There are a variety of browser automation tools to pick from, such as Puppeteer, Selenium, and Playwright. This article will focus on Playwright and Selenium, and review the tools based on the features they offer and their flexibility and performance, community support, browser support, setup, and ease of use.
However, installing Selenium has one additional step: you need to download a WebDriver for the browser you use. For instance, if you want to scrape with Chrome, you need to download ChromeDriver. In contrast, Playwright has one driver and downloads the necessary binaries for all supported browsers by running the command
Once everything is set up, both of the libraries act very similar and should be easy to navigate if you have prior experience with web scraping. However, if you’re a beginner, Playwright offers a more concise API and powerful debugging capabilities that help you create your first couple of scripts without issues. Additionally, the documentation for Playwright is more modern and better suited for beginners.
In summary, both Selenium and Playwright are easy to get started with; however, the Playwright experience is more seamless and less prone to unnecessary confusion.
Both Playwright and Selenium offer all the necessary basic element location features. You can locate elements using CSS or XPath selectors:
# Playwright heading = page.locator('h1') accept_button = page.locator('//button[text()="Accept"]') # Selenium heading = driver.find_element(By.CSS_SELECTOR, 'h1') accept_button = driver.find_element(By.XPATH, '//button[text()="Accept"]')
Playwright offers additional locators that let you query properties like text, placeholder, title, and role. These enable developers to write clearer locator functions and are helpful for beginners that don’t yet know how to achieve these locators using selectors:
accept_button = page.get_by_text("Accept")
When scraping web applications, it’s important to get the timing of actions right. You need to make sure that you don’t execute actions on elements that haven’t yet appeared and also that you’re not waiting a long time for elements to load.
To accomplish this, Selenium uses explicit wait statements. For example, they can instruct the script to wait for the element to load on the page:
el = WebDriverWait(driver, timeout=3).until(lambda x: x.find_element(By.TAG_NAME,"button")) el.click()
In comparison, Playwright waits are a bit simpler. Before doing actions on elements, Playwright automatically runs a range of actionability checks. This means that it’s not possible to try to click on an element that is not yet visible:
Both tools also have several notable quality-of-life features for code debugging and generation. For example, the Playwright Inspector enables you to step through scripts and see where they go wrong—no more need to rerun the same script a million times in a row!
And if you want to create your scripts without searching for selectors in HTML, Playwright has the option to record them with the code generator. This generator records actions that you make and provides code to execute those actions. This makes it one of the best ways for beginners to get familiarized with the library.
While the code made by the code generator is not useful for scraping information due to the specificity of the selectors, experts can find it useful for generating setup actions that happen before scraping, such as logging into an account or navigating to the correct page.
Selenium also has a playback and recording tool called Selenium IDE, available as a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox. Selenium IDE serves as a playback and recording tool, enabling the recording of Selenium scripts directly within the browser environment. This tool bundles together the capabilities of both the Playwright Inspector and code generator in a simple, easy-to-use package.
In addition to the officially supported languages, languages can have unofficial binding libraries that can be used to the same effect. Among these, Selenium is the more popular choice, with most programming languages having at least one binding library for it. That means if you choose to work with Selenium, eventually, you can use it for scraping in virtually any programming language you encounter.
According to most benchmarks, Playwright is noticeably faster than Selenium. Since they both drive a real web browser (although commonly without GUI rendering to save resources), there is a limit on how efficient the tools can be. However, Playwright developers have implemented many optimizations that make script execution faster and easier to parallelize.
Currently, both of the tools support contexts, which are similar to Incognito mode on the browser—it enables you to run multiple independent sessions in one browser, which saves on browser start-up costs while running scripts in isolation. However, Playwright’s implementation of contexts brings more performance benefits than Selenium’s because you can run multiple contexts in parallel, which speeds up your scraping even more.
Selenium and Playwright both have excellent community support and are used by lots of web scraping experts, making it easy to find a tutorial on any subject.
Because Selenium is older than Playwright, it has had more time to accumulate a backlog of documentation and tutorials covering its wide range of features. No matter what feature you want to use, it is most likely extensively documented by the developer team and the community. Moreover, if you ever need help using Selenium, there are many places where you can get your questions answered.
In comparison, Playwright has had less time to build up a collection of materials, but it makes up for it by having dedicated developers from Microsoft working at Playwright who present and explain the new features that the team develops and brings to the table. Its documentation is arguably cleaner and more modern, making it easier for beginners to use.
When you compare Playwright and Selenium, Playwright is definitely the shiny tool with a lot of cool new features, while Selenium is the stable tool that performs well and is more than enough for experts. If you’re just getting started with web scraping, Playwright is better because of the support it offers to beginners.
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