Playwright vs Puppeteer: A Side-by-Side Comparison for Test Automation

Jan 9, 2024 · 6 min read

As a veteran of test automation, I've used my fair share of browser testing tools. Recently, Playwright and Puppeteer have been getting a lot of buzz as popular new kids on the block.

Naturally, the question arises - how exactly do these tools stack up? Both aim to simplify web automation and testing by controlling a browser programmatically. But they have key differences under the hood.

Let's dig in and compare them across the metrics that matter most:

Speed and Performance

Let's cut to the chase - speed is one of the main reasons people get excited about Puppeteer and Playwright. Both tools drive an actual browser under the covers (typically Chromium), rather than using old-school Selenium style automation with intermediary server connections.

As a result, you get big speed boosts. Actions flow faster, tests run snappier. I've seen up to 8-10x speed gains personally when switching from Selenium to one of these modern tools.

But between Playwright and Puppeteer, which is faster?

In my testing, Playwright had a consistent speed advantage over Puppeteer - often 20-30% quicker in typical usage. At scale, those savings add up to meaningful time and cost reductions.

The performance gap comes down to architectural differences. Playwright was built from the ground up for speed. It has lower overhead, optimized network control, and better CPU utilization.

Puppeteer is no slouch, but as one engineer put it - "it’s unfair to compare a tool purpose-built for speed (Playwright) versus one retrofitted for speed (Puppeteer)".

Of course, speed isn't everything...

Capabilities and Browser Support

Speed alone doesn't cut it if a tool lacks the right browser coverage or features you need.

On supported browsers, Playwright has a clear edge:

  • Chromium, Firefox and WebKit out of the box
  • Edge and other Chromium flavors with a single switch
  • Mobile device emulation for responsive testing
  • Headless and headed execution modes
  • Meanwhile, Puppeteer only directly supports Chromium and Firefox. You can rig other browsers to work through plugins, but it's hacky.

    Both tools handle modern web application testing needs like:

  • Finding elements, simulating interactions
  • Input handling, scrolls, clicks, typing
  • Screenshots, video recordings, PDF exports
  • Executing client-side JavaScript
  • Network mocking and request interception
  • Emulation of geo-location, timezones and more
  • But Playwright shines for native mobile app testing too with native device engine support. And its visual screenshot diffing makes spotting CSS changes a cinch.

    Little things like automatic waiting for elements to appear also add up when it comes to reliable test authoring.

    Coding and API Experience

    As a coder first and foremost, I appreciate a slick programming interface with modern async/await architecture.

    Both Playwright and Puppeteer use promises and async under the hood. But Playwright was built API-first, with usability and ergonomics central to the design. Concepts map neatly to code with little friction.

    Puppeteer's API can be more fragmented and awkward at times. Simple things like using page variables require messy workarounds due to variable scoping quirks.

    As for language support, JavaScript/Node.js is required by both tools to drive the browsers programmatically at runtime.

    But Playwright shines with first-class TypeScript definitions and auto-generated code snippets. Plus the team is actively developing Python, .NET and Java language bindings - huge for non-JavaScript shops.

    Reliability and Stability

    Nothing torpedoes browser test automation more than flaky failures or script crashes. With both Playwright and Puppeteer built on established browser engines, reliability is generally solid once you learn the quirks.

    However in my experience, Playwright delivers greater day-to-day stability through:

  • Smart element waiting built-in
  • Automatic handling of popups and new pages
  • More consistent results across runs
  • Plus dedicated device lab infrastructure ensures Playwright's mobile testing remains bulletproof across updates.

    As for debugging hiccups, both tools provide configurable verbose logs and screencast videos to help diagnose issues.

    Community Support

    Given these tools are relatively new, the communities around them continue to develop.

    Puppeteer benefits from being one of the first browser automation projects pushed heavily by Google. But many early adopters have hit frustrating limits.

    Meanwhile Playwright has rapidly grown an active community across GitHub, Stack Overflow and elsewhere. Backing by Microsoft doesn't hurt, with large teams of engineers contributing to the tool and its docs.

    I appreciate Playwright's focus on developer experience, with detailed API documentation and an extensive set of code examples readily available. Plus there are now hundreds of third-party plugins building on the core library.

    When to Use Each Tool

    With the detailed comparison above, when should you actually use Puppeteer vs Playwright?

    For most web testing use cases, I recommend Playwright as the default choice today. Its superior speed, capabilities and community set projects up for long term success.

    However for web scraping tasks, Puppeteer still has advantages:

  • Lightweight runtime suitable for scraping at scale
  • Stealth mode helps avoid bot detection
  • Established tooling ecosystem around it
  • If you only target Chromium and find Puppeteer meets your needs, modest savings on script size could still be relevant.

    Getting Started with Modern Browser Test Automation

    If you're sold on a tool like Playwright or Puppeteer over old-school Selenium, awesome!

    I recommend starting out by building some simple scripts to drive a site and asserting key elements. Install the NPM package and run the get started examples.

    As you get familiar with the APIs, look into integrating with your existing test runner and CI/CD pipelines. CodeceptJS, Jest, Cucumber and more have great integration support.

    Here is a final comparison table summarizing some of the key differences between Playwright and Puppeteer:

    SpeedVery fast, builds on latest Chromium improvementsFast but not as optimized for speed as Playwright
    Browser SupportChromium, Firefox, WebKit + mobileChromium only, limited mobile support
    API ExperienceModern, async/await, intuitivePromises under the hood but clunkier ergonomics
    ReliabilityVery reliable with built-in waits and retriesReliable but more prone to flakiness
    ToolingFeature-rich, lots of 3rd party integration supportLightweight but less ecosystem around it
    LanguagesJavaScript/Node + TypeScript, Python and .NET bindingsJavaScript/Node only
    Main UsageGeneral web testing, some web scrapingPrimarily web scraping

    This summarizes some of the key technical and capability differences. In my experience using both, Playwright comes out ahead for most common test automation use cases.

    But Puppeteer remains a great choice for web scraping, or cases where you just need a super lightweight Chromium driver.

    Key Takeaways

  • Playwright and Puppeteer bring major speed and capability upgrades over traditional Selenium testing
  • Playwright edges out Puppeteer on speed, browser support, API design and reliability
  • For general web app testing, Playwright is my top choice
  • But Puppeteer remains great for web scraping tasks
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