Best Headless Browsers for Scraping and Testing

Explore the realm of headless browsers: Learn what they are, how to control them programmatically, and discover the top libraries for seamless web testing and automation.
9 min read
Best headless browsers main blog image

In this guide, you will learn:

  • What a headless browser is
  • How to programmatically control one
  • What the best headless browser libraries are

Let’s dive in!

What Is a Headless Browser?

A headless browser is a web browser without a graphical user interface (GUI). Unlike traditional browsers, which display web pages visually, a headless browser operates entirely in the background.

You may be wondering, ”Great, but why?” Well, we all know how resource-intensive modern browsers are. By omitting the need for rendering and displaying pages visually, you can save a lot of resources. With the right tool, that opens the door to efficient browser automation.

How to Control a Headless Browser for Testing and Web Scraping

A headless browser does not have a graphical interface, but it is still a functioning tool for browsing the Internet. On its own, it is not enough for performing end-to-end testing or web scraping. To exploit its true potential for those purposes, it must be used with a browser automation tool.

These technologies allow you to programmatically instruct a browser to perform specific interactions, simulating human behavior on a webpage. This is what a headless browser library is all about. There is a plethora of libraries to do so, and here we will explore the best ones.

What to Consider When Comparing the Best Headless Browser Tools

Here are the most important aspects to keep in mind when evaluating headless browser tools:

  • Pros and cons: The top benefits and drawbacks associated with the headless browser tool.
  • Supported programming languages: The list of programming languages supported by the library.
  • Supported browsers: The list of browsers the tool can control.
  • GitHub stars: The number of stars the repository of the headless browser library has on GitHub.
  • Latest release: The date of the latest release of the package at the time of writing.
  • Repository: A link to the repository of the library where you can find out more about the tool.

Let’s now apply these criteria to compare the best headless browser libraries available!

Top 8 Headless Browser Libraries

Get ready to find out the best headless browser libraries.

1. Playwright

Playwright is a framework for web testing and browser automation. With its first commit in 2020, it is a modern technology that can control Chromium, Firefox, and WebKit via a consistent API. 

Playwright is built to enable cross-browser web automation that is ever-green, fast, capable, and reliable. Headless browser execution is supported for all browsers on all platforms. For more details, explore the specific documentation of Playwright for Python, .NET, or Java.

👍 Pros:

  • Cross-platform, cross-browser, and cross-language
  • The most comprehensive feature and API documentation compared to all other tools
  • Millions of weekly downloads
  • Modern, fast, and efficient
  • An incredible amount of features, including visual debugging, automatic waits, retries, configurable reporters, and many others
  • Intuitive and language-consistent API
  • The fastest-growing headless browser technology available
  • Developed and maintained by Microsoft 

👎 Cons:

  • Requires many dependencies

💻 Supported programming languages: JavaScript, Python, C# and Java

🌐 Supported browsers: Chromium-based browser (Chrome, Edge, etc.), Mozilla Firefox, WebKit-based browsers (Safari and others)

GitHub stars: 60.3k

🔗 Repository: GitHub

2. Selenium

Selenium is one of the most widely used browser automation frameworks and ecosystems in the IT community. The library is so popular that there are several unofficial ports. The Selenium API is standardized, and the library is officially available in many programming languages.

Selenium is an umbrella project that encapsulates a variety of tools and libraries for headless browser automation. In particular, it provides an infrastructure for the W3C WebDriver specification.

The tool offers a complete API for UI testing and scraping. At the same time, it lacks some complex features like automatic waits or advanced debugging capabilities.

👍 Pros:

  • Cross-platform, cross-browser, and cross-language
  • An umbrella project, not just a library
  • Documentation in different programming languages
  • Tons of online resources
  • In development for over 20 years

👎 Cons:

  • No auto-waiting or advanced features
  • A bit slow compared to other tools

💻 Supported programming languages: Java, Python, JavaScript, C#, Ruby, and many other languages via unofficial ports

🌐 Supported browsers: Chromium-based browser (Chrome, Edge, etc.), Mozilla Firefox, WebKit-based browsers (Safari and others)

GitHub stars: 29k

🔗 Repository: GitHub

3. Puppeteer

Puppeteer is a Node.js library that offers a high-level API to control Chrome/Chromium over the DevTools Protocol. The library executes browsers in headless mode by default but can be configured to run in full GUI mode.

Almost 5 million weekly downloads qualify Puppeteer as one of the best headless browser libraries in the IT ecosystem. While it used to support only Chrome, it can now also control Firefox as an experimental feature.

Find out more in our guide on web scraping with Pupeeteer.

👍 Pros:

  • Page-to-screenshot and page-to-PDF capabilities
  • Automation to simulate form submission, UI testing, keyboard input, and more
  • Chrome extension testing supported
  • Automatically downloads a compatible version of Chrome for Testing
  • TypeScript typings included in the package
  • Intuitive API

👎 Cons:

  • No support for WebKit
  • Not cross-language

💻 Supported programming languages: JavaScript

🌐 Supported browsers: Chrome, Chromium, and Firefox (experimental)

GitHub stars: 86.4k

🔗 Repository: GitHub

4. Cypress

Cypress is a complete frontend testing tool built for modern web browsers. The goal of the project is to address the key pain points developers and QA engineers face when testing modern applications.

The library stands out specifically when it comes to testing, so it is not a general-purpose browser automation tool. This means that it has many limitations when used outside the recommended use cases. For example, Cypress cannot handle two browser instances concurrently. At the same time, it is great for controlling headless browsers for testing.

