Published on March 23rd, 2022
The web has evolved significantly in the past few years. From minimalistic, simple websites to incredibly advanced ones with flawless UI, evolution has brought tremendous opportunities for developers.
Now and then, users implement various strategies and test different methods to see which ones offer a more seamless operation.
A buzzword among developers these days is headless browsers. Apparently, they offer a convenient, efficient, and straightforward way to automate high-level actions.
What Are Headless Browsers?
Headless browsers are precisely what they sound like: browsers without a Graphical User Interface (GUI).
Such browsers equip all the necessary functionalities of a normal browser, including link clicks, page navigation, downloading, and uploading documents.
Nonetheless, they do not display the programs on the screen; instead, they run them in the backend. You can keep track of all the programs sequentially through a command-line interface or Console.
Since a headless browser doesn’t render content on-screen, it consumes less memory, doesn’t need Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), and is more high-performing.
Top Reasons Why Developers Use Headless Browsers
Ease of use and efficiency are two commodities preferred almost by all developers. Fortunately, headless browsers cater to these most-valued necessities.
They easily understand and interpret HTML pages like other browsers, but you can expect them to perform 2x to 15x better.
Listed below are some top reasons why developers should use headless browsers.
1. Implement Web Crawlers
You can use headless browsers for web crawling and data extraction purposes. Nonetheless, you do not necessarily need to start a website manually. You can visit it headlessly to extract, store, and analyze the data.
The headless browser reads the web content, forwards it to other programs, and shows it in the form of text-based lists, files, and metrics.
What makes this process unique is machine-to-machine communication (M2M). Unlike standard browsers, the web content is not shown to an end-user. Instead, it passes the information in formats that need to be defined first but can be processed later.
2. Run UI Tests
You can efficiently run User-Interface tests to see how a website looks. For instance, you can use them to check layouts – element coordinates, default page length and width, typography, and more.
3. Track Web Page Performance
Your web page performance directly impacts user experience. Therefore, tracking it is essential to determine where you lack. Luckily, headless browsers allow you to perform a quick test.
Since headless browsers are without GUI, they open websites quicker, and you can use the command line to perform the test. You won’t need to refresh the pages manually, which is a plus because it reduces effort and time.
A headless browser works excellent for automated testing, especially when you do not require a visual user interface to run a test. For instance, it comes in handy when you want to perform tests against a web page and create a PDF, or just take a look at how the browser displays a URL.
Overall, it includes everything you can automate to save time and effort and reduce pressure as a developer.
5. Time Efficient
A faster browsing process is more time-efficient, which improves developers’ workflow and enhances productivity.
While conventional browsers offer web crawling, scarping, and UI testing, headless ones cut down the time and improve your work efficiency.
For instance, you can use a command line to perform all your major tasks without starting or manually refreshing the browser.
How To Use Headless Browser
If you have Google Chrome installed on your PC, you can run it head lessly right now. For instance, you can convert a web page into a PDF file using a single command.
Simply, open the command line, find the folder you want to save the PDF file to, and run the following command.
$ chrome –headless –disable-gpu –print-to-pdf (website URL)
The chrome browser will start operating without a UI, loading the website and rendering it in the memory instead of the screen.
Then, it will create the output file within split seconds.
Note that there are some complex scenarios following headless browsers. Nonetheless, a few special libraries help you prevent implementation errors.
One popular and excellent option includes the Puppeteer. It offers a high-level API to control headless Chromium. Puppeteer allows you to focus on desired functionalities and create readable and concise codes.
Additionally, it provides automation through a serverless web scraping solution for headless Chrome. If you want to benefit from this tool, you can check out this blog to see how it works.
Because headless browsers do not require loading all the content, they work significantly faster than conventional browsers, adding to the user experience. Developers prefer higher speeds for web page testing, automation tasks, and crawling, and headless browsers offer just that.
On the downside, you can expect to run into various bugs when using these browsers. Nonetheless, you can resolve the issues using a versatile and functional library like Puppeteer.
A deep understanding of the tool through the Puppeteer tutorial will help you determine its useability.