Scrapy framework architecture

In this post we will take a deeper look into architecture of not just Scrapy projects, but Scrapy framework itself. We will go through some key components of Scrapy and will look into how data is flowing through the system.

Let us look into the following picture from Scrapy documentation:

We see the following components:

  • Engine is the central switchboard for all data that is transferred inside Scrapy when it is running.
  • Spiders are components that traverse links and parse data to generate new requests and items (units of scraped data).
  • Spider middlewares (between spiders and Engine) to customise spider functionality by hooking into requests, responses and error conditions. Some default spider middlewares are integrated into each new Scrapy project and deal with things like filling Referer header, tracking crawling depth, filtering out unsuccessful responses, filtering out requests to outside the domain of site being scraped.
  • Downloader is where actual HTTP requests are made and responses are received.
  • Downloader middlewares (between Engine and Downloader) can be implemented for for lower-level customisation of requests and responses. It can also override some requests with a response that was prepared beforehand. Default downloader middlewares deal with cookie management, HTTP headers, timeouts, retries, caching, heeding robots.txt rules and some other aspects of HTTP protocol.
  • Scheduler keeps track of requests to be made (in a priority queue) and when requested gives one to the Engine.
  • Item pipelines can be implemented for post-processing of scraped data, such as cleaning, reformatting and exporting to external stores.
  • Optionally, there can be Extensions which are Python classes that implement further customisations to Scrapy.

Out of these, one or more spiders are implemented in each Scrapy project. Depending on specifics of the project, you may also need to implement one or more of spider/downloader middlewares and item pipelines. You are unlikely to deal with Extension development unless you work with deep customisation of Scrapy framework.

Now let us go through data flow in the picture.

  1. Spider is launched and generates some initial requests. They are passed into Engine through zero or more spider middlewares. Each spider middleware is given opportunity to modify or drop any of the requests.
  2. Engine passes requests into Scheduler, which puts them into a queue.
  3. Engine asks Scheduler for next request to be processed. Scheduler gives it to Engine (as long as queue is not empty; if it is, scraping job is finished).
  4. Engine sends the request to Downloader through a sequence of one or more downloader middlewares. Like spider middlewares, each of the downloader middlewares are given opportunity to modify or drop the request.
  5. Downloader performs HTTP request and generates response object. It is returned through donwloader middleware to engine. Like with the request, they can drop or modify the response.
  6. Engine sends the response through spider middlewares to the spider.
  7. Spider parses the response and generates zero or more items and zero or more new requests. These are sent to Engine via spider middlewares.
  8. Engine sends items to item pipelines and requests to scheduler. At this point, the process loops back to step 3 and is repeated until there are no new requests to be processed.

Note that despite Scrapy being able to launch multiple requests concurrently, no multithreading is used anywhere is Scrapy. Instead, asynchronous network event handling is done through Twisted network programming framework. Just like Scrapy provides foundations for your web scraping project, Twisted provides a network programming machinery that is used to build Scrapy. This has some ramifications for web scraper developers. First, we should avoid doing things that block unless they are really quick and/or rare as otherwise they would slow down the entire system (as could be seen by trying to use openpyxl in a pipeline to export very large amounts of data). Second, we have to take care to use yield (not return) keyword when new items/requests are being created in the spider, as that allows deferring the entire code path until the moment the result is needed.

Trickster Dev

Code level discussion of web scraping, gray hat automation, growth hacking and bounty hunting

By rl1987, 2022-03-20