What is the difference between using Headless Chromium and a service like PhantomJS?

Headless Chromium and PhantomJS are both tools that can be used for headless browsing, which is the ability to run a browser without a graphical user interface. This is particularly useful for automated tasks such as web scraping, automated testing of web applications, and rendering pages for screenshots or PDFs. However, there are significant differences between the two.


  1. Development Status: PhantomJS was an early adopter in the headless browser space. However, as of March 2018, the core contributors have stepped down, and development has largely been suspended. This is mainly due to the emergence of headless modes in modern browsers like Chrome and Firefox.

  2. Rendering Engine: PhantomJS uses WebKit, the same engine that was used in older versions of Safari and other browsers. This means that it may not have the same behavior as Chromium-based browsers, which are now more prevalent.

  3. API: PhantomJS has its own JavaScript API that allows you to control the browser, navigate pages, and interact with web content programmatically.

  4. Usage: Developers used PhantomJS for tasks like page automation, network monitoring, screen capture, and headless website testing.

Headless Chromium:

  1. Development Status: Headless Chromium is actively supported as it is part of the Chromium project. Google announced support for headless testing in Chrome 59 (for Linux and macOS) and Chrome 60 (for Windows), and it's been regularly updated since then.

  2. Rendering Engine: Headless Chromium uses the Blink rendering engine, which is the same engine used in Google Chrome. This means that when using headless Chrome, you're getting a modern and consistent rendering that matches the majority of web users' experiences.

  3. API: Headless Chromium doesn't have its own bespoke API like PhantomJS. Instead, it can be controlled via the Chrome DevTools Protocol, which is a more complex and powerful interface. There are libraries like Puppeteer (for Node.js) and Pyppeteer (for Python) that provide a high-level API to control headless Chrome with a more user-friendly approach.

  4. Usage: Headless Chromium is used for a wide range of automated tasks, including but not limited to web scraping, automated testing (including with frameworks like Selenium), and rendering content.

Key Differences:

  • Development and Support: PhantomJS is no longer actively maintained, while Headless Chromium is a part of the actively maintained Chromium project.
  • Rendering Engine: PhantomJS uses an older WebKit engine, while Headless Chromium uses the modern Blink engine.
  • API and Ecosystem: PhantomJS has a specific API, while Headless Chromium is controlled via the Chrome DevTools Protocol, with several high-level libraries available for easier interaction.
  • Compatibility: Headless Chromium is more likely to render pages as users would see them in the regular Chrome browser, ensuring higher compatibility and fidelity.

Code Examples:

PhantomJS Example (JavaScript):

var page = require('webpage').create();
page.open('http://example.com', function(status) {
  console.log("Status: " + status);
  if(status === "success") {

Headless Chromium Example (using Puppeteer with Node.js):

const puppeteer = require('puppeteer');

(async () => {
  const browser = await puppeteer.launch();
  const page = await browser.newPage();
  await page.goto('http://example.com');
  await page.screenshot({path: 'example.png'});

  await browser.close();

In conclusion, while PhantomJS was groundbreaking for its time, the modern web development landscape has largely shifted to using Headless Chromium for headless browsing tasks due to its active development, modern rendering engine, and compatibility with modern web standards.

Related Questions

Get Started Now

WebScraping.AI provides rotating proxies, Chromium rendering and built-in HTML parser for web scraping