Spidering Hacks

Author: Kevin Hemenway, Tara Calishain
List Price: $24.95
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ISBN: 0596005776
Publisher: O'Reilly & Associates (01 November, 2003)
Edition: Paperback
Sales Rank: 9,131
Average Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5

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Customer Reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5
Rich samples, fit your specific needs if you're Perl lover
If you are a Perl lover and looking for a book to help you extracting contents from this huge resourceful Internet, this book quite fits your needs. Overall is good, the author shows you how to setup your spidering tools -- Perl modules. Yes, Perl, if you're Java folks, too bad. He shows you how to use Perl modules on crawling web pages, logging on to systems, extracting specific contents, and massaging data to your needs, across 100 different scenarios. Most of them are practical, but they don't cover much of the details, you have to read the programs listed in the book, which is quite painful for non-Perl people like me. In addition, it doesn't provide much of resulting screen shots after running the sample codes. Most importantly, the author tries to avoid the copyright questions by delegating URL links for readers to reference. In general, it's still a good tool book in spidering field.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Good book with a light start
The 'Hacks' series from O'Reilly seems to be breeding as fast as virii in a Windows network - every time you turn around another one. While the writing and editing have remained high some such as 'eBay Hacks' have not really had great material. 'Spidering Hacks' is an improvement almost back to the quality I remember in the last contribution from Calishain, 'Google Hacks'.

She and Kevin Hemenway have taken a fairly complex topic, spidering and scraping web sites and reduced it to manageable chunks in their hundred hacks. The writing has the same light, readable feel you can quickly grow to expect from O'Reilly. Certainly I have never found myself faulting their editing.

There are some caveats. It seems that O'Reilly and Dornfest (the Editor of this book and the series) have fallen in love with having a hundred hacks and little in the way of an introduction. I think this may have been a better book if it was done as 90 'hacks' and had a much larger introduction as the first chapters hacks are all too light and more truly introductory material such as how a HTML page is built and how to properly register your spider. Given that only someone with a fair amount of web knowledge is going to consider spidering a website in the first place then this early material is way too slight. From Hack 9 on it quickly gets down to useful and informative chunks in each and no longer feels 'lightweight'.

This may be a reflection on trying to extend the 'Hacks' series into places it has to be forced. While the format worked well for Google and Amazon I felt the entire topic of eBay too light for a topic in this series and perhaps spidering is too heavy or complex. If this book had been written in a more traditional format some of my complaints would disappear.

All the examples are in Perl and the serious part of the book starts with examples using LWP::Simple to grab a page before going on to LWP::UserAgent and much more complex requests using authentication, custom headers and posting form data. It also covers using curl and wget.

Then it gets down to the nitty gritty of scraping using HTML:Treebuilder and HTML:TokeParser. This is all further expanded through the next few hacks until starting at Hack 39 through to 89 there are a good series of examples (perhaps a few too many). Finally there are two chapters on maintaining your collection and 'Giving Back To The World' which tells how to make it easy to scrape your site and using RSS.

O'Reilly have a page for the book with ten example hacks, index, Table of Contents and errata and you can also visit hacks.oreilly.com for the same ten hacks with the possibility of more being added.

As a whole this volume seems a little thin. If you've been doing the maths then you've realised that only about thirty of the hundred hacks actually give any details on building and running a serious web spider. Sure, a number of the examples provide good information on how to perform various tasks and some of the last eleven hacks are good to know but in all the book feels like it lacks solid information throughout. A bit more information on various crawling and page parsing techniques would have been good.

After that criticism I'm now surprising myself, I'm going to recommend this book. This isn't a large field and when you consider that most other books on writing spiders and crawlers are less than practical and more than expensive "Spidering Hacks" has many good points. It's written for the practical Perl programmer, it examines several methods and gives lots of examples and while not cheap it's certainly inexpensive. Given that I found it both useful and inspiring the complaints above may be a little like nitpicking. I should also say that I found this volume immensely useful in writing my own spider and scraper (it gets a list of new books from the web sites of several publishers.) I have to be honest and admit that there are three publishers, O'Reilly, Addison Wesley and Prentice Hall, from whom I expect a decent standard and criticise a little harder when they move from that norm. If this book had come from SAMS or Wrox I may well have not looked quite so hard for flaws and been a little more generous in my treatment of the ones I found.

That said, I recommend this book to you if you want a practical introduction to building a web spider in Perl.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Great Book
Are you ready to be the next Google? It is widely known that Google pulled out in front of (and largely obsoleted) major search engine players like Altavista and Yahoo largely because of Google's highly accurate search results -- you find what you search for. They are so confident in their search engine spiders they even have a "I'm feeling lucky" button to transport you to the first search result found -- it's arrogance, but well deserved arrogance. In a sentence, Google works.

Enter Kevin Hemenway and Tara Calishain's latest O'Reilly book: Spidering Hacks. Continuing in the Oreilly "Hacks" tradition, this comprehensive guidebook provides a hundred clear, useful tools for designing and implementing the next generation -- or maybe just your own customized -- spider (or bot, if you prefer.)

So why build your own spider? Well, if you have a large website, your spider could check link integrity, HTML standards and check meta-tags. If you are researching a topic and Google is not returning what you want, creating your own spider might be just what you need. This handy book (with examples in Perl) will show you how to:

* Create a site-friendly bot that wont get you banned by webmasters (Hack #16 --Respecting your Scrapee's Bandwidth, and Hack # 17 -- Respecting robots.txt)

* Interested in graphics, audio and video? Hacks #33 through #42 step you through collecting media files. Specific examples including scraping films from www.ifilm.com (Hack #24), gathering movies from the Library of Congress (Hack #35) and archiving images from Webshots. You'll have your own personalized library in no time.

* Weblog-Free Google Results -- Weblogs (aka Blogs) are amazingly popular these days. With Google's pagerank algorithm, that means they get heavy emphasis in your search results. Hack #50 skims down the search results by eliminating those annoying Blogs.

In addition, you'll find multiple hacks covering Amazon.com and RSS Feeds. The book includes much information regarding spider automation (e.g. Cron jobbing your spiders.) You'll find content filtering and and even a hack using PHP code(Hack #84.)

This book is extraordinarily helpful and is a great resource for any PERL hacker. I highly recommend it to any computer hobbyist interesting in data mining and spidering and scraping. Well done, O'Reilly!

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