Playwright vs Selenium: A Web Scraper’s Comparative Guide

The comparison of Playwright vs Selenium is a critical consideration for developers and data scientists alike. While similar in purpose, these tools take different architectural approaches. Due to this discrepancy, you may find them offering different operational advantages.

This comparison is meant to give a high-level overview and is not a deep-dive technical comparison. We also focus on their web scraping activities, which naturally will involve proxy servers.

Comparison of Playwright vs Selenium with a focus on web scraping capabilities

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Table of Contents

  1. Overview of Playwright vs Selenium
  2. Installation and Setup Process
  3. Comparison of Data Scraping Capabilities
  4. Code Simplicity and Learning Curve
  5. Browser Support and Compatibility
  6. Performance and Speed
  7. Reliability and Error Handling
  8. Final Thoughts
  9. References

1. Overview of Playwright vs Selenium

The action tab of Playwright shows the location of each action.
The action tab of Playwright shows the location of each action. (Source: Playwright)

Microsoft released Playwright in 2020, making it a newer addition. It is exceptionally capable of managing dynamic content and single-page applications. Additionally, one of the critical points in the Playwright vs Selenium debate is Playwright’s out-of-the-box multi-language support. 

Comparatively, Selenium has been long enough in the field to enjoy broad adoption and substantial community backing. It has become a cornerstone tool for developers and QA engineers in many fields.

As of writing, their adoption rate varies significantly. Playwright ekes by with a marginal market share of 1.53% compared to the 30.81% that Selenium enjoys. However, it’s notable that Playwright is often more highly retained by new adopters.

2. Installation and Setup Process

Primary EnvironmentNode.js (with bindings for Python, C#, Java)Multiple (Java, Python, C#, Ruby, JavaScript)
Browser BinariesAutomatically installs binaries for Chromium, Firefox, and WebKitRequires manual download and setup of browser-specific drivers
Driver ManagementIntegrated; no manual driver setup requiredA manual driver setup is needed for each browser
Ease of SetupSimpleMore steps
Multi-Browser SupportOut-of-the-box support for multiple browsers without extra setupSupports multiple browsers but requires a separate driver setup for each
DocumentationComprehensive, with guides for different programming languagesExtensive, covers various programming environments and detailed driver setup
Initial Setup TimeGenerally quicker due to bundled browser binariesIt may take longer due to the need for manual driver management
Comparison table of Playwright vs Selenium installation processes.

Playwright offers a straightforward installation process that perfectly fits modern development environments. Installation is done with a single command. During the installation, binaries for compatible browsers are installed alongside, reducing the need for manual driver management.

Selenium, on the other hand, requires a more hands-on approach. After installing the Selenium library for your programming language, you must separately download and set up the correct versions of browser drivers required for your tests. Care must be taken to ensure driver compatibility.

Key Differences

Both frameworks offer support for multiple programming languages. However, the way they handle the bindings during setup varies. Where Playwright leverages language package managers, Selenium requires more detailed processes for each required language.

This complexity extends further once you consider the broader ecosystem of Selenium tools and third-party integrations. For example, configuring Selenium Grid for parallel testing or selecting and using various build tools.

3. Comparison of Data Scraping Capabilities

Handling of Dynamic ContentExcellentGood, but often requires more explicit waits and conditions.
Ease of Data ExtractionConcise and expressive API simplifies scripts for efficient data extractionVersatile API that can handle complex data extraction tasks
Adaptability to Complex Web Scraping TasksQuickly adaptable to complex tasks with reduced needs for external toolsHighly flexible, supported by a broad range of plugins
Comparison table of Playwright vs Selenium in data scraping capabilities.

When comparing the data scraping capabilities of Playwright vs Selenium, several crucial factors come into play. In this comparison, we see that it’s more a matter of the nature of the site and content being scraped.

Handling of Dynamic Content

Playwright and Selenium offer robust solutions for interacting with and scraping dynamic content. Because of their nature, they excel at working with websites powered by AJAX and JavaScript frameworks. 

However, Playwright comes with several additional goodies out of the box. Even without additional support, it can handle multi-page scenarios and more sophisticated interactions, such as working with shadow DOM elements. This comes in addition to automated waits for requests.

While capable of managing dynamic content, Selenium often requires more explicit waits and conditions to ensure elements are loaded correctly. This can make Selenium scripts slightly more complex, but experienced devs can easily customize them.

Ease of Data Extraction

Example of using xpath to find an element by its tag and attribute.
Example of using xpath to find an element by its tag and attribute.

For data extraction, both tools provide a straightforward approach to accessing and manipulating the DOM to retrieve the necessary data. They also use several selector strategies, including CSS and xpath.

Playwright’s API is designed to be concise and expressive. Writing scripts that extract data is more straightforward since you handle fewer lines of code. It can also parallelize scraping jobs efficiently, even with authentication involved.

