Best practices of web scraping using headless browsers

Anton Ioffe - October 8th 2023 - 19 minutes read

In the vast sea of modern web development, exploring and harnessing the power of headless browsers for efficient web scraping can be a game-changer. Whether you are a seasoned professional or a growing enthusiast, understanding the best practices, tools and approaches in this sphere can drastically improve your efficiency and outputs. Our article, "Harnessing the Power of Headless Browsers for Efficient Web Scraping: A Detailed Examination of Techniques and Tools", is a comprehensive guide that demystifies this topic and offers invaluable insights that can guide you in your projects.

Throughout this article, we delve deep into the world of headless browsers and their profound significance in web scraping. From helping you choose the right headless browser for your needs, to providing a comparative study of popular choices, our intention is to support you in making informed decisions. We further journey into the main Python and JavaScript libraries, sharing insights on their usability and real-world applications.

Prepared to take on the challenge? Brace yourself for an exciting voyage! We will equip you with best practices and recommendations, commentated JavaScript examples to conquer common web scraping challenges, and even a glimpse into the intriguing future of web scraping with headless browsers. At every turn, our focus will be on emphasizing the readability, modularity, and reusability of code. Let's delve into this thrilling adventure, and uncover the real power of headless browsers in web scraping.

Unmasking the Notion of Headless Browsers and Their Significance in Web Scraping

In the fast-paced world of web development, efficiency and automation are king. One such facilitator of automation that has gained traction among developers is the headless browser. This concept, although eccentric in name, forms an important cornerstone in the field of web scraping.

Going Headless: The Concept Decoded

'Traveling headless' may sound like a line from an Alice in Wonderland redux, but in the realm of JavaScript, it signifies something much less whimsical yet highly beneficial—to be specific, a 'headless' browser is a web browser without a user interface. It's entirely code controlled, offering the luxury of automating browser actions such as surfing websites, user logins, extracting data, and even taking screenshots or saving pages.

The Core Utility: Web Scraping

Web scraping might seem like a plausibly clandestine activity, but in reality, it is a rudimentary and highly common practice that forms the backbone of numerous applications in the contemporary digital age. Web scraping refers to the technique of extracting data from websites.

To grasp the significance of this, consider a simple, relatable scenario. Say you need to gather all the reviews of a particular product across multiple e-commerce platforms. Manual human effort would render the task too meticulous, error-prone, and outright hassling. Here's when web scraping leaps to the rescue, capable of not only extracting this data but also classifying, sorting, and organizing it to meet your specified needs.

Securing a link between these two concepts, headless browsers step into the picture as instrumental tools for web scraping. They stem from the need for becoming more resource-efficient by eliminating the need for a graphical interface while browsing, making them faster, lighter, and more suitable for automation scripts. As a result, headless browsers greatly enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of web scraping.

The Inner Workings of a Headless Browser

Headless browsers operate in the absence of a user interface and are remotely controlled using command-line interfaces or network communication. They interpret and process websites in the same way a normal browser would, i.e., they load HTML content, process JavaScript, make AJAX calls, render CSS, and perform other actions that a human user would do but much faster and without manual supervision.

An essential working aspect of headless browsers lies in their network traffic management capabilities, which are proficient in handling cookies, sessions, and cache, among other things. Here's an illustration displaying the basic functioning of a headless browser:

// This is a simplified Javascript code snippet demonstrating the basic operation of a headless browser for web scraping.
const headlessBrowser = require('headless-browser');

headlessBrowser.generatePage('', function(err, page){
    if (err) {
    page.parseData('.dataClass', function(err, data){
        if(err) {

Why Resort to Headless Browsers For Web Scraping?

You might wonder why we need to shift towards headless browsers? Classic browsers under controlled circumstances would do the job, wouldn't they?

Well, the answer lies in the scale, complexity, and dynamism of modern websites. Webpages today employ complex interactive features that rely significantly on AJAX, cookies, sessions, or JavaScript for data loading. Traditional HTTP requests often fail to retrieve this data because they can't render or interpret such advanced features. Headless browsers, however, can, with the added bonus of automation and speed, making them the go-to tool for web scraping in the modern web development ecosystem.

