Top 5 headless browsers 2023

Doma Stankevičiūtė
7 Min Read

The past few years have been a rollercoaster ride for website developers considering just how much and just how quickly the field of web development has evolved. There’s a growing need for better user interfaces, better site performance, more features, faster loading times, fewer glitches. All this gave way to the rise of headless browsers. Essentially the same thing as your typical Chrome or Firefox browser, a headless browser has no graphical user interface (GUI).

It can still render HTML, understand page layout, execute JavaScript, and do everything that a regular browser can – it just doesn’t look as pretty, making it ideal for automated web testing and other backend needs. Of course, just like every regular browser is different, so is every headless browser – a Puppeteer tutorial will help you understand Puppeteer only, not Selenium or Headless Chrome. So, you’ll need to find the headless browser best suited for your needs.

Why are headless browsers needed?

The main reason why headless browsers are needed is their speed. For a regular browser to work effectively, for example, it needs to take time to open the GUI. It needs time to load JavaScript and CSS and then some more time to render the HTML. Depending on the browser and the page, that time can vary from a few milliseconds to even a few minutes.

Even though typical users prefer fast-loading pages, most of them wouldn’t mind waiting for a few seconds. However, if you’re in a hurry to collect data or perform website testing, a few seconds of waiting can be too much. Since they don’t need to load the unnecessary GUI elements, headless browsers can complete every action up to 15 percent faster. With such an improved performance, it’s evident why they’re needed.

What makes headless browsers useful?

Headless browsers have many benefits and applications, but they’re rarely helpful for everyday users who like to check the weather forecast or scroll through their social media. Instead, they hold significance for small businesses and backend developers who need to perform specific actions:

  • Automate web interactions and HTML responses.
  • Execute JavaScript.
  • Monitor the network.
  • Test web pages.
  • End-to-end automation testing.
  • Web scraping.
  • Take screenshots of webpages.

Of course, while they’re generally more efficient than regular browsers, headless browsers can’t do it all. In some instances, such as when you need to test a website as the end-user or debug a browser, using regular old browsers is more convenient.

Top 5 headless browsers

Depending on your needs, you might find some headless browsers more useful than others. Check out the top 5 headless browsers, and take your pick.

1. Puppeteer

Puppeteer is perhaps the most well-known headless browser among web developers. It works seamlessly with the default Chrome browser, among others, since it’s built on WebKit. Over the DevTools protocol, it can provide high-level API and control both Chrome and Chromium. Puppeteer is most commonly used to collect PDFs, take website screenshots, web scraping, perform automation tests, and much more. Since it’s among the more complex headless browsers, you might want to go through a detailed Puppeteer tutorial before you get started with it.

2. Headless Chrome

Headless Chrome has been available since Chrome version 59 (released in 2017). It quickly became one of the most popular headless browsers, even taking out PhantomJS. It’s lightweight, memory-saving, and easy to get accustomed to. Headless Chrome is jam-packed with tools that can help you perform everything from multiple-level navigation testing to scraping information and gathering performance reports.

3. Zombie.js

Zombie.js runs on Node.js, meaning you can seamlessly integrate it with your projects and add it to your testing tools – all you need is JavaScript. It’s one of the fastest headless browsers available and has an array of tools that will make your job easier. Use it to access assertions from the browser object, manage authentication, handle cookies, and more. The only downside of Zombie.js is that it doesn’t catch webpage screenshots.

4. Splash 

Written in Python with WebKit, Splash is one of the most comprehensive headless browsers out there. It’s powerful, versatile, and fast, allowing you to perform an array of different tasks:

  • Test rendering and loading speed.
  • Take screenshots.
  • Visualize site user experience design.
  • Understand HTML performance, etc.

It’s the perfect tool for developers who need to do a little bit of everything – you’ll find no other headless browser that’s as flexible as Splash.

5. Selenium

Last but certainly not least is Selenium – one of the few headless browsers that support many languages, JavaScript, C#, Python, even Ruby. It integrates perfectly well with any testing framework, supports most full-on and headless browsers, and is compatible with all CI tools. Perhaps its most significant selling point is that its open-source community is highly active, so you can get any help you need at any time.


Headless browsers are a must for all backend developers and businesses that rely on data scraping. They unlock a world of possibilities, offering unprecedented speeds and allowing you to perform any action necessary with ease. Find which headless browser works for you and see just what a difference it can make.

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