Website Automation For Complete Noobs Part 1

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Have you ever been doing something on the internet and been like, “Ugh. I wish there was a way to do this automatically.” Well, most of the time there is: you can build some website automation using Python and Selenium. In part 1 of this series, I’ll walk you through installing Python and Selenium, and we’ll write a short script that opens a browser.

Install Python

For folks that don’t know, “Python is a scripting language that lets you work quickly and integrate systems more effectively.” (python.org) That means you write code in files and run the files without having to compile and deploy. In order to run the files, though, you need to install Python on your computer.

One way to do this is to download the installer from the official Python website, here. However, I prefer to use an application called PyCharm. PyCharm is an IDE (integrated development environment) available for Windows, Linux, and Mac that gives you lots of nice helpers when writing scripts, and there’s a very nice free community edition that’s just perfect for people like you who are just getting started.

So that’s step 1 for us today: download and install PyCharm Community Edition. Installation is pretty straightforward; you can just Next through everything and accept the defaults.

Once the install is complete, you can launch PyCharm. The first time you run it, PyCharm will ask you about which theme you prefer. Pick what you like and click Skip Remaining and Set Defaults.

Create Project

PyCharm is ready to go, but we need to do a little more setup before we’re ready to write our code. Begin by creating a new project from the PyCharm launch screen.

Give your project a name to specify where it will live on your computer, and click Create. If you don’t already have Python installed (the actual programming language) at this point, PyCharm will install it for you.

Install Selenium + Chromedriver

Selenium WebDriver is what we’ll use to launch and control the browser in our script. In order to use it, we need to install the libraries. We can install it directly from PyCharm by running a command in the terminal.

Open the terminal by clicking the button.

Now run the following command:

pip install selenium

Selenium also needs an extra application to help control the browser. In this example, I want to use Chrome as my browser, so I need to download ChromeDriver from here. When you visit the ChromeDriver page, it offers a few different versions. You need to pick the version based on the version of Chrome you have installed. This can be found in Chrome’s About page.

Once you determine which version you need, download the Zip file for your OS and extract chromedriver.exe to your project directory. You can verify that it’s in the right spot because it’ll be visible in PyCharm.

Write Script

Flip up those hoodies because it’s time to code. Add a new Python file to your project by right-clicking the project folder.

Add the following code to your script:

from selenium import webdriver

driver = webdriver.Chrome('chromedriver.exe')
driver.get('https://www.google.com')

The first line tells our script that webdriver comes from the Selenium library that we installed. Then, it creates a variable named driver (but we could name it anything) that’s a Selenium WebDriver object using the ChromeDriver executable we downloaded. The third line uses driver to browse to http://www.google.com. Nothing too crazy, right?

Run Script

Go back to your terminal and run your script like this:

python <your-script>.py

When you press enter, a Chrome browser should open and navigate to the URL specified in your script. Chrome also gives an indicator that the browser is being controlled by automation software.

Pretty cool, right? There’s not much to experiment with this script. You can change the URL or add more driver.get lines to visit multiple sites. In the next article in the series, we’ll look at how to use WebDriver to interact with web sites and do things.