That concludes our introductory exploration around the concept of headless browsers for web scraping. How are you employing headless browsers in your projects? Is there a unique web scraping challenge you've encountered that was resolved using headless browsers? What else might we leverage from these headless browsers to enhance our web scraping strategies? These are all thought-provoking questions to delve deeper into the realm of headless browser usage.

The Art and Science of Choosing the Right Headless Browser for Web Scraping

When it comes to web scraping, choosing the right headless browser can play an instrumental role in the success of your data extraction endeavors. Headless browsers have proven to be an effective tool for web scraping, executing JavaScript, making AJAX calls, and simulating human-like interactions on websites. However, there are numerous aspects to consider while selecting the best suited headless browser for your needs. Let's take a deeper dive into these considerations.


Speed is a critical factor when dealing with massive amounts of data. Ideally, we want a headless browser that is fast in executing JavaScript, making network requests, and rendering pages. However, the speed of a headless browser can also heavily depend on the complexity of JavaScript on the webpage and the latency of the server.

Test various headless browsers with the websites you aim to scrape from, and analyze their speed performance. However, remember that speed shouldn't be your only consideration. There's a balance to strike between speed and reliability.


Ensure your chosen headless browser demonstrates high compatibility with various web technologies and standards, such as HTML5, CSS3, ECMAScript, WebGL, and others. A well-suited browser should also be compatible with mobile and desktop versions of websites, as different versions carry different structures and content.

It is important to test your headless browser extensively to ensure it can render all the target site's components accurately and consistently.

Memory Efficiency

Web scraping can be a memory-intensive process. Choose a headless browser that has effective memory management and doesn't exhaust your system's resources amidst high-volume scraping needs. Poor memory management could lead to frequent crashes and interruptions in your scraping task, leading to operational inefficiency.

Ease of Use

The learning curve associated with a headless browser should also be a consideration. Some headless browsers come with easy-to-use APIs, while others might require more in-depth knowledge of programming concepts. Analyze the documentation, community support, and resources available to make the learning and implementation process smoother.


A headless browser with flexible customization options allows you to tailor the browsing environment to your needs, such as setting custom headers, disabling JavaScript, managing cookies, and more. This flexibility can be valuable in overcoming challenges like bot detections, handling CAPTCHAs, or dealing with complex login flows.

Privacy and Security

In an era where privacy and security are paramount, adopting practices that respect these aspects is crucial. Opt for a headless browser that supports features such as HTTPS, encryption, and proxy management to maintain anonymity, bypass geo-restrictions, and ensure the compromised integrity of scraped data is minimized.

It's clear that choosing the right headless browser for web scraping is not only an art but also a science. We need to consider numerous factors, perform extensive tests, and strike the perfect balance to meet our data extraction needs successfully. By considering these aspects, you can ensure your web scraping efforts are powered by a headless browser that delivers speed, compatibility, memory efficiency, ease of use, customization possibilities, and robust privacy and security features.

Feel free to challenge these considerations with questions. Have you come across any unexpected hindrances with your choice of headless browsers for web scraping? Or perhaps you've discovered ways to push the performance of your chosen tool beyond its known capabilities?

Remember, the most suitable tool for web scraping lies at the intersection of your particular requirements and the headless browser's capabilities.

A Comparative Study of Popular Headless Browsers for Web Scraping

Headless browsers, fundamentally, are web browsers without a graphical user interface. Web developers, particularly those dealing with automation testing, find headless browsers incredibly handy. Web scraping, an essential aspect of data gathering, frequently uses headless browsers to achieve efficient, automated data extraction. Several headless browsers dominate the market, including Puppeteer, Playwright, and Selenium. In this comprehensive analysis, we'll explore the unique offerings and limitations of these browsers and take a comparative look at their features, supported browsers, and programming languages compatibility.

