Screen Scraping vs Web Scraping: The Key Differences Explained

by Burak Koçak
1 year ago
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Understanding the Basics of Scraping

In today’s business landscape, scraping has become an indispensable tool for organizations of all sizes to acquire insights and make informed decisions. Scraping refers to the process of extracting data from various online sources, including websites and applications. The extracted data is then transformed into a structured format that can be analyzed and used for various purposes, such as market research, competitor analysis, and pricing intelligence.

There are two primary types of scraping: Screen Scraping and Web Scraping. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are different in their methodology, purpose, and legality. In this blog post, we will explore the key differences between screen scraping and web scraping and help you understand which method is best suited for your business needs.

Screen Scraping and Web Scraping: Definitions, Purposes, and Methodologies

Screen scraping is a method of extracting data from a computer screen or a software application interface. It involves the use of automated scripts or software tools to capture data displayed on a screen, and then parse and transform it into a structured format. Screen scraping is typically used for legacy applications that do not provide APIs or other data access methods.

Web scraping, on the other hand, involves extracting data from websites using automated tools or scripts. It typically involves accessing a website’s HTML code, extracting relevant information, and then transforming it into a structured format. Web scraping is commonly used for extracting data from e-commerce websites, social media platforms, news sites, and other online sources.

The main difference between screen and web scraping is the source of the extracted data. Screen scraping is used to extract data from computer screens or software applications, while web scraping is used to extract data from websites. Understanding these differences is crucial in deciding which method to use for your specific data needs. The differences between the two methods are exemplified more specifically in the subheading below.

Key Differences between Screen Scraping and Web Scraping

Screen scraping and web scraping are two different methods of extracting data from various sources. The differences between the two methods can be summarized as follows:

  • Data Source: Screen scraping extracts data from a computer screen or software interface, while web scraping extracts data from websites

  • Data Volume: Screen scraping is typically used for small-scale data extraction, while web scraping can handle large volumes of data extraction.

  • Data Structure: Screen scraping extracts unstructured data from screens or software interfaces, while web scraping extracts structured data from websites.

  • Data Extraction Methodology: Screen scraping uses OCR (optical character recognition) and other image processing techniques to extract data from screens, while web scraping uses HTML parsing and other web technologies to extract data from websites.
  • Complexity: Screen scraping is typically more complex and requires more technical expertise than web scraping.

  • Legality: Screen scraping is often viewed as a more gray area legally, while web scraping is more widely accepted and legal in many cases.

Understanding these key differences can help you decide which method is best suited for your specific data extraction needs. Whether you opt for screen scraping or web scraping, it’s important to ensure that your data extraction process is efficient, effective, and legally compliant.

Legal Considerations: The Legality of Screen Scraping vs Web Scraping

When deciding between screen scraping and web scraping, it’s important to consider the legal implications of each method. While web scraping is generally considered legal, screen scraping may legally fall into a gray area.

Web scraping is widely accepted as a legitimate method of extracting data from websites, provided that it is done in an ethical and legal manner. However, screen scraping may raise legal concerns related to copyright infringement, trade secret theft, or unauthorized access to computer systems. Companies that engage in screen scraping without proper authorization may be subject to legal action.

To ensure that your data extraction methods are legally compliant, it’s important to consult with legal professionals who can provide guidance on the specific laws and regulations governing data extraction in your industry and location. It’s also important to implement data extraction processes that are transparent, ethical, and comply with all relevant laws and regulations.

Advantages of Screen and Web Scraping

Both screen and web scraping have advantages and disadvantages depending on the specific use case. Here are some of the advantages of each method:

Advantages of Screen Scraping and Web Scraping:

  • Direct Data Extraction: Screen scraping extracts data directly from the source, which may be useful when the data is not available through other means.

  • No API Restrictions: Screen scraping is not restricted by API limitations, allowing for more flexibility in data extraction.

  • Image Recognition: Screen scraping uses image recognition techniques, which can be useful for extracting data from visual media.

  • Larger Data Sources: Web scraping allows for data extraction from a wider range of sources, including online databases, social media, and e-commerce websites.
  • Easier to Implement: Web scraping requires less technical expertise and is often easier to implement than screen scraping.

  • Structured Data: Web scraping extracts structured data, making it easier to analyze and use in various applications.

