Web Scraping with JavaScript


What is Web Scraping?

  • A computer software technique used to extract data/information from websites
  • Store the data in a local file on your computer or to a database in table

Web Scraping Use Cases

  • scrape products from retailer or manufacturer websites
    • to show in your own website
    • to provide specs/price comparisons 
  • scrape business profiles and reviews to track online presence and reputation
  • scrape news websites

Anatomy of a Scraper

  1. Document Load
  2. Parsing
  3. Extraction
  4. Transformation

Anatomy of a Scraper

  • Load the complete HTML web page, PDF, XML, etc.
  • Generally as a string of characters
  • For larger documents may involve splitting into multiple pages

1. Document Load

Anatomy of a Scraper

  • Interpret the document to make searching it possible
  • Parse the HTML, XML, or PDF meta data into a format the script can understand

2. Parsing

Anatomy of a Scraper

  • Search the results of the parsed data for particular pieces of information
    • movie titles, reviews, etc.
  • Separate the data into individual pieces for later processing

3. Extraction

Anatomy of a Scraper

  • Convert the data into useful formats (e.g. currency, dates, etc.)
  • Change types
    • Date string -> Date format

4. Transformation

Tools in JavaScript

Cheerio + Request

Phantom + Casper

- all the steps are simplified as the functionality is already made for us in different modules by other developers


  • Rank
  • Title
  • URL
  • Site

Hacker News

Set up Your Web Server

Express, Chalk

1. Load the Page

We can use Request - a simple way to make HTTP calls and extract the HTML of the web page

2. Parse the HTML

Cheerio - Cheerio takes raw HTML, parses it, and returns a jQuery object , allowing you to traverse the DOM

3-4: Extract & Format

Cheerio Limitations

- difficult to handle pages with heavy ajax

- difficult to handle pagination

- works well with static pages

PhantomJS + Casper

  • Phantom functions as a headless browser
    • great for automating tasks such as:
      • testing, screen capturing, page automation and network monitoring
  • Casper
    • provides useful abstractions over Phantom
    • promises-style API



Casper Demo

>> brew install phantomjs

>> brew install casperjs

Grab link results from Google Search for 'javascript' and 'python'

Limitations of Web Scraping

  • websites or the page structure may change from time to time
  • lengthy scraping sessions can be interrupted, e.g. server crashes, website undergo maintenance
  • some websites may be extremely difficult to extract info

Is it Legal?

  • reference a website's policies and terms of service
    • e.g. Quora strictly disallows scraping and will ban accounts
  • if crawling is not at a disruptive rate or breaches any contract nor commit a crime (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act)
  • still an area that is being investigated 





- https://github.com/request/request


- https://github.com/cheeriojs/cheerio


- https://phantomjs.org


- https://casperjs.org





- acquired by Palantir

- https://www.kimonolabs.com/


- https://parsehub.com/

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