Puppeteer Pros and Cons

Entering the scene in 2017, Puppeteer, a project sponsored by Google Chrome itself, was quick to gain popularity for web scraping. Puppeteer supports both JavaScript and TypeScript and interacts well with Google Chrome and Chromium browsers.

Advantages: Besides providing full-fledged browser automation, it boasts of automatic waiting mechanism, customizable interactions, rich functionality for interaction with web elements and notably, its ability to block unwanted resource types to enhance scraping speed.

Limitations: The cons of Puppeteer are pretty concise. It lacks cross-browser support. That is, it is specifically designed to work with Google Chrome and Chromium. Working with browsers like Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer would require grueling workarounds.

Playwright Pros and Cons

Microsoft's Playwright is another well-known headless browser library that conveniently allows web scraping tasks across multiple browsers. It supports JavaScript, TypeScript, Python, C#, and even Java.

Advantages: Its primary strength lies in cross-browser support, with flawless interaction across Chromium, Firefox, and WebKit. It also features robust tools for user interactions, emulating different devices and geolocations, handling waits and timeouts, and multiple browser contexts for data isolation.

Limitations: Despite its impressive feature list, Playwright falls short in some aspects. Its API surface is relatively large and complex, leading to a steeper learning curve for developers new to the tool.

Selenium Pros and Cons

Selenium has been a favorite for browser automation long before headless browsers came into existence. It supports a wide range of programming languages, including C#, Java, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, and JavaScript.

Advantages: Selenium is famous for its wide-ranging browser support, which includes Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. It also offers grid functionality which allows for distributed testing. Its additional support for mobile automation testing with Appium makes it stand out amongst the rest.

Limitations: However, despite its extensive support and capabilities, Selenium does have its share of hiccups. It is often criticized for its sub-optimal performance and slow execution times as compared to its clerks. This may be a considerable drawback for developers focusing on fast-paced, efficient web scraping.

Considering the pros and cons of each of these headless browsers, you might be wondering - which headless browser should one choose for web scraping? The answer, as it often does, lies in the requirements of the specific project at hand. Suppose the focus is on quick, efficient scraping with minimal resource usage. In that case, Puppeteer shines with its ability to block unwanted resources. But if the project demands versatile cross-browser support, then Playwright or Selenium might be a better choice.

However, it is essential to remember that tools are just a piece of the puzzle. The effectiveness of web scraping depends largely on the strategies employed and the proficiency level of the developer, regardless of the chosen headless browser. So, what headless browser has served you the best in your web scraping endeavours? Have you ever faced a peculiar issue while using any of the above-mentioned tools? We'd love to hear your tales and experiences in the comments below!

Delving into Python and JavaScript Libraries: Puppeteer, Selenium and Beyond

When it comes to handling web scraping using headless browsers, several JavaScript and Python libraries stand out - Puppeteer and Selenium being major players. In this section, we'll dive deep into these libraries, their syntax, usability, and real-world application scenarios.


Puppeteer is a Node.js library that controls a headless Chrome or Chromium browsers using the DevTools protocol. This library's features put it at the forefront of automated website interaction, providing the capability to generate screenshots, create PDFs of webpages, crawl a SPA (Single Page Application), and perform advanced interaction tests in a browser environment.

Puppeteer code syntax is straightforward and easily understandable. For example, the following snippet launches a headless browser, goes to a website and waits for a specific element:

const puppeteer = require('puppeteer');

async function run() {
    const browser = await puppeteer.launch();
    const page = await browser.newPage();
    await page.goto('');
    await page.waitForSelector('.targetElement');
    await browser.close();


  • Puppeteer provides a robust feature set and is incredibly versatile.
  • Easier to automate form submissions, UI testing, keyboard input etc.
  • Generating screenshots and PDFs of pages is quite simple.


  • Being a Node.js library, it expects you to be familiar with JavaScript and the Node.js environment.
  • Can be resource-intensive in terms of system memory usage.


