When the web was growing up, it hit a phase where we didn't want to just read stuff on the web we wanted to be able to interact - we wanted our say. At the time this was called web 2.0. Suddenly websites would let you put your words on them without touching a line of html. Us lazy humans however wanted our say NOW! we didn't want to wait for a page to reload so we could see it, we wanted it to appear instantly without refreshing the page. "It is essential that you know my thoughts on the Arctic Monkeys 2006".

The technology AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML) made this possible. Javascript would run in your browser and communicate with the server in the background all the while you never had to leave the page.

The backbone of this is the XMLHttpRequest, which Microsoft developed that quickly became the standard.

Luckily for us today, this is still around - we can use it to our advantage when we want to scrape a website. Yay!

Let's imagine you want to scrape a website for data that appears in a table, only 10 rows in the table initially, but at the bottom of the table you have a button to load more rows. You hit the button and out of nowhere, the next 10 rows appear without the page reloading. Great! we have some ajax in the wild. We can use this to our advantage.

Developer Tools

Open up the developer tools in your browser, go to the 'network' tab and then click on 'xhr'

screenshot showing xhr tab preview in developer tools

We can see that a page-2 was requested, and a json file is returned. The bit we are interested in is the "content" key in that json file. It also helps us that there is a nextPageAjaxLink, we can tell our script to keep following these links to load the next data, but this (or it's equivalent) won't always be there.

The text within the "content" key looks like html, so we can parse that nice and quickly with BeautifulSoup, save the details and load the next.

It's important to look at the headers here too, as the site may require a few extra bits of information in the header in order to return the requested object to you. The important info is in the Request section:

screenshot showing xhr tab headers in developer tools

When you request the next page, you'll need to use some of this information. The requests module makes this nice and easy for us. Take note of the pattern of what you'll need to replace in the example above. You'll need to note that the authority and host are the root of the site e.g. www.example.com.

Note that the page number is an argument in the path "..../actor/page-2/" - perfect opportunity for an f-string: f"page-{page_number}"

Using this in your code

You should end up with a dictionary that looks like this:

headers = {"method":"GET",
"X-Requested-With": "XMLHttpRequest"}

It's worth leaving put the "Accept-Encoding" element as BeautifulSoup doesn't play nicely with a gzipped response.

Now you have that part down, you can get ready to call the pages in a loop:

 for page_number in range(10):
    url = f"ht........./actor/page-{page_number}/......"
    headers = {"method":"GET",
                "X-Requested-With": "XMLHttpRequest"}
    r = requests.get(url, headers = headers)
    soup = BeautifulSoup(r.json()['content'], 'html.parser')

Remember to scrape responsiby, and be sure to check out a websites robots.txt file and TOS before you get that sweet, sweet data.