Saturday, June 16, 2012

Having fun web crawling with phantomJs

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine showed me this cool tool called phantomJs.
This is a headless browser, that can receive javascript to do almost anything you would want from a regular browser, just without rendering anything to the screen.

This could be really useful for tasks like running ui tests on a project you created, or crawling a set of web pages looking for something.

...So, this is exactly what i did!
There's a great site I know of that has a ton of great ebooks ready to download, but the problem is that they show you only 2 results on each page, and the search never finds anything!

Realizing that this site has a very simple url structure (e.g.: website/page/#), I just created a quick javascript file, telling phantomjs to go through the first 50 pages and search for a list of keywords that interest me. If i find something interesting, it saves the name of the book along with the page link into a text file so i can download them all later. :)

Here's the script :
var page;
var fs = require('fs');
var pageCount = 0;


function scanPage(pageIndex) {
 // dispose of page before moving on
 if (typeof page !== 'undefined')

 // dispose of phantomjs if we're done
 if (pageIndex > 50) {

 // start crawling...
 page = require('webpage').create();
 var currentPage = 'your-favorite-ebook-site-goes-here/page/' + pageIndex;, function(status) {
  if (status === 'success') {
   window.setTimeout(function() {
    console.log('crawling page ' + pageIndex);
    var booksNames = page.evaluate(function() {
     // there are 2 book titles on each page, just put these in an array
     return [ $($('h2 a')[0]).attr('title'), $($('h2 a')[1]).attr('title') ];
    checkBookName(booksNames[0], currentPage);
    checkBookName(booksNames[1], currentPage);
   }, 3000);
  else {
   console.log('error crawling page ' + pageIndex);

// checks for interesting keywords in the book title,
// and saves the link for us if necessary
function checkBookName(bookTitle, bookLink) {
 var interestingKeywords = ['C#','java','nhibernate','windsor','ioc','dependency injection',
  'inversion of control','mysql'];
 for (var i=0; i<interestingKeywords.length; i++) {
  if (bookTitle.toLowerCase().indexOf(interestingKeywords[i]) !== -1) {
   // save the book title and link
   var a = bookTitle + ' => ' + bookLink + ';';
   fs.write('books.txt', a, 'a');

And this is what the script looks like, when running :
Just some notes on the script :
  • I added comments to try to make it as clear as possible. Feel free to contact me if it isn't.
  • I hid the real website name from the script for obvious reasons. This technique could be useful for a variety of things, but you should check first about legality issues.
  • I also added an interval of 3 seconds between each website crawl. Another precaution from putting too much load on their site.

In order to use this script, or something like it, just go to the phantomjs homepage, download it, and run this at the command line :
C:\your-phantomjs-lib\phantomjs your-script.js

Enjoy! :)


  1. and what is the web site you used for downloading ebooks? :)

  2. You could also use the CasperJS wrapper and have the script automatically download those files for you.


  3. Hi gillyb,

    Im trying out your script. Same website and keywords FYI. But theres no output.

    I tried lowering to just 2 pages. Left it for 10 minutes still nothing.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. I don't know what could be the problem - is there no output at all ? Maybe something is blocking the phantomjs from making requests on your machine, like a firewall or something of that nature.
      Do other phantomjs scripts work for you ?

  4. THanks for the quick reply.
    Did check the firewall. Will check some other settings.
    I did try the countdown. Going to try some of the others.


    1. Sure, no problem - If you need any more assistance getting it done, or even anything else, then try contacting me via email : gillyb [at] gmail [dot] com

  5. The problem is that they show you only 2 results on each page, and the search never finds anything!web design tutorials