Selenium is a robust framework for testing web applications, with bindings for JavaScript, Java, C#, Python, and Ruby. Selenium supports a variety of web browsers, including headless browsers.

Writing Selenium scripts follows a simple syntax. Here’s an example in Python that opens a webpage and searches for a specific element:

from selenium import webdriver

driver = webdriver.Firefox()
assert "Python" in driver.title
element = driver.find_element_by_name("q")


  • Selenium is language agnostic, meaning it provides bindings for multiple languages.
  • Provides capabilities to emulate user interaction — clicking, scroll, filling forms, etc.


  • It can be somewhat slower than other headless test solutions due to its comprehensive feature set.
  • Setting up Selenium, particularly with headless browsers, can sometimes be a demanding process.

While Puppeteer and Selenium lead the field, there are other options, such as JSDOM for JavaScript and Beautiful Soup for Python. It's essential to evaluate and understand these libraries' strengths and weaknesses to utilize them effectively based on your specific project requirements.

Questions that provoke deeper thinking include:

  • How might your chosen library affect your web scraping performance, based on the website's complexity or the headless browser you're using?
  • How could the async/await pattern used in Puppeteer affect the flow of your code, in comparison to Selenium's approach?
  • In what scenario would a less-feature-intensive library like JSDOM or Beautiful Soup be more effective than Puppeteer or Selenium?

The breadth and depth of libraries available today can make it easier than ever to interact with websites programmatically. Understanding these libraries' pros and cons can be a vital asset when embarking on web scraping using headless browsers.

Best Practices and Recommendations for Web Scraping with Headless Browsers

Let's jump into some of the best practices and common pitfalls when using headless browsers for web scraping in JavaScript:

Optimize the Performance

When performing web scraping tasks using headless browsers, it's crucial to optimize the performance of your scripts. Headless browsers can consume a significant amount of resources, and the more tabs or windows you open, the greater the load on the system.

Consider using these methods to optimize your performance:

  • Page.close: One feasible way to mitigate this is to make sure to close the page once you are done scraping. await page.close();
  • Browser.newPage: Instead of running multiple instances of the browser, consider using the newPage function, which opens a new tab in the existing browser.

Reuse and Recycle

To make your scraping code easier to maintain and debug, try to build it in a reusable and modular manner. Using functions to encapsulate the operations can help to make your code cleaner and easier to debug.

An example of such technique could be:

// Function to scrape data from single page
async function scrapePage(page) {
    // insert your scraping logics here
    return data;

You can then leverage the scrapePage function and handle multiple scrapings without code repetition:

// Use same function for scraping multiple pages
for (let url of urls) {
    const page = await browser.newPage();
    await page.goto(url);
    const data = await scrapePage(url);
    await page.close();

Avoid Blocking the Main Thread

JavaScript is single-threaded and event-driven, meaning it does not wait for an operation to finish before moving on to the next one. This characteristic can actually be leveraged to avoid blocking the main thread while scraping multiple web pages.

Consider using Promise.all() to run multiple scraping operations simultaneously:

const promises = [];

for (let url of urls) {
    const page = await browser.newPage();
    await page.close();
// Wait for all promises to resolve
const dataArr = await Promise.all(promises);

This will significantly reduce the time required to scrape all pages because the operations take place concurrently rather than sequentially.

Handle Exceptions

Exception handling is a necessary part of any software development activity. When scraping the web, a multitude of things can go wrong, from network errors to changes in the website structure.

In JavaScript, you can use the try...catch...finally statement to handle exceptions:

try {
    const page = await browser.newPage();
    await page.goto('');
    // Perform scraping operations
} catch (err) {
    console.error('An error occurred: ', err);
} finally {
    await page.close();

Be Respectful of the Target Website

While performing web scraping, we should also make sure to respect the target website’s server capacity. This can generally be achieved by avoiding excessively rapid or concurrent requests to the same website. Implementing a delay between requests can alleviate this problem:

function delay(time) {
   return new Promise(function(resolve) { 
       setTimeout(resolve, time);

You can then use this function within your scraping logic:

// Random delay between requests
await delay(Math.random() * 5000);

Common Mistake: Not Waiting for Page Load

One common mistake when performing web scraping operations is trying to access or interact with HTML elements before they have fully loaded. This is particularly crucial when dealing with dynamic, JavaScript-rendered websites.