Selenium offers a mature and versatile API that experienced developers can leverage to perform complex data extraction tasks, albeit with potentially more verbose code and handling requirements.

Adaptability to Complex Web Scraping Tasks

Selenium is supported by a wide range of plugins and community-contributed tools that extend its functionality. Because of the ecosystem, it is a versatile choice for complex scraping tasks requiring handling elements like captcha, navigating through multi-step forms, or dealing with extensive session management.

Playwright is sometimes favored due to its built-in browser context and session support. This feature allows for more sophisticated scraping workflows. 

Use With Proxy Servers

Playwright and Selenium can and should be combined with proxy servers for web scraping activities. The reasons for this are typical and likely already expected for most data collectors:

  • Privacy and Anonymity: Proxy servers make it harder for websites to track and identify your automation scripts. 
  • Geolocation Testing: By routing traffic through proxies in different geographical locations, you can test geo-specific features, content, and behaviors. 
  • Rate Limit Avoidance: Proxies with rotating IP addresses can help reduce the likelihood of hitting rate limits.
  • Accessing Restricted Content: Proxies help circumvent content restrictions based on location or deny access to specific IP ranges. 
  • Monitoring and Logging: Proxies can be used to monitor and log your test traffic. This is useful for debugging issues.

Playwright allows you to configure proxy settings directly in your browser context. This capability makes it straightforward to route all browser traffic through your chosen proxy.

Selenium WebDriver also supports using proxies through its capabilities configuration. You can direct the browser’s traffic through a proxy server by setting the appropriate proxy settings in your WebDriver’s capabilities. 

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4. Code Simplicity and Learning Curve

Code SimplicityConcise and expressive APIPowerful but more verbose API. Requires explicit handling.
Ease of Writing ScriptsSimplifies interaction with dynamic contentIncreased script complexity for dynamic content
Learning CurveRelatively gentle for those familiar with JavaScript and Node.jsSteeper due to the necessity to understand multiple programming languages
Comparison table of Playwright vs Selenium in code simplicity and learning curve.

Playwright’s architecture is designed to gracefully handle asynchronous operations, thanks to its Node.js roots. 

Its API supports async/await out of the box, making writing readable and non-blocking code easier. This is particularly advantageous when dealing with the inherently asynchronous nature of web page interactions.

In comparison, Selenium can seem a bit more cumbersome. Although it has been modified to include async/await patterns (for supporting languages), there is a broader base of boilerplate code for similar tasks. 

Key Differences

The difference in approach may seem minimal from a broader perspective. However, it strongly influences several design aspects from an operational standpoint. For example:

  • The way dynamic content is handled
  • Browser context and session management
  • Cross-browser testing methodologies

From a business perspective, Playwright is more desirable since developers may find Playwright easier to handle and more productive. At least from an even starting line point of view. However, these advantages may be less relevant for experienced developers.

Playwright vs Selenium Code Comparison

In the following Playwright script, we can see that no code manages browser drivers or detailed waits. The reason is that Playwright handles waits intelligently.

In the following Selenium script, note the necessity of waiting for elements and the lengthy setup. This includes the setup of the WebDriver, adding to overall code complexity.

5. Browser Support and Compatibility

Supported BrowsersChromium, Firefox, WebKitChrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, Opera, and more
Cross-Browser TestingSeamless and immediate, with included browser binariesRequires separate browser drivers, offering extensive coverage, including older versions
API ConsistencyUniform API across all supported browsersAPI consistency can vary depending on the browser and driver
Mobile SupportYes, for both Android and iOS via WebKit and ChromiumLimited, depending on the browser and driver capabilities
Legacy Browser SupportFocuses on modern browsers, limited support for older versionsExtensive, including support for browsers like Internet Explorer
Comparison table of Playwright vs Selenium in browser support and compatibility.

Playwright offers consistent API behavior across the latest versions of major browsers. Its rapid update cycle also ensures your scraping and automation projects can keep pace with web development trends.

Conversely, Selenium’s strength lies in its broad browser support, including legacy systems, and the flexibility provided by manual browser driver management. Because of this, it’s ideal for projects with diverse browser requirements or requiring compatibility with older web applications.

6. Performance and Speed

Parallel ExecutionNative support for parallel processing, optimizing speed for large-scale tasks.Supports concurrency, though performance may be impacted by driver management.
Headless BrowsingBuilt-in support for headless mode, enhancing performance by reducing resource usage.Supports headless mode but may require more setup and optimization.
Dynamic Content HandlingExcellently handles dynamic content with minimal delay, thanks to efficient wait strategies.Capable of managing dynamic content, but explicit waits can introduce delays.
Resource UsageOptimized to minimize resource consumption, especially in headless mode.Resource usage depends on the browser and driver configuration, with the potential for optimization.
Execution SpeedGenerally faster, benefiting from modern architecture and streamlined content handling.Reliable but may vary in speed, influenced by browser-driver interactions and content complexity.
Comparison table of Playwright vs Selenium in performance and speed.

