A Headless Browser is basically a web browser that is without a graphical user interface. They are mainly used for testing web pages that understand HTML as a browser can. It includes various styling elements such as page layout. color correction and much more. So here we will briefly know about what is headless browser and why you should use it.
Web development has advanced significantly in the last decade. Websites today are smarter than ever, and so are the frameworks utilized to develop them. All these amendments have transformed the browsers, too.
One such development is headless browsers. While the conventional end-to-end UI-driven tests are still popular, they follow up with a few limitations – consider stability and performance issues.
Not only do they sometimes fail when interacting with the browser, but they are also incredibly slow. Here’s when headless browsers come into play.
We’ll explore more about these browsers and how you can benefit from them.
What Are Headless Browsers?
Headless browser, a funny-sounding term, refers to a browser without a graphical user interface G(UI). Although it consists of all the standard browser functionalities, users need a command line to interact with headless browsers.
Nonetheless, since it doesn’t contain a GUI, you won’t see anything on your screen when using it. However, the programs will run at the backend.
It accesses web pages and pipes the content to another program without showing you. Users can use it to interpret and parse web pages, but with more efficiency and speed.
Additionally, they are more flexible, optimized, and suitable for web scraping and automated testing.
Benefits of Using a Headless Browser
The advancements in development technologies have tremendously evolved how users interact with and test websites. While it would be wrong to discard the benefits of standard browsing, headless browsers certainly have the edge over them in a few applications.
Headless browsers come in handy for web scraping and data extraction. For instance, you do not necessarily need to start a website, visit it, and scrape it. Instead, you can navigate it with a headless browser and scrape all the data to test multiple pages.
Automating the scraping process makes it more efficient, which means less effort and more productivity for you.
Taking snapshots without a UI is a walk in the park. Yes, headless browsers might not offer the GUI experience, but they certainly allow you to take screenshots of websites they render.
It is helpful for you when you wish to visualize code effects on the website during automation testing.
Headless browsers can render and interpret CSS and HTML like conventional browsers, allowing you to conduct several layout tests.
For instance, you can check how different style elements like color, font, length, and width of the web page look and whether or not they align with one another.
Consequently, you get a chance to view it from the lens of website visitors and modify it per your preferences.
Headless browsers allow you to control web pages in an automated way. As such, you can utilize it for automating tasks, UI tests, and scripts without actually starting a UI of the browser.
They facilitate automating web page interactions like keyboard inputs, form submissions, mouse clicks, and more.
User Journey Mapping
Customer experience, undoubtedly, is one of the critical contributors to a company’s success.
Leveraging it certainly helps brands outpace their competitors. Headless browsers facilitate running customer journey mapping tests, helping organizations to enhance their user experience.
The one thing all web developers have in common is that they prioritize performance during their work, and why not? It gets more work done in less time.
If you also prefer efficiency when performing your tasks, it won’t be wrong to consider headless browsers your best friend.
You do not need to start up a browser GUI, which enables faster testing results. This typically comes in useful when you want to perform small, quicker tests that do not require a UI in the first place.
You can save time and effort by performing tasks through a command line without the need for manually refreshing the page.
Popular Headless Browsers and Libraries
If you want to use a headless browser for web scraping, you have several options to choose from. We’ll discuss two popular ones below.
Control Any Headless Browser With Selenium
An open-source, free-to-use automation tool, Selenium allows you to automate tests. Nonetheless, you can also use it for web scraping, too.
This tool helps you write scripts for almost all popular browsers, including Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Opera. For this, there is a need to find google chrome settings to get control any headless browser with Selenium.
On top of that, it offers several programming languages: Java, Python, Ruby, C#, and more. However, it compromises on speed, which is a downside. Alternative? Puppeteer!
Use Headless Chrome with Puppeteer
While Puppeteer allows you to control only headless Chrome, it works relatively faster than Selenium. You can crawl pages, input events, download and upload data, and more. Today, it is widely used by developers for web scraping.
Fortunately, a Puppeteer tutorial is relatively easier to follow and implement. You can install and use it within minutes. A knowledgeable scraping solutions company wrote a blog post about it, don’t miss it out!
The tool also has a sister library for Python, Puppeteer. Nonetheless, it won’t offer similar support and features since it is unofficial.
While we cannot ignore the benefits of conventional browsers, automated headless browsers offer greater efficiency and faster feedback.
You can scrape data from the headless browser using Puppeteer. The tool works seamlessly with Chrome as long as you follow the right Puppeteer tutorial.