It is best to consider your project's scope before deciding what to use between the two. Here's a quick sum-up of where the two tools work best:
Online Store Pages
Selenium and other libraries work as BeautifulSoup alternatives is you’re working with dynamic pages which BeautifulSoup can't process.
Selenium and BeautifulSoup are useful libraries for web scraping projects. However, deciding which one is better depends on the project you have.
BeautifulSoup is ideal if you're only working on simple projects. It works best for web pages with well-structured sources and static content. Meanwhile, Selenium is your go-to option when scraping data from dynamic pages. It is also good for complex projects that require comprehensive scraping of several dynamic pages.
Selenium works well with the newer versions of Python. Currently, Python 3 is the latest version.
Using BeautifulSoup is legal if you use it for personal use. If you use this tool to scrape data for commercial purposes, you may need the data owner's consent.
Scrapy works faster than Selenium since it only scrapes the URL you ask for. Meanwhile, Selenium works slower since it controls the browser and scrapes all files.
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