“Webbots, Spiders and Screen Scrapers” by Michael Schrenk; $40 from No Starch Press (

What have we done lately for programmers? Not much, we answered to ourselves, so here’s an unusual offering. Whenever we use a browser to find something on the Internet, that browser uses a software agent, often called a spider or a “bot” — short for robot — to go out and search for key words or symbols. This book tells you how to write your own search agents, using the PHP/Curl language. Among the agents described are ones that can send and receive e-mail, unlock password-protected Web sites, and automatically bid in online auctions. By the way: Why are they called “spiders”? Because they travel the Web, of course.

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