Playwright is tailored for high-speed performance, especially in environments where parallel processing and efficient handling of dynamic content are paramount. Its design minimizes resource consumption and execution time.

Selenium offers remarkable flexibility and broad browser compatibility but may exhibit variability in execution speed due to its reliance on separate browser drivers and the need for more detailed configuration. However, performance remains robust.

Speed Test Sample

Playwright (ms)Selenium (ms)
Run 1229294
Run 2231297
Run 3235290
Playwright vs Selenium performance results in simulated tests.

For academic purposes, we ran some simplified tests. We created scripts to navigate to a mock search engine, perform a search operation, and extract the first search result. Following that, the scripts were run on the same virtual machine under identical network conditions. 

The primary measurement is the total execution time from launching the browser to closing it after extracting the data. While both tools achieved the same end goal, the execution time varied slightly due to methodological differences.

7. Reliability and Exception Handling

Type of ExceptionsUses its own set of exceptions for specific errorsRelies on WebDriver exceptions for browser errors
Error ReportingDetailed error messages with stack tracesDescriptive but sometimes less detailed than Playwright
Timeout ExceptionsTimeout exceptions with context-specific informationGeneric timeout exception
Selector ExceptionsClearly indicates when a selector does not match any elementsAlso reports unmatched selectors, potentially less informative
Network Request FailuresCaptures and reports directly in the test outputRequires additional setup, such as using browser dev tools
Page Navigation ErrorsDetailed errors on navigation failures, including HTTP status codesNavigation errors are reported but may lack detailed information
Async/Await HandlingNatively supports async/awaitSupports async/await through WebDriverJS
Custom Exception HandlingEasy integration of custom exception handling logic within testsSupports custom exception handling, more complex implementation
Playwright vs Selenium reliability and exception handling comparison.

Thus far, the theme we often see is that Playwrights prefer simplicity, whereas Selenium leans toward control. That’s why it’s interesting that their roles somewhat face a reversal regarding exception handling.

Playwright relies on the dev writing the code to build exception handling into the scripts. Managing this will depend significantly on the individual devs and their chosen language. For example, Python coders will use try/except blocks, while for JavaScript kiddies, it will be the try/catch blocks.

These mechanisms take a further turn if integrations like Axe DevTools are involved. In these cases, further exception handling is dependent on the individual integration. Overall, it feels like a typical Microsoft mess.

Selenium is much more organized and comes with robust exception handling for devs. Exception handling here falls under either checked or unchecked categories. However, these can use many handles to resolve potential issues.

Note: These conclusions shouldn’t be taken at face value. Referring to the comparison table will give you a much better idea of the different approaches in the Playwright vs. Selenium debate regarding reliability. 

8. Final Thoughts

Comparing Playwright vs Selenium seemed like a blast from the past. It was akin to comparing Windows against Linux. As with these two operating systems, Playwright and Selenium have pros and cons.

Playwright is much easier to get used to, making it an ideal starting point for those new to web scraping. However, Selenium’s granular controls mean it should be more capable of meeting real-world demands. 

It should be interesting to see if Playwright can maintain its slight competitive edge in performance as devs on the platform stack integration modules. 

But that’s an article for another day.

9. References

  • Bansal, M., DAR, M. A., & Bhat, M. M. (2023). Data Ingestion and Processing using Playwright. Authorea Preprints.
  • Bär, J. (2022). Declarative Web Automation Toolkit.
  • Gheorghe, M., Mihai, F. C., & Dârdală, M. (2018). Modern techniques of web scraping for data scientists. International Journal of User-System Interaction, 11(1), 63-75.
  • Paul, N., & Tommy, R. (2018, July). An Approach of Automated Testing on Web Based Platform Using Machine Learning and Selenium. In 2018 International Conference on Inventive Research in Computing Applications (ICIRCA) (pp. 851-856). IEEE.
  • Manjari, K. U., Rousha, S., Sumanth, D., & Devi, J. S. (2020, June). Extractive Text Summarization from Web pages using Selenium and TF-IDF algorithm. In 2020 4th international conference on trends in electronics and informatics (ICOEI)(48184) (pp. 648-652). IEEE.

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About author Timothy Shim

Avatar for Timothy Shim

Timothy Shim is a seasoned writer, editor, and SEO consultant passionate about tech. Although versatile, his interests have seen him focus on working primarily around web hosting, digital business tools, and cybersecurity.

Over the past decade, Tim has engaged with prominent brands, including WHSR, Bitcatcha, ScalaHosting, and more. His unique blend of technical know-how and narrative skills makes complex topics accessible and engaging.

A passionate advocate of online privacy, Tim spends his free time on his website HideMyTraffic. Aside from providing useful digital security information, it serves as a sandbox to further hone his SEO skills.

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