Ultimately, the decision between screen scraping and web scraping depends on the specific needs of your data extraction project. By understanding the pros and cons of each method, you can make an informed choice that meets your requirements while also following industry standards.

The Synergistic Relationship between RPA, Screen Scraping, and Web Scraping

RPA, Screen Scraping, and Web Scraping are all related in that they can be used in combination to achieve automation and data extraction goals. RPA, with its ability to mimic human actions and automate repetitive tasks, can utilize Screen Scraping and Web Scraping to extract data from GUIs and websites respectively.

Furthermore, the combination of RPA and Screen Scraping or Web Scraping can be used to automate end-to-end processes, such as extracting data from a website or GUI, processing it, and inputting it into a different system or application. This can help businesses achieve increased efficiency, accuracy, and scalability. Overall, the relationships between RPA, Screen Scraping, and Web Scraping are complementary and can be utilized in various combinations to achieve automation and data extraction goals.

  • RPA and Screen Scraping: RPA bots can be programmed to extract data from GUIs using Screen Scraping techniques. For example, a bot could be set up to extract data from a legacy system’s GUI and input it into a modern CRM system.

  • RPA and Web Scraping: RPA bots can be programmed to extract data from websites using Web Scraping techniques. For example, a bot could be set up to extract pricing data from competitors’ websites and input it into a pricing analysis tool.

You can watch VooDoo RPA's Screen Scraping example below:

Real-World Applications of Screen Scraping and Web Scraping

Screen scraping and web scraping have numerous real-world applications across a range of industries, including retail, finance, insurance, marketing, and HR.

For instance, retailers can leverage web scraping to monitor their competitors’ prices and adjust their pricing strategies accordingly. This allows them to stay competitive and optimize their profits. Similarly, screen scraping can be used to automate tasks and extract data from legacy systems, enabling businesses in finance and insurance to streamline their operations and enhance their productivity.

In marketing, screen and web scraping can extract valuable insights from social media platforms, such as customer reviews and sentiment analysis. This information can be used to improve marketing campaigns and better understand customers’ needs and preferences.

Furthermore, web scraping can be applied in HR and talent acquisition for data collection on job postings and salaries. By scraping job postings and salary information from various sources, recruiters and HR professionals can make more informed hiring decisions and better understand industry trends and compensation benchmarks.

The versatility and flexibility of screen scraping and web scraping technologies make them valuable tools for businesses across different sectors. As data continues to play an increasingly important role in decision-making, these technologies will likely become even more critical for companies looking to stay competitive and innovative in their industries.

Choosing the Right Scraping Method for Your Needs

In conclusion, the choice between screen scraping and web scraping largely depends on each project’s specific needs and circumstances. Regardless of the method chosen, it’s important to ensure that the scraping process complies with applicable legal and ethical guidelines. Proper data management and security practices should also be implemented to protect the privacy of individuals and organizations whose data is being scraped. Ultimately, choosing the right scraping method requires careful consideration of the project goals, data sources, and available tools and technologies.

References

“Screen Scraping: What It Is, How It Works, and How to Use It.” Oxylabs, 23 May 2019, https://oxylabs.io/blog/screen-scraping.

“Web Scraping vs. Data Mining: What’s the Difference?” ParseHub, 15 March 2021, https://www.parsehub.com/blog/web-scraping-vs-data-mining/.

“Web Scraping vs Screen Scraping: Understanding the Difference.” Apify Blog, 13 September 2021, https://blog.apify.com/web-scraping-vs-screenscraping/.

“Web Scraping vs Screen Scraping: Differences and Use Cases.” AI Multiple Research, 9 August 2021, https://research.aimultiple.com/web-scraping-vs-screen-scraping/.

“Web Scraping Attack.” Imperva, 6 August 2020, https://www.imperva.com/learn/application-security/web-scraping-attack/.

“Screen Scraping.” Techopedia, 8 May 2012, https://www.techopedia.com/definition/16597/screen-scraping.

“Risky Business: Is Screen Scraping Legal?” Advertising Council Australia, 11 November 2015, https://advertisingcouncil.org.au/news/risky-business-is-screen-scraping-legal/?gclid=CjwKCAiAmJGgBhAZEiwA1JZolqpg7SMzZQPBkLq7k-wTGnrK69oHYcGYW6K-rByNcPwil170hmj48RoCgrUQAvD_BwE.