Many tiny details add up to help people access and stay on the internet, and while many may not know much about it, user agents play an integral part in what helps them easily access the web.
The most common user agents help us access the internet, but they can also become what the internet targets when building information about us. They can be easily used to prevent a user from accessing some websites.
This has led many to debate whether or not this entity is a blessing and whether or not it is good to use them. The truth is the user agent may tell the internet all about the user, but it is even impossible that we would be on the internet without them.
Hence, the best thing is to find a balance – using user agents while applying the following tricks to avoid being blacklisted and blocked.
What Is A User Agent?
A user agent (also known as UA) is a string of text contained in browser HTTP headers and serves as an identifier for the device, operating system, and browser that a user uses to access the internet.
On each request made, the UA is also sent out and provides necessary information about the user to the server, thereby facilitating communications. Without it, it would be impossible to establish a connection or interact with any server on the internet. This is why even in instances where users delete their UA, the browser uses a default UA to facilitate end-user interactions with the target server.
Why Are User-Agents Important for Web Scraping?
We can correctly define web scraping as the process of harvesting a large amount of data from multiple platforms in a stretch. These platforms, mostly websites, search engines, and social media applications, generally contain data in the most abundant amount. And every minute, more data is being generated and added to it.
Ideally, and for a small amount of data, copying and pasting could be more than enough. And while this may work great for individuals who only need very little information, it could be grossly insufficient for large businesses as they usually require very large amounts of data every now to make insightful decisions that can promote profitability and support growth.
This is why web scraping is very crucial. But even web scraping needs certain ingredients to work successfully- namely, user agents. The most common user agents are carried along in every request made to extract data.
And it is these user agents that explain to the servers what device the request is coming from. And because the type of user agent one uses can determine the type of response one gets from these target destinations, it is safe to say that user agents directly affect the success or failure of a web scraping exercise.
When the wrong user agent is used, the device may be blocked therefore interrupting or inhibiting web scraping. When the right ones are used, data is successfully extracted and returned.
Risks of Not Using a User Agent or Using the Wrong User-Agent for Web Scraping
Since user agents inside browser headers identify a user to the server and help to facilitate connection, one can rightly surmise that not using a user agent or using the wrong type can result in abrupt blocking.
It is impossible not to use a user agent as clearing the original user agent and going in empty will automatically prompt the browser to use a default user agent.
And in most cases, a default user agent is as good as a wrong user agent. This is because most servers and websites generally have a list of user agents they do not allow access to their content, and there is always a chance of default user agents being on that list.
Using the wrong user agent this way is considered very risky because it blocks access and forces the target server to deny you entry.
3 Tips to Ensuring Your User Agent Does Not Get Blocked
Below are 3 very clever tricks that will ensure you never get block when using the right user agents:
- Always Set A Real User-Agent
Most bots usually use a default user agent, which the server always blacklists and blocks hence not setting a user agent can easily get you into trouble.
Always set a real user agent to appear as a regular internet user, which is what servers want to access their content.
- Always Rotate Your User-Agent
Using a real user agent may work but not all the time. This is because once a server has gathered enough information about you to create a digital footprint, it can easily identify you and deny you access.
Also, cybercriminals can use digital footprints to target you for several internet malpractices. Hence rotating your user agents by using a rotating proxy doesn’t only prevent blocking but also protects you against attacks.
- Always Run Random Intervals Between Any Two Requests
Even when you use a real agent, sending in requests too often can cause the server to take actions against you, leading to blocking. So always be sure to set intervals between requests but not just any intervals; use random intervals as calculated intervals can easily create a pattern that can also be used to determine your digital footprints.
User agents are strings of texts that can help you get to the internet and initiate a successful interaction. But they can also easily become the informant that the internet uses to get back at you.
To avoid this from ever happening and prevent getting blocked, always apply any of the 3 tricks above when using the most common user agents.