Clipped on 2013-09-08 13:48:54 -0500

Running Headless Selenium with Chrome

Scaling website automation for either testing or scraping can be a challenge when the site is enitrely driven by JavaScript or behaves differently when using specific browsers.

Running a headless Selenium machine with Google’s Chrome installed provides a scalable way to automate your tests on one of the most popular browsers in use.

Here are step by step instructions for installing a headless Selenium server with Chrome and Vagrant.

Selenium with Chrome

Side note: Why use Selenium instead of PhantomJS?

Spike Goals

  • Get up and running quickly
  • Run a sample script that demos it works
  • Use JavaScript only (via NodeJS)


The code you write locally should work when deployed at scale in production. These tools help us do that by creating identical environments for development and production.

Both are free downloads. Install with the default settings

I also assume you can use a command line and have some vague idea of what a virtual machine and Vagrant is.

Create a “Vagrantfile”

This file tells Vagrant how configure the testing environment. It applies universally to both development and production.

Create a project directory and create a file named Vagrantfile:

> # encoding: utf-8
> # -*- mode: ruby -*-
> # vi: set ft=ruby :
> Vagrant.configure("2") do |config|
> = "precise64"
>   config.vm.box_url = ""
>   config.ssh.forward_agent = true
>   config.vm.provider :aws do |aws, override|
>     aws.access_key_id = 'XXXX'      # Replace this
>     aws.secret_access_key = 'XXXX'  # Replace this
>     aws.keypair_name = 'XXXX'       # Replace this
>     aws.ami = 'ami-7747d01e'        # ubuntu 12.04
>     override.ssh.username = 'ubuntu'
>     override.ssh.private_key_path = '~/.ssh/amazon-ubuntu.pem'
>   end
>   config.vm.provision :shell, :path => ""
> :forwarded_port, guest:4444, host:4444
> end

  1. Create “”

The file executes when Vagrant creates a virtual machine for you. In the same folder as you created your VagrantFile create a file:

> #!/bin/sh
> set -e
> if [ -e /.installed ]; then
>   echo 'Already installed.'
> else
>   echo ''
>   echo 'INSTALLING'
>   echo '----------'
>   # Add Google public key to apt
>   wget -q -O - "" | sudo apt-key add -
>   # Add Google to the apt-get source list
>   echo 'deb stable main' >> /etc/apt/sources.list
>   # Update app-get
>   apt-get update
>   # Install Java, Chrome, Xvfb, and unzip
>   apt-get -y install openjdk-7-jre google-chrome-stable xvfb unzip
>   # Download and copy the ChromeDriver to /usr/local/bin
>   cd /tmp
>   wget ""
>   wget ""
>   unzip
>   mv chromedriver /usr/local/bin
>   mv selenium-server-standalone-2.35.0.jar /usr/local/bin
>   # So that running `vagrant provision` doesn't redownload everything
>   touch /.installed
> fi
> # Start Xvfb, Chrome, and Selenium in the background
> export DISPLAY=:10
> cd /vagrant
> echo "Starting Xvfb ..."
> Xvfb :10 -screen 0 1366x768x24 -ac &
> echo "Starting Google Chrome ..."
> google-chrome --remote-debugging-port=9222 &
> echo "Starting Selenium ..."
> cd /usr/local/bin
> nohup java -jar ./selenium-server-standalone-2.35.0.jar &

  1. Run “vagrant up”

On your command line and in the directory where you created the VagrantFile, run the following command:

> vagrant up

This will kick off downloading and installing all the pieces neccessary. It should look like this:

vagrant up

  1. Make sure it’s running

You can check to see if everything is working by going to http://localhost:4444/wd/hub.

The VagrantFile has been configured to forward port 4444 on your localhost. This allows you UI control of the Selenium browser. This page shows you all the sessions that you’re running in your virtual machine. If you see this page, everything is OK.

WebDriver UI

  1. Install the selenium-webdriver

In order to write NodeJS scripts that talk to Chrome you will need the Selenium-Webdriver for NodeJS.

On your command line, install selenium-webdriver with the following command. This will install the modules needed for interacting with Selenium.

> npm install selenium-webdriver

  1. Write your first Selenium script

This first script will go to Google’s homepage, type in a query, then print out the HTML.

> var webdriver = require('selenium-webdriver');
> var keyword = "chris le twitter";
> var driver = new webdriver.Builder().
>    usingServer('http://localhost:4444/wd/hub').
>    withCapabilities(
>    build();
> driver.get('');
> driver.findElement('q')).sendKeys(keyword);
> driver.findElement('btnG')).click();
> driver.wait(function() {
>   return driver.getTitle().then(function(title) {
>     driver.getPageSource().then(function(html) {
>       console.log(html);
>       return true;
>     });
>   });
> }, 1000);
> driver.quit();

  1. Run your test

Run your test with node. You should see the HTML that was rendered by the Chrome browser.

HTML from NodeJs

Use Cases

So now that you have this up and running what can you use it for?

Running your automated test suites: This is great for doing integration testing against Chrome browsers and probably responsive websites.

Testing your Chrome Extentions: Debugging Chrome Extensions can be a bit of a pain. This could be your Asprin.

Taking many screenshots: If you want to make screenshots of many pages at once.

Scraping stubborn websites: I wasn’t able to scrape a website using PhantomJS because it fired JSONP requests long after the onLoad() event fired. Simply waiting for the event loop to empty itself wansn’t enough. A combination of debugging with a real browser and Selenium, I was more successful at getting the DOM after the scripts had run.