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What is Puppeteer and Why Do Developers Love It?

Puppeteer is a beloved tool by developers. Its popularity stems from its numerous benefits, such as fast, efficient, and convenient testing. It also runs on different platforms, meaning developers are not limited to only a single operating system or their desktops (it runs on the cloud). In this Puppeteer tutorial, we will expound on these and other factors that have endeared Puppeteer to developers. Also, one of the leading scraping experts wrote a blog post about scraping with a headless browser. Make sure to take a look if you want to learn more about scraping with Puppeteer. But first, what is Puppeteer?

What is Puppeteer?

Puppeteer is a browser automation tool based on the Node.js library. It combines the power of conventional web browsers and Node.js with multiple easy-to-use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Besides supporting other APIs, such as Dispatch Events, PageMetrics, Page Accessibility Snapshot, and more, Puppeteer also acts as an API. How so? 

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Puppeteer is an API because it facilitates communication between itself and a headless browser. Given that a headless browser is a browser that does not have a graphical user interface, it does not have in-built tools, icons, menus, and buttons with which users can issue commands. So, this is where Puppeteer comes in. It is an interface in which users write lines of code (scripts) that the headless browser then executes. This way, Puppeteer controls headless browsers, similar to how puppet masters control puppets.

History of Puppeteer

Google officially released Puppeteer in early 2018 for Chrome and Chromium headless browsers. Since then, this solution has expanded tremendously to become a popular browser automation tool. Although it was initially meant for Chromium-based headless browsers, Puppeteer began supporting Firefox in 2019 as a prototype/experimental venture, according to a Google I/O ’19 presentation. It was not until April 2020 that full support began.  

Puppeteer now boasts a robust community and is used widely by tech companies such as Google and Facebook. And as of mid-2019, the community contributed 20% of the Puppeteer core library, a huge figure for an open-source project. It is also worth pointing out that more than 1,000 Node.js packages depend on Puppeteer. 

Benefits of Puppeteer: Why do Developers Love Puppeteer? 

As an NPM-native open-source project, Puppeteer is freely available to all developers. This is among the factors that have influenced its popularity. Others include:

  • Its setup is not complicated: the install command automatically installs both Puppeteer and a headless Chromium browser; this arrangement eliminates the complicated need to link, configure, or manage a headless browser
  • Puppeteer offers browser automation: Puppeteer enables you to create scripts/integrate APIs that allow you to automatically open, close, test, submit forms, type, or simulate mouse clicks
  • It supports any JavaScript test runner, including AVA, Mocha, Karma, Yeti, and more
  • Puppeteer works with multiple other APIs to facilitate numerous functions
  • Puppeteer runs everywhere – it runs on desktop (macOS, Windows, and Linux), cloud, continuous integration (CI) services, and Docker containers
  • As a browser automation solution, Puppeteer speeds up testing using headless browser contexts: this arrangement eliminates the need for you to open multiple browser windows to isolate each page and their cookies whenever you intend to test their individual characteristics. The contexts use the incognito/private mode on headless Chromium browsers
  • It offers reliable testing thanks to the fact that it supports multiple reactive APIs
  • Puppeteer offers mobile device emulation with a database of more than 100 devices. This automation solution emulates each device’s viewport sizes, user agent, and touch support.
  • Puppeteer crawls single-page applications (SPA), enabling developers to create sitemaps as well as visualize your web app (D3.js visualization)
  • With Puppeteer, developers can test not only their websites but also extensions and addons. 
  • Developers can use Puppeteer for data extraction (web scraping), given the fact that it controls headless browsers. Headless browsers do not load web pages meaning that they promote fast web scraping by limiting the number of resources to be used.
  • Puppeteer supports network monitoring and modification.
  • It enables developers to save web pages as screenshots or PDF documents even without a GUI.
  • Puppeteer boasts faster execution than Selenium (another popular web browser automation tool released in 2004)
  • It performs administrator-only tasks such as updating server configurations, installing packages, and adding users

Limitations of Puppeteer

While Puppeteer offers numerous benefits, it also has a few limitations:

  • Only a few headless browsers support Puppeteer (only Chromium-based browsers and Firefox
  • Puppeteer only supports JavaScript for Node.js (it does not support other languages)

Conclusion

The benefits greatly outweigh the limitations, again demonstrating why developers love Puppeteer. All in all, it is a handy automation tool that, thanks to the fact that it also supports other APIs listed in this Puppeteer tutorial, enables developers to undertake numerous tasks. In fact, despite having been rolled out in 2018, it is preferred to Selenium, which was released in the early 2000s. 

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