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Web browsing has changed significantly throughout the years, becoming much more experiential than in the past. Indeed, websites are now more compelling, interactive, and dynamic due to the emphasis placed on consistent user experiences. On the other hand, they’re also becoming more complex, making them more difficult to scrape.
Even the best scraper, which can easily extract data from a static page, might stumble when it encounters a dynamic one. Thankfully, dynamic web page scraping is made simpler by modern web automation frameworks like Selenium and Playwright. The tricky part is choosing the right one for your project.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss Playwright vs Selenium, their relevance to web scraping, and what to remember when picking one for your scraping task.
In short, Selenium is an open-source framework dedicated to cross-browser testing and automation. What initially began as an internal tool evolved into a project that serves as a hub for several tools and libraries applicable to various use cases, including web scraping. Key components of Selenium are:
Selenium WebDriver – a collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) for creating and running browser tests. Rather than focusing on a single browser such as Firefox or Chrome, it can drive a variety of them. In addition to that, you need to download language bindings where you'll write the script that will interact with the Selenium WebDriver.
Selenium IDE – a record and playback test automation tool that developers can use to document their actions and convert them into scripts. They can also turn test cases into file formats and run them in Selenium WebDriver.
Selenium Grid – used to execute WebDriver scripts on remote machines. The main advantage is that developers can run parallel tests on multiple machines simultaneously, thus saving time and resources.
Microsoft made Playwright available to the public only a few years ago, but it has already become a widely used tool. Similarly to Selenium, it’s a cross-browser web automation library.
Interestingly, Playwright was built by the same team that developed Puppeteer, which means they share similar features, such as API methods. Playwright, however, is designed to make end-to-end testing simpler for developers and testers who intend to utilize it across various browsers. As a result, it supports such browser engines as Chromium, Firefox, and WebKit. Finally, it’s an open-source tool that only requires Node.js to get started.
If Selenium and Playwright are test automation tools, how are they relevant to web scraping? The answer lies in their ability to control headless browsers. So, let’s take a look at what that is and why we might need it for web scraping.
Despite both of these being web automation frameworks, they play a pivotal role in web scraping by enabling headless browser functionality. Headless browsing means interacting with a browser without UI elements or a GUI. These functions are not necessarily lost. Instead, you command the browser to simulate actions like clicking, downloading, or scrolling by writing a script.
Without having to load visual elements, you’ll need fewer resources and will be able to upscale operations. For example, you can spawn numerous browser instances, allowing you to scrape different websites simultaneously.
If both Selenium and Playwright can help you with headless browsing, how can you know which one to choose? Well, comparing the two can be quite complicated. From programming language and browser combinations to the requirements of the scraping project, there are myriad scenarios where one might perform better than the other. Rather than listing them all, let’s take a look at key points you should consider before opting for one or the other.
While Selenium supports a huge variety of browser options, the user still needs to install specific WebDrivers for each browser. Playwright, on the other hand, comes with an in-built driver, which makes implementing it much easier. You should note, though, that it only supports Chromium, Firefox, and WebKit. You need to consider the web browsers your project will require before deciding whether to pick Selenium or Playwright.
It’s important to note that Selenium has recently launched Selenium Manager to circumvent the WebDriver management problem. However, it's currently under beta testing, and using it can still cause issues with your workflow.
In terms of speed, Selenium is regarded as being slower than Playwright. The former is more suitable for small to average-sized scraping projects as more computing power will significantly reduce speed. To make an informed decision, check out some tests and comparisons of the two.
As Playwright is more recent than Selenium, it lacks the internet resources Selenium provides. The latter features a sizable and active community with a ton of in-depth documentation. As a result, when you hit a roadblock, you'll probably be able to find assistance online but have difficulty doing the same with Playwright.
Selenium and Playwright are based on different architectures. As mentioned before, for Selenium, you can install a language-specific client driver (binding) to write scripts capable of interacting with the Web Driver. Moreover, this will be done using HTTP by exchanging JSON payload. In a nutshell, every line of Selenium code will require JSON Wire Protocol to be sent, which might produce delays.
Playwright, on the other hand, uses an event-driven architecture based on decoupled systems that respond to events (user- or system-generated actions). This means that each component is independent and interacts with other components by interchanging events. It allows for asynchronous communication, which makes the system more scalable, flexible, and faster.
These are a few dimensions against which we can discuss the pros and cons of both frameworks. For a more detailed look, you can also refer to the table below:
|Browser support||Chromium, Firefox, and WebKit||Firefox, Edge Chromium (Selenium 4), Safari, Opera, Google Chrome, and more|
|Operating systems||Windows, Mac OS, and Linux||Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Solaris|
|Prerequisites & installation||Needs NodeJS to be installed, but otherwise, a straightforward process||Selenium Bindings (for your language), Browser Drivers, and Selenium Standalone Server needed|
|Real devices||Emulation (experimental support for real devices also available)||Offers real device support through clouds and remote servers|
|Community||Small but active||Big and active|
|Developer experience||Very good||Fair|
|Architecture||Event-driven architecture||Layered architecture relying on the JSON Wire Protocol|
Overall, Playwright vs Selenium can be a tough decision to make. Both are excellent test automation tools highly applicable to web scraping. However, our recommendation would look something like this:
Playwright: best for when your project's needs can be met by Playwright's supported languages and browsers. Choose Playwright for a fast, efficient, and simple-to-implement headless browser.
Selenium: best for when flexibility is required, and you wish to employ a very specific browser and programming language combination. Additionally, given the range of resources accessible online, Selenium may be a highly useful tool for learning web scraping with a headless browser.
In the end, there isn't a single solution that fits all situations; thus, it's important to thoroughly consider the project's requirements. If it's hard to decide whether you should use Selenium or Playwright for your web scraping project, you can try for free our all-in-one public data gathering solution – Web Scraper API. And if you enjoyed reading this blog post, be sure to check out further materials on web scraping with Playwright and Selenium.
Will Playwright replace Selenium?
While Playwright surpasses Selenium in simplicity and speed, the latter has been around for longer and has gathered a big community. Both frameworks keep introducing new features, so it will largely depend on how they develop. Ultimately, we might see both of them focus on different areas and people opting for one or the other depending on their project needs.
Is Playwright built on Selenium?
No, these are two different frameworks built for browser automation. It is true that Playwright aims to be easier to use than Selenium. However, both of them are built using completely different technology stacks and possess distinct architectures. For instance, Selenium has a layered architecture relying on the JSON Wire Protocol, whereas Playwright uses an event-driven architecture.
About the author
Enrika Pavlovskytė is a Junior Copywriter at Oxylabs. With a background in digital heritage research, she became increasingly fascinated with innovative technologies and started transitioning into the tech world. On her days off, you might find her camping in the wilderness and, perhaps, trying to befriend a fox! Even so, she would never pass up a chance to binge-watch old horror movies on the couch.
All information on Oxylabs Blog is provided on an "as is" basis and for informational purposes only. We make no representation and disclaim all liability with respect to your use of any information contained on Oxylabs Blog or any third-party websites that may be linked therein. Before engaging in scraping activities of any kind you should consult your legal advisors and carefully read the particular website's terms of service or receive a scraping license.
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