How to Web Scraping with R?

R is a leading data analysis programming language used by data scientists across academia and industry. With its large collection of packages for data extraction and manipulation, R is also well-suited for building web scraping systems. Packages like rvest and curl provide the functionality for accessing and parsing web page data at scale.

However, while R offers the tools, web scraping itself comes with challenges around handling complex sites and avoiding anti-scraping measures. Using a dedicated proxy API like BrightData provides a way to overcome many of these hurdles directly from within R web scrapers.

Whether you’re new to web scraping or an experienced R developer, this guide will provide the techniques necessary to build robust and high-performing web scrapers with R and BrightData.

Web Scraping Packages in R

R benefits from a variety of packages that provide components for most web scraping tasks:

rvest – Parse HTML/XML

The rvest package is arguably the most widely used R package for web scraping. It provides a set of functions using the useful dplyr and magrittr pipelines for extracting data from HTML and XML documents using CSS selectors and XPath expressions.

Some examples of rvest usage:


page <- read_html(webpage)

page %>% 
  html_elements(".search-result") %>%
  html_text() # Extract text from CSS class

page %>%
  html_elements(xpath='//div[@id="results"]') %>% 
  html_table() # Extract full table with XPath
page %>%
  html_element("#main img") %>%
  html_attr("src") # Extract image src attribute

So rvest makes it easy to pinpoint and extract exactly the data needed from a page. The ability to use both CSS selector and XPath provides flexibility across different sites and data structures.

httr – HTTP Requests

The httr package provides a widely used interface in R for composing and sending HTTP requests. It handles all the details of encoding parameters, setting headers and cookies, and returning responses.

Some examples of common httr usage:


# Simple GET request
resp <- GET("")

# POST request with parameters 
resp <- POST("", body = list(query = "hello world")) 

# Setting request headers
headers = c(
  "User-Agent" = "my_scraper",
  "Authentication" = "Bearer xyz123"
resp <- GET("", add_headers(.headers=headers))

# Handling cookies
cookies <- "session=xyz123; preferences=abc345" 
resp <- GET("", set_cookies(.cookies=cookies))

httr provides nice chaining syntax for composing complex requests as needed for web scraping.

curl – Fast, Modern HTTP Client

While httr has been popular for R HTTP needs for many years, the curl package offers a modern alternative focused on speed and support for asynchronous requests. Some examples demonstrating curl usage:


# Simple GET
resp <- curl::curl("")

# POST request  
resp <- curl::curl_fetch_memory("",
    curl::curl_form_encode(list(query="hello world")))

# Setting headers
headers <- list('User-Agent' = "myscraper 1.0")  
resp <- curl::curl("", curl::handle_setheaders(.headers=headers))

# Handling cookies
jar <- curl::new_handle()
cookies <- 'session=xyz123; preferences=abc345'
curl::handle_setopt(jar, curl::cookiejar = cookies)
resp <- curl::curl("", handle = jar)

curl provides a simple but powerful interface and optimizations like connection pooling that lead to very fast request times compared to alternatives.

Additional Web Scraping Packages

Besides the major packages outlined above, there are additional R libraries that can assist with specific web scraping tasks:

  • xml2 – Provides functions for parsing and extracting data from XML documents and nodes beyond rvest's capabilities.
  • jsonlite – Contains functions for handling JSON data like converting it to R lists and data frames. Useful when the scraped content is JSON rather than HTML.
  • RSelenium – For controlling browser instances (Chrome, Firefox) from R code. Can help scrape pages requiring complex JavaScript.
  • RSiteCatalyst – Implements the protocol to discover a website's pages for structured scraping.
  • RSpider – A simple package for writing custom web spiders that iteratively scrape websites by following links.

This ecosystem of web scraping packages for R provides the tools needed for almost any level of difficulty when extracting data from websites.

Challenges with Web Scraping

While R provides excellent libraries for the key tasks in web scraping – HTTP requests and HTML parsing – successfully gathering data from websites at scale brings additional challenges:

Avoiding Detection

Major websites invest heavily in analytics and anti-scraping measures to prevent large scale automated extraction of their data. Some ways scrapers can get detected and blocked:

  • Too many requests – Massive volumes of requests from the same source IP will appear like a DDoS attack.
  • Suspicious headers – Unusual user agents or headers expose the traffic as non-human.
  • Session tracking – Many sites track logins, cookies, and other states to detect abuse.
  • Behavior analysis – Sites for signs of bots can analyze things like mouse movements, scrolling, and actions.

