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Webbots, Spiders, and Screen Scrapers: A Guide to Developing Internet Agents with PHP/CURL 2nd Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1593273972
ISBN-10: 1593273975
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Michael Schrenk develops webbots and spiders for clients across North America. He has written for Computerworld and Web Techniques magazines and has taught college courses on web usability and Internet marketing. He is also an occasional speaker at DEFCON.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: No Starch Press; 2 edition (March 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593273975
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593273972
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #445,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you have been reading my reviews for any amount of time you know that I love tech books, and I usually give them pretty glowing reviews, especially No Starch books. They are informative, teach you things, make you think outside the box. I love No Starch books.

Alright, now that you know I love No Starch I am sad to report I have found the bad apple in the bunch. Webbots, Spiders, and Screen Scrapers. I didn't come to this point of view lightly, I really tried to find the good in this book, and there is some, however it is overshadowed by what I consider to be a pretty lame mistake on the authors part.

Webbots, Spiders, and Screen Scrapers is all about the what, how and why of webbots, spiders and screen scrapers. Basically a guide to why you need them, how to make them, and what they should be doing. It is a great reference as to what webbots are, and you can learn a thing or two while reading this book.

My gripe is pretty simple, and there is a work around for it, but here it is. The author, Michael Schrenk, didn't teach us all about writing webbots, spiders and screen scrapers. The book was meant to be an tool in teaching the PHP/cURL involved in writing these bots. Instead the author wrote a library of functions and tells you to include it, and then uses the book as an almost 400 page reference to his own library.

Sure you could open the library up and read though the code and get an idea of what is going on, but really that wasn't the point of the book. The point of the book was to show you how to use PHP and cURL to build your own bots, and spiders. What you get is a book that tells you how to build HIS bots and spiders. Furthermore the library comes with disclaimers about bugs in the code, instead of fixes to the code.
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Format: Paperback
The code in the book is exceptionally simple as another reviewer pointed out, but that is the point. The author does not have Donald Knuth envy, nor should he, if you want to learn every eventuality of every algorithm, read Knuth.

Any experienced programmer worth his salt knows the language a book is written for does not matter, it is the insight that matters, and this book is very insightful.

The use of PHP and simple functions as the main interface for the books supplied libraries makes many of the concepts available to relatively green web programmers who are probably not particular comfortable with classes if they even know what classes are... even many seasoned PHP programmers do not know how to effectively leverage the power of objects in my experience.

In other professional programming environments such as systems programming or application development you almost always hack together a very rough and simplified solution to new systems or routines before you review precisely how the pieces are going to fit together; Then you go back and engineer a real solution. This book saves you most of those efforts!
As an example reading through chapter 17 on spiders an experienced software engineer can pick out that a Strategy Pattern as prescribed by the gang of four would make an excellent and extensible harvester routine.

In summary if you are watching for ways to use the ideas presented you will come out with a wealth of insight, and this book will serve you well. If you want someone to tell you precisely how to write your project, skip this book and hire someone to build it for you.
This is absolutely not the review I intended to write here, but the other reviewer hit a nerve. I hope people find it useful none the less.
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Format: Paperback
This edition has been significantly updated from the first edition. While the book still contains the same amount of material there are several chapters from the first edition which have been completely removed and several new chapters on different subjects added. The author comments in the introduction about the huge amount of feedback received for the first edition and so presumably much of the change is a result of that feedback. This should make the second edition of the book even more useful than the first edition.

One of the new chapters is called "Advanced Parsing With Regular Expressions" and rather interestingly a section in the chapter on how Regular Expressions are often not the right tool to use for parsing. It seems that many readers of the first edition disagreed with the authors view that Regular Expressions can match patterns but are ineffective at determining context and that since the context is what you are generally looking for in scraping content that there are better ways to do it that don't involve Regular Expressions. The prior chapter in both editions covers exactly that but the author has listened to the feedback and provided information in this new chapter on how to extract patterns using Regular Expressions where the context is of lesser importance.

A large part of chapter 31 deals with potential legal issues in connection with running these types of script. The author makes it very clear that the information provided in this chapter is not legal advice and also that much of what is discussed relates to laws that apply in a specific country. In this way he is able to provide many examples of the sorts of things that could get you into trouble and need to be avoided without any suggestion that these are the only such issues.
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