Web Scraping with a Headless Browser: A Puppeteer Tutorial
Tutorial, Web scraping

Web Scraping with a Headless Browser: A Puppeteer Tutorial

Web development has moved at a tremendous pace in the last decade with a lot of frameworks coming in for both backend and frontend development. Websites have become smarter and so have the underlying frameworks used in developing them. All these advancements in web development have led to the development of the browsers themselves too.  Most of the browsers are now available with a “headless” version where a user can interact with a website without any UI. You can scrape websites too on these headless browsers using packages like a puppeteer and nodeJS.

Web development heavily relies on testing mechanisms for the quality checks before we push them into the production environment. A complex website will require a complex structure of test suites before we deploy it anywhere. Headless browsers considerably reduce the testing time involved in web development as there is no overhead of any UI. These browsers allow us to crunch more web pages in lesser time.

In this blog, we will learn to scrape websites on these headless browsers using nodeJS and asynchronous programming. Before we start with scraping websites, let us learn more about the headless browsers in a bit more detail. Furthermore, if you are concerned about the legalities of scraping, you can clear your myths about web scraping.

What is a headless browser

A headless browser is simply a browser just without any user interface. A headless browser, like a normal browser, consists of all the capabilities of rendering a website. Since no GUI is available, one needs to use the command-line utility to interact with the browser.  Headless browsers are designed for tasks like automation testing.

Headless browsers are more flexible, fast and optimised in performing tasks like web-based automation testing. Since there is no overhead of any UI, headless browsers are suitable for automated stress testing and web scraping as these tasks can be run more quickly. Although vendors like PhantomJS, HtmlUnit have been in the market offering headless browser capabilities for long, browser players like chrome and firefox are also now offering a “headless” version of their browsers. Hence one need not install an extra browser for headless capabilities.

The need for a headless browser

With the advancement in the web development frameworks, browsers have become smarter as well to load all the javascript libraries. With all the evolution in the web development technologies, testing of the websites has been evolved and has emerged out to be one of the essentials of the web development industry. Evolution of headless browsers allow us to perform the following applications

  1. Test automation for web applications
    End-to-end testing is a methodology used to test whether the flow of an application is performing as designed from start to finish. The purpose of carrying out end-to-end tests is to identify system dependencies and to ensure that the right information is passed between various system components and systems. Headless browsers were designed to cater to this use case as they enable faster web testing using CLI.
  2. Scraping websites
    Headless browsers enable faster scraping of the websites as they do not have to deal with the overhead of opening any UI. With headless browsers, one can simply automate the scrapping mechanism and extract data in a much more optimised manner.
  3. Taking web screenshots
    Headless browsers may not offer any GUI experience but they do allow users to take snapshots of the websites they are rendering. It certainly helps in cases where one is performing automation testing and want to visualise code effects on the website and store results in the form of screenshots. Taking a large number of screenshots without any actual UI is a cakewalk using headless browsers.
  4. Mapping user journey across the websites
    Companies who successfully deliver outstanding customer experiences consistently do better than their competitors. Headless browsers allow us to run programs mapping customer journey test cases to optimise the user experience throughout their decision-making process on the website.

What is Puppeteer

Puppeteer is an API library with the DevTools protocol to control Chrome or Chromium. It is usually headless but can be set to operate Chrome or Chromium in its whole (non-headless).  Furthermore, Puppeteer is a library of nodes that we can use to monitor a Chrome instance without heads (UI).

We use Chrome under the hood, but it will be JavaScript programmatically. Puppeteer is the Google Chrome team’s official Chrome headless browser. It may not be most effective as it breaks up a fresh Chrome example when it is initialized. This is the most accurate way to automate Chrome testing, though because it uses the actual navigator.

Web scraping using Puppeteer

In this article, we will be using puppeteer to scrape the product listing from a website. Puppeteer will use the headless chrome browser to open the web page and query back all the results. Before we start actually implementing puppeteer for web scraping, we will look into its setup and installation.

After that, we will implement a simple use case where we will go to an e-commerce website and search for a product and scrape all the results. All the above tasks will be programmatically handled by using puppeteer library. Furthermore, we will use the nodeJS language to accomplish the above-defined task.

Installing puppeteer

Let us begin with the installation.  Puppeteer is a node javascript library and hence, we will need node js installed on our machine. Node js comes with npm (node package manager) which will help us to install the puppeteer package.