👍 Pros:

  • Complete API for E2E testing of modern web apps
  • Lots of features, such as automatic waiting, network traffic control, and more
  • Support for end-to-end, component, integration, and uni tests
  • Time travel feature and advanced debugging functionality
  • Integration with the Cypress Cloud platform
  • Easy CI/CD integration

👎 Cons:

  • Limited scraping capabilities
  • Not a general-purpose automation tool

💻 Supported programming languages: JavaScript

🌐 Supported browsers: Chrome, Chromium, Edge, Firefox

GitHub stars: 45.9k

🔗 Repository: GitHub

5. chromedp

chromedp is an all-in-one library to drive headless browsers via the Chrome DevTools Protocol in Go. The package is a high-level DevTools Protocol client that supports web scraping and unit testing.

It comes with a complete API to search nodes in a page via plain text, CSS selectors, or XPath expressions. As part of its set of features, it can also simulate touch interactions and emulate mobile devices.

👍 Pros:

  • An entire repository dedicated to examples
  • Support for both CSS selectors and XPath expressions
  • Mobile device emulation and touch interaction simulation
  • Optimized for efficient resource handling on Linux
  • Screenshotting capabilities

👎 Cons:

  • Limited E2E testing capabilities
  • Supports only Chrome
  • Slow releases compared to the best browser automation libraries

💻 Supported programming languages: Go

🌐 Supported browsers: Chrome

GitHub stars: 10.2k

🔗 Repository: GitHub

6. Splash

Splash is a JavaScript rendering service that provides a lightweight web browser implemented in Python 3 using Twisted and QT5. The QT reactor makes the service fully asynchronous, taking advantage of WebKit concurrency via QT main loop. 

As a scriptable browser, Splash supports the definition of custom interaction logic via Lua scripts. While Splash supports several integrations, it is generally used through the scrapy-splash library.

👍 Pros:

  • Native integration with Scrapy
  • Focus on parallelization and performance
  • Develop Lua scripts in Splash-Jupyter notebooks

👎 Cons:

  • Windows support only via Docker
  • Lua is not the easiest and most popular language out there
  • A JavaScript rendering service, not a complete headless browser tool
  • Slow releases

💻 Supported programming languages: Python

🌐 Supported browsers: Custom JavaScript engine

GitHub stars: 4k

🔗 Repository: GitHub

7. Headless Chrome

Headless Chrome is a Rust library that provides a high-level API to control headless Chrome or Chromium over the DevTools Protocol. The project was born as a Rust port of Puppeteer, but it is not as maintained as that popular library. Even though it does not provide all the features offered by Puppeteer, it is still one of the best headless browser tools for testing and scraping.

👍 Pros:

  • Support for screenshots of elements or the entire page
  • Network request interception for testing
  • Page to PDF feature
  • Automatic download of Chromium/Chrome binaries for Linux, macOS, and Windows
  • Complete API for scraping
  • API documentation

👎 Cons:

  • Many missing features like iframe support, touchscreen interaction simulation, different network condition simulation, and others (DevTools can alter latency, throughput, offline status, ‘connection type’)
  • No support for HTTP Basic Auth
  • Not many browsers supported
  • Only available on Rust
  • Not many resources available online

💻 Supported programming languages: Rust

🌐 Supported browsers: Chrome, Chromium

GitHub stars: 2k

🔗 Repository: GitHub

8. HTMLUnit

HTMLUnit is a GUI-less browser for the Java ecosystem. It uses the Rhino JavaScript engine as the core language and provides an API that to visit pages, fill out forms, click links, and more. Its goal is to allow users to simulate the interactions they can perform in a regular browser.

It has fairly good JavaScript support and is able to work even with AJAX and other modern technologies. Based on its configuration, it can simulate Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer.

👍 Pros:

  • In development for many years
  • Complete documentation with many examples
  • Mentioned in many books

👎 Cons:

  • The tool still supports Internet Explorer, which has been deprecated for years
  • Limited capabilities compared to modern browsers
  • Limited API compared to the best headless browser libraries

💻 Supported programming languages: Java

🌐 Supported browsers: Based on the Rhino JavaScript engine. It can simulate Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer.

GitHub stars: 806

🔗 Repository: GitHub

Best Headless Browser: Summary Table

Compare the best headless browser tools in the summary table below:

Tool Languages Browsers GitHub Stars Latest Release Date
Playwright JavaScript, Python, C#, Java Chromium-based browsers, Firefox, WebKit-based browsers 60.3k Mar 3, 2024
Selenium Java, Python, JavaScript, C#, Ruby Chromium-based browsers, Firefox, WebKit-based browsers 29k Feb 18, 2024
Puppeteer JavaScript Chrome, Chromium, Firefox (experimental) 86.4k Mar 15, 2024
Cypress JavaScript Chrome, Chromium, Edge, Firefox 45.9k Mar 13, 2024
chromedp Go Chrome 10.2k Aug 5, 2023
Splash Python Custom engine 4k Jun 16, 2020
Headless Chrome Rust Chrome, Chromium 2k Jan 27, 2024
HTMLUnit Java Rhino engine 806 Mar 13, 2024


In this guide, you explored the best browser automation libraries to control a headless browser in different technologies. Finding the right tool for you depends on the programming language you need to use and the specific requirements of your project. Here, you had the opportunity to discover the best headless browser libraries. 

Regardless of your choice, keep in mind that programmatic requests made by headless browsers draw the attention of anti-bot technologies. In other words, your scraping operation will be stopped by those systems. Thankfully, Bright Data has you covered! 

Scraping Browser is a cloud-based, headful, controllable browser that integrates with any automation browser library, including Puppeteer. As a full-featured solution, it can bypass and solve CAPTCHAs, IP bans, and rate limits for you. Render any web page in a browser without limitations and blocks!

Talk to one of our data experts about our scraping solutions or register and start your free trial now.

No credit card required