Review: BrowserHawk 9
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by Steven Smith
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My Scenario and Experiences

I've written a custom web advertisement server which currently serves a couple million ad impressions per day.  It's important that this application only show certain kinds of ads to users who can support them (for instance, Flash ads to users who have installed Flash), and that our reporting only include non-spider user agents.  These are fairly simple requirements, but I also needed these calculations to be accurate, reliable, and extremely fast in order to avoid degrading my site's performance.

Sample Usage - Detect Spiders

One of my primary requirements for this component was that it quickly and accurately detects spiders (or crawlers) so that I could filter these requests from my statistics.  While I certainly could have written my own user agent parsing engine to try and capture every known spider, new ones are being written every day (usually stupid ones that don't even know about robots.txt, but that's another issue), and I didn't really want to be saddled with learning about every new spider agent that came along.  I was pleased to find that I could implement spider detection in my application with just two lines of code:

Listing 1: Detect Spiders and Crawlers - C#

cyScape.BrowserHawk.BrowserObj browObj = 
   cyScape.BrowserHawk.BrowserObj.GetBrowser(); 
bool isCrawler = browObj.Crawler;

At this point, it's a simple matter to limit activity logging to only non-crawler user agents, or to terminate the response immediately if the resource in question is not something a crawler should be looking at (for example, the stupid ones that ignore your robots.txt file).

But… is it fast?  In short, yes.  I did not run it through any vigorous stress tests using thousands of different user agent strings, but I did observe it using ASP.NET's Trace feature as well as run it in production for several months serving upwards of 30 requests per second at times.  I never ran into any performance issues as a result of BrowserHawk.  (I can say the same for cyScape's CountryHawk, but that is a review for another day.)

For anybody wondering why I didn't just use the built-in ASP.NET Request.Browser.Crawler property, the answer is… I did.  However, since the list of browsers this uses is by default rather antiquated and no automatic update service comes with it, I felt it would be best for my users if I invested in a professional and more accurate solution, which BrowserHawk provided.  And indeed, there are a lot of user agents caught by BrowserHawk that the default ASP.NET object did not flag as crawlers, so BrowserHawk is in fact more effective.

Sample Usage - Detect Flash

This is covered in the documentation as well.  There are two properties in the ExtendedBrowserObj object that relate to Flash: Plugin_Flash and Plugin_FlashVerEx.  Normally you'll simply make use of the former.  Note that the ExtendedBrowserObj must be instantiated early in the page life cycle, before anything has been sent to the client browser (e.g. above your <head> and any Response.Write statements -- typically at the top of Page_Load in ASP.NET apps).

Listing 2: Detect Flash - C#

<%
ExtendedOptions options = new ExtendedOptions();
options.AddProperties("Plugin_Flash");
ExtendedBrowserObj extBrow = BrowserObj.GetExtendedBrowser(options);
%>
<html>
Plugin_Flash: <% Response.Write(extBrow.Plugin_Flash); %>
</html>

Note that the ExtendedBrowserObj is only available in the Professional or Enterprise edition of BrowserHawk.

 

That's It?

For my production needs, the two properties above pretty much exceeded my expectations.  I had some issues due to my server configuration that were unique to my setup, which caused me some headaches implementing licensing, but cyScape's support was first-class, and they even sent me an updated build within a day or so of my contacting them that corrected the problem for my special case.  Now, since this is a review, I don't want to leave you thinking that BrowserHawk only has two useful features.  On the contrary -- I actually have quite a TODO list of features I would like to implement with the help of BrowserHawk that will make my sites more user friendly.  If you'd like to see what BrowserHawk can tell you about your web visitors, go to their Browser Analysis Page.  From there, you'll see everything from your current monitor display settings to your browser plugins to your Internet connection speed.


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User Comments

Title: Browser Speed   
Name: Jason N. Gaylord
Date: 2006-07-06 1:58:17 PM
Comment:
Good review Steve. Quick question: So the speed coming out of the ConnectionSpeed property is in MBs and not KBs?

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