I’ve been learning a lot about web scraping and how bots, in general, operate. It’s been truly fascinating, but one aspect of this new avenue of learning has stumped me for the longest time.
Imagine a Jerry Seinfeld voice for this bit: “What’s the deal with rotating proxies? How do they rotate them, and why do they need rotating in the first place?”
Timeless comedy aside, a proxy rotation system is a really important component of the web scraping machine. You can go without it, don’t get me wrong, but anything more than a few requests per day will quickly leave you with a bunch of blocked IPs and no proxies left.
· What are rotating proxies?
· The benefits of using rotating proxies
∘ Geographical superiority
∘ Unparalleled scraping speed
∘ Effectively unnoticeable
∘ A battalion of IPs at the ready
· When should you use rotating proxies?
· Where do I get rotating proxies?
How to start if not with a definition?
What are rotating proxies?
Proxy rotation is the process of switching between proxy IPs for each request the user sends. To do that, you’ll need a server that has access to your proxy pool. Once a user connects to that server, they will be assigned a random proxy.
In essence, having rotating proxies, compared to regular proxies, is having the functionality of automatically switching between IP while you’re scraping the web. Neat, right?
If you’ve had the displeasure of extracting data from a few pages on the same website only to suddenly be blocked, then I imagine that you will indeed find rotating proxies neat. That was my experience, anyway.
Let’s talk about why this seemingly simple action is so important.
The benefits of using rotating proxies
Some people may profess the importance of proxy types, saying that getting the right kind, probably residential, is all that really matters.
Yes, proxy pool composition is an important factor, but having a powerful tool and also using it to its full extent are two very different things. Rotating proxies brings some huge advantages to the mix. Check it out:
Have you ever tried to access a page or piece of content only to be told that IPs from your country are barred from entering? This happens regularly, not only for web scrapers but also for regular people.
You’d think that getting one IP from a different country might be enough, but it rarely is. For larger projects that require data from different websites hosted across the globe, you’ll need a whole proxy pool.
Instead of having to manually set an IP that won’t get blocked due to its geographical location, rotating proxies ensure that you automatically get fast access.
Unparalleled scraping speed
There are measures to detect and block bots, and there are measures to slow them down. Request throttling falls into the second category, and it entails setting a limit on the number of requests a visitor can make in a specific timeframe. If the visitor reaches that threshold, they have to wait for a while until they can start again. Alternatively, if they reach the limit, they might just have a captcha dropped on their head.
Anyhow, it’s bad for web scrapers. Luckily, it’s not too hard to avoid. What you have to do is change proxies between requests so that the website views your actions as if a group of unrelated individuals did it. You could do this manually if you’d like, but it would hardly be an article about rotating proxies if I didn’t recommend you go on the automation route.
We’ve touched on this subject at the previous point, but it’s worth developing the idea: when you’re switching IPs on every request, it’s a lot harder for websites to detect and block you.
The IP is just one of the details that websites use to identify users. Their browser, version, screen resolution, and device all contribute to a user’s digital fingerprint.
Luckily, any web scraping tool that uses proxy rotation will most likely also let you modify the request headers, which send visitor information to the site.
With an ever-changing IP as well as the option to mask other details that could give you away, your bot is virtually invisible. Even so, remember to be mindful of the website’s wellbeing. Don’t strain its servers just because you’re unlikely to be blocked.
A battalion of IPs at the ready
Large-scale web scraping projects require plenty of proxies. Plenty of data extraction tools out there have pools of hundreds of thousands or even millions of IPs to work with, so that’s a start. The real problem without rotating proxies is actually using all those IPs.
Let’s say that you’ve gathered a large group of proxies on your own. You’re ready to get some serious data, but what are you going to do? Manually change IPs between every request? Change them periodically at the risk of getting blocked?
That’s the thing about pre-built web scraping or proxy solutions. It’s not just the number of IPs you get, but also the infrastructure to use them effectively without sacrificing a few days or even weeks to design your own management system.
When should you use rotating proxies?
Most web scraping tools have rotating proxy functionalities built in. It’s not a matter of paying extra for it either, it’s just there. Usually, you also have the option to use sticky sessions if you don’t want to switch IPs in certain situations.
Proxy rotation is always helpful. Even if you want to extract data from just two web pages, your chances are technically higher to succeed if you switch IPs. Of course, for small URL lists (that don’t include hard-to-scrape websites), you’ll get by just fine without rotating proxies.
Rotation becomes a must for large projects or when you’re interested in more complex websites. Social media platforms are an excellent example of websites that are hard to scrape. In that case, you’ll most likely need residential IPs rotated for each request.
Datacenter proxy rotation is also useful, but it has a major hitch that residential doesn’t. Datacenter IPs share a subnet, a distinctive feature that ties them to the server owner. If a vigilant website notices a datacenter IP, it’s not difficult to identify the source and issue a blanket ban for all those IPs. If that happens, rotation won’t help much unless you have proxies from several different data centers.
Where do I get rotating proxies?
There are plenty of options to choose from, actually. It all depends on your needs, such as bypassing restricted content, checking the results of online ads, or so on.
On the topic of web scraping, I’ve already investigated what solutions are available and even came up with a list of the top 7 proxy service providers, so give that a read!