The following code snippet will help you in the installation of node js

 
## Updating the system libraries ##
sudo apt-get update
## Installing node js in the system ##
sudo apt-get install nodejs 

You can use the below command to install the puppeteer package

npm install --save puppeteer

Since we have all the dependencies installed now, we can start implementing our scraping use case using puppeteer. We will be controlling actions on the website using our node JS program powered by the puppeteer package.

Scraping products list using puppeteer

Step1: Visiting the page and searching for a product

In this section, we will initialise a puppeteer object first. This object has access to all the utility functions available in the puppeteer package. In this section, our program visits the website, then it searches for the product search bar on the website. Upon finding the search elements, it types the product name in the search bar and loads the result. We gave the product name to the program using the command line arguments

const puppeteer = require('puppeteer');
const browser = await puppeteer.launch();
const page = await browser.newPage();
var args = process.argv[2]
await page.goto("https://www.croma.com/");
await page.click('button.mobile__nav__row--btn-search')
await page.type('input#js-site-search-input', args)
await page.keyboard.press('Enter');
await page.screenshot({path: 'sample.png'})

 

Step 2: Scraping the list of items

In this section, we are scraping the product listings which we got after searching for our given product. HTML selectors were used for capturing web content. All the scrapped results were collated together to make the dataset. The querySelector function allows us to extract the content from the web page using the HTML selector. The querySelectorAll functions get all the content marked with the particular selector whereas querySelector function just returns the first matching element.

let urls = await page.evaluate(() = {
let results = [];
let items = document.querySelectorAll('li.product__list--item');
items.forEach((item) = {
          let name = item.querySelector('a.product__list--name').innerText
          let price = item.querySelector('span.pdpPrice').innerText
          let discount = item.querySelector('div.listingDiscnt').innerText
          results.push({
                prod_name:  name,
                prod_price: price,
                prod_discount: discount
           });
      });
return results;
})

 

Full Code

Here is the full working sample of the implementation. We have wrapped up the entire login in a run function and are logging the scrapped results in the console.

const puppeteer = require('puppeteer');
function run () {
    return new Promise(async (resolve, reject) ={
        try {
            const browser = await puppeteer.launch();
            const page = await browser.newPage();
            var args = process.argv[2]
            await page.goto("https://www.croma.com/");
            await page.click('button.mobile__nav__row--btn-search')
            await page.type('input#js-site-search-input', args)
            await page.keyboard.press('Enter');
            await page.screenshot({path: 'sample.png'})
           
            let urls = await page.evaluate(() = {
                let results = [];
                let items = document.querySelectorAll('li.product__list--item');
                items.forEach((item) = {
                    let name = item.querySelector('a.product__list--name').innerText
                    let price = item.querySelector('span.pdpPrice').innerText
                    let discount = item.querySelector('div.listingDiscnt').innerText
                    results.push({
                        prod_name:  name,
                        prod_price: price,
                        prod_discount: discount
                    });
                });
                return results;
            })
            browser.close();
            return resolve(urls);
        } catch (e) {
            return reject(e);
        }
    })
}
run().then(console.log).catch(console.error);

 

Running the script

You can use the below command to run the above puppeteer script with a headless browser. We will use the nodejs to run our code. You just have to mention the keyword node and the filename followed by the product name whose data you need to search on the given website and scrape the results.

In this example, we are searching for the iPhones on the Croma website and then we are scrapping the product listings.

node headlessScrape.js iphones

 

Output

The output of the above code can be visualised like this

Web Scraping with a Headless Browser: A Puppeteer Tutorial
Product listings after scraping through a headless browser

Datahut as a reliable scraping partner

There are a lot of tools that can help you scrape data yourself. However, if you need professional assistance with minimal technical know-how, Datahut can help you. We have a well-structured and transparent process for extracting data from the web in real-time using asynchronous web scraping techniques even with both headless and non-headless browsers and provide in the desired format. We have helped enterprises across various industrial verticals. From assistance to the recruitment industry python/ to retail solutions, Datahut has designed sophisticated solutions for most of these use-cases.

You should join the bandwagon of using data-scraping in your operations before it is too late. It will help you boost the performance of your organisation. Furthermore, it will help you derive insights that you might not know currently. This will enable informed decision-making in your business processes.

Summary

We learnt to scrape data from a headless browser using the puppeteer package in nodeJS. We performed some of the automation tasks as well to automate the few actions on the website before we finally scraped off the content. Headless browsers are still nascent but do show a lot of promise in the field of automated web scraping and web testing. Faster web scraping through headless browsers will help you in having a competitive edge over other players in the market in terms of the server cost.

Wish to avail web scraping services for your data needs? Contact Datahut to know more

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