Here is how to correctly do it:

await page.goto('', { waitUntil: 'networkidle0' });

Can you imagine the downside of waiting for the entire page to load in terms of performance though?

On a final note, web scraping with headless browsers should never be approached as a one-size-fits-all solution. Depending on the complexity and structure of the target website, sometimes other less resource-intensive methods may be more appropriate. What are your thoughts on the reusability and modularity of the example code demonstrate above? And how do you usually handle the balance between performance optimization and staying respectful of the server capacity?

Using Meticulously Crafted Code to Overcome Web Scraping Challenges with Headless Browsers

In the journey to conquer the challenges of web scraping using headless browsers, meticulous code crafting is a developer's best ally. This section will delve into a pragmatic approach of dealing with three common challenges: handling dynamically loaded content, simulating page interactions, and persistently maintaining sessions.

Scraping Dynamically Loaded Content

Content that is dynamically loaded, usually via AJAX requests or rendered after page load with JavaScript, stands as a prime obstacle in web scraping using headless browsers. This is where Puppeteer, a NodeJS library that uses the Chrome DevTools Protocol, shines.

A common yet elegant solution is to make use of Puppeteer's waitForSelector function, strategically waiting for certain elements to appear on the page. Below is an illustrative JavaScript snippet:

const puppeteer = require('puppeteer');

async function scrapeDynamicContent(url) {
    const browser = await puppeteer.launch();
    const page = await browser.newPage();

    await page.goto(url, { waitUntil: 'networkidle2' });

    await page.waitForSelector('.dynamic-content');

    const content = await page.evaluate(() => {
        const element = document.querySelector('.dynamic-content');
        return element.textContent;

    await browser.close();
    return content;

In the code example above, the waitForSelector function enables our code to wait for the dynamic content to load. Once loaded, it then extracts the content using page.evaluate.

Dealing with Page Interactions

Another challenge a developer might face is dealing with web pages that require certain user interactions to load desired content. This could be in the form of dropdown menus, form inputs, or onClick events. Puppeteer provides methods to simulate these interactions.

Below is an example that demonstrates handling a button click event:

const puppeteer = require('puppeteer');

async function scrapeInteractions(url) {
    const browser = await puppeteer.launch();
    const page = await browser.newPage();

    await page.goto(url, { waitUntil: 'networkidle2' });


    await page.waitForSelector('.dynamic-content');

    const content = await page.evaluate(() => {
        const element = document.querySelector('.dynamic-content');
        return element.textContent;

    await browser.close();

    return content;

In the above snippet, notice the use of, allowing our scraper to simulate a click event that loads the desired content.

Maintaining Sessions Across Multiple Pages

Web scraping projects often involve navigating through multiple pages while maintaining the same session. For this purpose, managing cookies is crucial. The following example demonstrates setting and getting cookies to maintain sessions:

const puppeteer = require('puppeteer');

async function scrapeSession(url) {
    const browser = await puppeteer.launch();
    const page = await browser.newPage();

    await page.goto(url, { waitUntil: 'networkidle2' });

    // Get cookies and store them
    const cookies = await page.cookies();
    // ... Store cookies as needed ...

    // Load another page within the same session by setting cookies
    const secondPage = await browser.newPage();

    await secondPage.setCookie(...cookies);
    await secondPage.goto('', { waitUntil: 'networkidle2' });

    await browser.close();

In the above example, we first extract the cookies from the initial page using page.cookies(), then apply them to the next page with secondPage.setCookie(...cookies) for maintaining the session.

Would it be more efficient to use a single browser instance for handling multiple pages to extract data? What are the potential trade-offs of this approach? These are questions worth pondering upon as we continue to explore best practices in web scraping with headless browsers.