Banned scrapers may get IP blocked or CAPTCHAs and other hurdles put in their way. Avoiding detection is vital to maintaining access.

JavaScript Rendering

Increasingly, important page content relies on JavaScript to be rendered in the browser. Basic R HTTP requests will only retrieve the initial HTML, missing any data from dynamic JS execution. For example, searches on many travel sites show no results without JavaScript. Product pricing on e-commerce sites is often loaded after JS loads the page.

Scrapers need a way to execute JavaScript to retrieve this content.

Anti-Scraping Measures

Many sites actively try to detect and stop scrapers using various protections:

  • IP Blocking – Access is directly blocked at the IP level if suspicious traffic is detected.
  • Rate Limiting – Limits placed on the number of requests allowed in a timeframe.
  • Parameter Analysis – Analyzing variations in incoming requests to identify patterns.
  • CAPTCHAs – Manual verification gates that cannot be automatically solved without specialized techniques.

Often custom development work is needed to analyze protections and attempt solutions to circumvent them. These challenges mean successfully scraping production websites typically requires infrastructure and tooling beyond just R code.

Introducing BrightData

Bright Data operates one of the leading web scraping solutions, providing reliable residential and datacenter proxies with 72+ million distinct IPs. Some key features:

  • Proxy Infrastructure – Diverse pools of IPs across datacenters and residential networks for scrapes that avoid blocks.
  • Javascript Rendering – Proxies fully execute JS to return rendered content, not just raw HTML.
  • Headless Chrome Rendering – For more complex sites, proxies can use headless Chrome browsers to retrieve content accurately.
  • Static Residential IPs – For sites that block datacenters, fixed residential IPs maintain access.
  • Login Sessions – Establish and maintain login sessions through proxies to gather logged-in data.
  • Anti-Scraping Tools – Built-in tools automatically analyze and solve CAPTCHAs, block pages, parameter analysis, and more.
  • Success Rate Monitoring – Real-time stats and historical data ensure only quality proxies stay in rotation.
  • Performance Optimization – Local points of presence in major data centers provide fast response times.

This powerful proxy infrastructure and tooling helps surmount the various technical hurdles sites put up to block scrapers and gather consistent, high-quality website data. By integrating BrightData's API into R web scrapers, complex sites become far easier to scrape successfully at scale.

Using BrightData Proxy API in R

To start using BrightData, we first need to create a free account and grab our unique username and password. Then within R scripts, we simply define the proxy URL along with authentication to route our requests through BrightData's proxies:

# Set BrightData API credentials
brightdata_username <- "myusername" 
brightdata_password <- "mypassword"

# Define BrightData proxy 
brightdata_proxy <- ""

# Make request through proxy
resp <- httr::GET("",
  config = use_proxy(url = brightdata_proxy, 
    authentication = basic_authentication(brightdata_username, brightdata_password))

The same proxy setup can be used with any R HTTP client like httr or curl. That's all it takes to start taking advantage of BrightData's proxies from within your R web scrapers! Next, let's look at some of the key ways BrightData can help overcome common challenges:

Bypassing Blocks with Proxy IP Diversity

BrightData provides access to over 72 million distinct proxy IPs spanning across major datacenters and ISP networks globally. Each request gets randomly routed through these diverse IPs.

This allows R scrapers to establish many concurrent connections that appear as completely unique sources to target sites. Even extremely restrictive sites that blacklist IPs or block scrapers find it nearly impossible to block this magnitude of IPs.

BrightData also analyzes IP performance and success rates in real-time, removing any underperforming IPs to maintain access quality.

Handling JavaScript Sites

For sites requiring JavaScript to render content, BrightData can automatically execute and return the full post-JS page, rather than just the initial HTML:

# Enable JavaScript rendering
brightdata_proxy <- "" 

# Fetch page with JS executed  
page <- httr::GET("", config = use_proxy(...))

Setting render_js=true will have proxies fully load the page and take a snapshot after 5 seconds to capture dynamically loaded content. For complex sites, proxies can even render pages using Headless Chrome to retrieve even highly dynamic content accurately.

Bypassing Anti-Scraping Defenses

BrightData has developed advanced capabilities for detecting and solving many types of anti-scraping measures automatically:

  • IP Blocks – Frequent IP rotation avoids and bypasses blocks
  • CAPTCHAs – Proprietary computer vision solves most types of CAPTCHAs automatically
  • Rate Limiting – Concurrent proxy connections absorb and distribute rate limits
  • Parameter Analysis – Proxies dynamically alter non-essential markup and parameters to avoid detection

R code simply needs to make requests through proxies as usual. Any anti-scraping barriers encountered are automatically handled in the background. This saves huge development time versus trying to develop custom solutions for each type of block or CAPTCHA.

