A low-level browser automation framework built on top of the Web Extensions API standard.
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README.md

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Remote Browser is a library for controlling web browsers like Chrome and Firefox programmatically using JavaScript. You've likely heard of similar browser automation frameworks before, such as Puppeteer and Selenium. Much like these other projects, Remote Browser can be used to accomplish a wide variety of tasks relating to UI testing, Server Side Rendering (SSR), and web scraping. What makes Remote Browser different from these other libraries is that it's built using standard cross-browser compatible technologies, and its primary goal is to facilitate interactions with existing APIs rather than to create a new one of its own.

Remote Browser provides a minimalistic and lightweight framework for automating browsers using vanilla JavaScript, HTML browsing contexts, and the Web Extensions API. If you're already familiar with these technologies, then you already know almost everything that you need to use Remote Browser. If not, then there are vast learning resources out there, like The Mozilla Developer Network (MDN), which can get you up to speed in no time. Be sure to check out the Introduction, the Interactive Tour, and Usage Examples to learn about how Remote Browser makes it easy to use these technologies.

Table of Contents

Introduction

The core technology that makes Remote Browser possible is the Web Extensions API. This API is what allows third party browser addons to extend and modify the capabilities of browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and Opera. If you've never written a browser extension before, then you might be surprised at just how powerful this API is. Creating tabs and interacting with pages is just the beginning; it's also possible to intercept and modify network requests/responses, create and control containerized sessions within a single browser instance, take screenshots, and much more. The central idea behind Remote Browser is that there's no need to reinvent the wheel when modern browsers already ship with an extremely powerful cross-browser compatible API that's suitable for automation tasks.

Let's take a look at a quick example of how you would navigate to a tab and take a screenshot using Remote Browser.

import Browser from 'remote-browser';

(async () => {
  // Create and launch a new browser instance.
  const browser = new Browser();
  await browser.launch();

  // Directly access the Web Extensions API from a remote client.
  const tab = await browser.tabs.create({ url: 'https://intoli.com' });
  const screenshot = await browser.tabs.captureVisibleTab();
})();

On the surface, this probably looks pretty similar to examples from other browser automation frameworks. The difference is that browser.tabs.create() and browser.tabs.captureVisibleTab aren't part of the Remote Browser API; they're part of the Web Extensions API.

In a web extension, you would typically interact with the Web Extensions API through a global browser object. You could make a call to browser.tabs.create() in your extension's background script, and it would create a new tab. Remote Browser lets you make this call from the environment where you're running your browser control code as though you were inside of an extension. The following three calls are actually all exactly equivalent with Remote Browser.

// Very explicit, we're specifying a function and argument to evaluate in the background page.
await browser.evaluateInBackground(createProperties => (
  browser.tabs.create(createProperties)
), { url: 'https://intoli.com' });

// A bit of syntactic sugar, we can omit ".evaluateInBackground" and the same thing happens.
await browser(createProperties => (
  browser.tabs.create(createProperties)
), { url: 'https://intoli.com' });

// A lot of syntactic sugar, the function and explicit argument get constructed automatically.
await browser.tabs.create({ url: 'https://intoli.com' });

It's mosty immediately clear what's really happening here with the the first browser.evaluateInBackground() call. A function and it's argument are being transmitted to the background script context of a web extension where they're evaluated. The next two calls just rip out successive layers of boilerplate, but they're doing the exact same thing.

Similarly, we can evaluate code in the context of a tab in the browser. The syntax here is very similar to how we evaluate code in the background script, we just need to additionally specify which tab we're interested in. The following two calls are also exactly equivalent.

// Evaluate the function in the content script context for the identified by `tab.id`.
await browser.evaluateInContent(tab.id, () => (
  document.innerHTML = 'hi!';
));

// A shorthand for first accessing a specific tab, and then evaluating code in it.
await browser[tab.id](() => document.body.innerHTML = 'hi!');

At this point, you've seen nearly all of the syntax that Remote Browser provides. It makes it really easy to evaluate code in different contexts, and lets you use the browser APIs to control and interact with the browser itself.

Interactive Tour

You can learn more about how Remote Browser works in the interactive tour. The tour provides an interactive environment where you can run code examples in your browser without needing to install any software. It expands upon some of the fundamental concepts behind Remote Browser, and demonstrates how the library can be used in real-world scenarios.

Usage Examples

Connecting to a Running Browser

All of the browser control code for Remote Browser is implemented as a cross-browser compatible web extension. When you execute Browser.launch(), it simply runs a browser instance with the extension installed and passes it the parameters necessary to connect to the remote client. You can also install this same extension in your day-to-day browser, and tell it to connect to a remote client manually. This can be a very useful debugging tool while you're developing scripts, or as a means to quickly automate simple tasks without needing to create a whole browser extension from scratch.

Calling Browser.listen() on a new browser instance will cause it to listen on an open port for a connection from an already running browser. It will return the port that it's listening on, and wait for you to initialize a connection from a browser that has the Remote Browser extension installed.

const browser = new Browser();
const port = await browser.listen();
console.log(`Listening on port: ${port}`);

The connection can be initiated from within the browser using the Remote Browser extension popup. Here's an example of the connection process.

Connecting the Client to a Live Browser

The browser interactions that we do in this video aren't particularly useful, but you have the full power of Remote Browser at your fingertips once you're connected. You could, for instance, use web extension alarms to schedule arbitrary tasks to run in the browser at specified times or intervals. These tasks would be scheduled within the browser itself, so you could configure code to run even after the client has disconnected.

Installation

Remote Browser is available as an npm package, and the latest version can be installed by running the following.

yarn add remote-browser

It's possible to use Remote Browser as a client for browser sessions on remote servers, but you'll almost certainly want a local browser installed when you're first getting started. We recommend installing Firefox, even if it's not your day-to-day browser, because it has a more complete implementation of the Web Extensions API than other browsers. It's additionally set as the default in Remote Browser, so it will allow you to run the usage examples without changing any of the configuration options.

Development

To get started on development, you simply need to clone the repository and install the project dependencies.

# Clone the repository.
git clone git@github.com:intoli/remote-browser.git
cd remote-browser

# Install the dependencies.
yarn install

# Build the project.
yarn build

# Run the tests.
yarn test

Contributing

Contributions are welcome, but please follow these contributor guidelines:

  • Create an issue on the issue tracker to discuss potential changes before submitting a pull request.
  • Include at least one test to cover any new functionality or bug fixes.
  • Make sure that all of your tests are passing and that there are no merge conflicts.

License

Remote Browser is licensed under a BSD 2-Clause License and is copyright Intoli, LLC.