The Future of Web Scraping with Headless Browsers: Predictions and Preparations

As the field of web scraping is rapidly evolving, it is crucial to stay updated with the latest trends and techniques. When it comes to headless browsers, there have been several interesting developments, and many more are expected in the future. Let's try to unfold the possible future of web scraping with headless browsers and suggest some preparations that developers might need to consider to stay aligned with these trends.

Prediction: Increasing Demand for Real-Time Scraping

The real-time web is growing at an unprecedented rate. Whether you're looking at social media feeds, stock market tickers, or live event updates, real-time data has become an integral part of many web applications. As a developer, you should be prepared to handle web scraping tasks in real-time.

Asynchronous JavaScript and promises are likely to play an increasingly important role in facilitating real-time web scraping with headless browsers. Growing proficient in these tools may lay a solid foundation for your future scraping endeavors.

Prediction: More Obstacles to Scraping

As scraping technologies advance, so do the countermeasures employed by websites to prevent it. More websites are expected to use obscure and continually changing page structures, making scraping tasks more challenging.

Learning to write robust code which can handle changes and anomalies in webpage structure will likely be a valuable skill. At the same time, proficiency with JavaScript-based scraping solutions may progressively become more advantageous over other languages due to the nature of modern web applications.

Prediction: Legal and Ethical Considerations

Legal and ethical issues are predicted to become more prominent as web scraping continues to gain prevalence. Developers will need to have a deep understanding of the legalities of web scraping, falling under areas including data protection and copyright laws.

Being aware of the general terms and conditions of websites, understanding the ethical implications, and developing practices that respect privacy rights will likely set you in good stead in this matter.

Prediction: Growing Need for Scalability

As the amount of data continues to expand, the need for scalable scraping solutions will also increase. Developers are likely to confront more situations where they need to scrape large volumes of data rapidly and efficiently.

Building an understanding of cloud platforms and how to leverage them for scalable scraping operations could be beneficial. Learning how to design and implement scraping tasks in a distributed and parallel manner might provide for better scalability and efficiency.

Prediction: Increase in JavaScript Heavy Websites

The web is progressively becoming less about static HTML pages and more about dynamic JavaScript heavy applications. We are likely to witness a rise in websites using technologies such as React, Angular, and Vue.js.

Proficiency in JavaScript is likely to become even more critical, and learning to deal with AJAX requests and dynamically loaded content in these contexts can be beneficial for scraping endeavors.

In conclusion, the world of web scraping with headless browsers is poised for some exciting changes. As developers, staying flexible, focusing on continuous learning, and keeping abreast of emerging trends should ensure that you are fully equipped to handle the challenges and opportunities that await in the future of web scraping.


The article "Best practices of web scraping using headless browsers" explores the concept of web scraping with headless browsers and provides insights into the best practices, tools, and approaches for efficient web scraping. It emphasizes the importance of choosing the right headless browser, such as Puppeteer, Playwright, or Selenium, based on factors like speed, compatibility, memory efficiency, ease of use, customization, and privacy and security features. The article also highlights the challenges of web scraping, including handling dynamically loaded content and page interactions, and provides solutions using code examples.

One key takeaway from the article is the significance of optimizing performance and reusability in web scraping using headless browsers. The article suggests using methods like closing pages after scraping, reusing functions for multiple scraping tasks, and avoiding blocking the main thread. It also emphasizes the importance of being respectful of the target website and handling exceptions appropriately.

A challenging technical task related to the topic could be to create a web scraping script using Puppeteer or Selenium to extract specific data from a dynamic website that requires user interactions. This task would require understanding how to wait for dynamically loaded content, simulate page interactions, and handle exceptions. Additionally, the task could involve implementing performance optimization techniques and respecting the target website's server capacity.

Don't Get Left Behind:
The Top 5 Career-Ending Mistakes Software Developers Make
FREE Cheat Sheet for Software Developers