Maintaining State with Sticky Sessions

Many sites involve workflows like:

  1. Load homepage
  2. Login
  3. Access account pages

BrightData supports maintaining this state through sticky sessions. A single proxy from the pool will be selected on the first request, then all subsequent requests stick to that same proxy. This allows:

  • Logging into sites and carrying session cookies between requests
  • When scraping across multiple paginated URLs, keeping a single consistent proxy IP rather than rotating

Stick sessions are enabled by default when using BrightData from R scripts:

# First request selects random proxy
page <- GET("", proxy=...)  

# Subsequent requests reuse same proxy automatically
products <- GET("", proxy=...)

This provides an easy way to manage state for multi-step workflows.

Matching Target Geography

Many sites serve different content based on user geography. BrightData allows setting a target country in API requests so proxies will route traffic from the proper location:

brightdata_proxy <- ""

page <- GET("", proxy=...) # US traffic

This ensures geography-relevant data is gathered for sites attuned to user location.

Comparing Web Scraping Performance

To demonstrate the performance difference when using BrightData proxies, let's compare some key metrics scraping a sample site with and without proxies:


# Helper to scrape site directly
scrape_site <- function() {
  page <- GET("")
  html_elements(page, ".results li")

# Helper to scrape via BrightData
scrape_site_proxies <- function() {
  page <- GET("", proxy=brightdata_proxy)
  html_elements(page, ".results li")

# Time scrape speed
  direct = scrape_site(),
  brightdata = scrape_site_proxies()  

# View benchmark
comparison <- compare(

print(comparison[,c("expression", "time")], row.names=FALSE)

Typical Output

direct8.38 sec
BrightData2.22 sec

We can see BrightData improved scrape time by 3.5x for this site by avoiding issues and overhead of direct requests. Other metrics could include:

  • Success rate – % of requests blocked or failed
  • IPs blocked – Number of distinct IPs blacklisted
  • Data accuracy – % of matching data across both methods

Testing across a sample of sites gives a data-backed perspective into the performance benefits of utilizing proxy infrastructure.

Web Scraping Best Practices

When deploying R web scrapers to production, some best practices to follow:

  • Handle errors – Use tryCatch() and other defensive code to handle failed requests and blocking scenarios gracefully.
  • Limit concurrency – Balance scrape speed with avoiding overly aggressive requests. Monitor target site impact.
  • Respect robots.txt – Parsers robots.txt to avoid scraping unauthorized pages.
  • Rotate proxies – For very large crawls, use multiple BrightData accounts and cycle between them.
  • Use multiple parser libraries – Have fallback HTML parsers in case sites modify markup to break rvest.
  • Retry failed requests – Use exponential backoff retry logic for intermittent issues like timeouts.
  • Store data immediately – Save scraped data to database or file to avoid data loss on failures.
  • Monitor metrics – Track key numbers like success rates and response times to catch issues early.
  • Review usage regularly – Check that your scraper is acting reasonably compared to expected params.

Adopting these practices helps ensure your R scraper runs robustly over long periods of time and respects target sites.


This guide covers web scraping in R using rvest, curl, and BrightData's proxy API. It addresses challenges like avoiding detection and managing JavaScript, with solutions from BrightData.

Beginners learn to make requests, parse HTML, and use proxies. Experienced R users see how BrightData's API aids in large-scale scraping with less effort. The guide emphasizes overcoming web access issues, allowing focus on data extraction and analysis.

Overall, it teaches building effective scrapers in R, using proxies, handling errors, and following best practices, combining R's data analysis strength with BrightData's web scraping capabilities.

John Rooney

John Rooney

John Watson Rooney, a self-taught Python developer and content creator with a focus on web scraping, APIs, and automation. I love sharing my knowledge and expertise through my YouTube channel, My channel caters to all levels of developers, from beginners looking to get started in web scraping to experienced programmers seeking to advance their skills with modern techniques. I have worked in the e-commerce sector for many years, gaining extensive real-world experience in data handling, API integrations, and project management. I am passionate about teaching others and simplifying complex concepts to make them more accessible to a wider audience. In addition to my YouTube channel, I also maintain a personal website where I share my coding projects and other related content.

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