Difference Between CSS Selectors and XPath Locator Strategy in Selenium

Application development has become a dedicated process for new app development companies. That’s why Selenium testing became crucial to maintaining the usability and quality of the apps currently being developed.

Selenium is one of the top names in the automation testing segment for web apps. This is because, during the app testing process, companies have to verify various parameters that play a critical role in the stability and functioning of the app. It is nearly impossible to overlook the importance of application testing in the modern generation.

During the app development process, it is one of the most critical factors to identify the elements needed to initiate the test cases.

The use of CSS selectors and XPath locators are two of the most commonly used methods. So, with the help of this article, we’re going to analyze the differences between these two approaches closely.

Also, we’ll understand how various tools and platforms can influence the Selenium testing process in the modern generation.

Understanding the Core of Modern Test Automation

A man writing python code in selenium automation testing software

To understand the market for test automation, app developers first need to develop a transparent idea of automation testing. For a general understanding, we can explain automation testing as the process of removing the need for a manual test team.

This is because the system will automatically execute the testing processes with the help of a pre-determined file consisting of all the data, parameters, and information. These parameters will help the system to emulate human behavior and interact with the application.

Based on these communications, the system can generate a report showing the user interactivity, stability, and usability of the application. The app developers and testers can easily go through this report to understand whether the app is ready for the open market.

In this context, all automation testers have the freedom of making significant changes in the test file to ensure that the reports are customized according to their requirements. Moreover, the process of storing, maintaining, and reusing the test cases is very simple.

An XPath guess suggests that almost 60% of the existing automation test data is reusable in future app development projects. However, we must recognize the steep investment that comes with the initial setup of test automation.

This investment covers all the expenses for various plugins, dependencies, and libraries for the stability of automation testing. So before jumping into the transition, the app companies must have enough revenue resources to justify this process.

Elaborating Selenium

When discussing automation testing, it is impossible to complete the topic without the context of Selenium. This is because Selenium has been one of the most popular names in the segment of web app automation for almost 10 years now.

Selenium is an umbrella project that provides various tools that assist developers at different stages of the application testing process. Moreover, the open-source nature of Selenium means that all the developers can access its features without any license charge.

Selenium also has a massive community of tech lovers who are always working to improve testing efficiency with this tool. On the other hand, new developers and testers can easily refer to this community whenever they’re stuck with any feature of Selenium.

However, Selenium is only effective in the case of web apps. When the app developers are working with other alternatives like native apps, hybrid apps, and cross-platform apps, they will be forced to look for an alternative.

Let us briefly understand the role of various tools present in the Selenium test suite:

Selenium WebDriver

The first tool that comes into our mind is a Selenium WebDriver due to its importance in the entire automation testing process. With the help of the WebDriver, the app developers can not only allocate the test cases but also ensure that they are performed on the correct target elements present in the web application.

The WebDriver can easily communicate with all the elements of a web application without requiring any dedicated test engine. This is the primary reason which makes the Selenium WebDriver an updated version of the previously present remote controller.

Selenium IDE

The Selenium IDE is critical to ensure codeless automation testing. It means that the application developers have to interact with the application like a normal user. Based on these interactions, the system can generate accurate test cases.

Because the app developers need to write automation test cases manually, they can use the Selenium client API. While using the Selenium client API, it is possible to write automation test cases in most of the popular programs JavaScript, Python, Ruby, and many others.

Before the integration of this tool, the app developers were forced to rely on the use of the proprietary Selenese language.

Selenium Grid

Finally, the Selenium Grid plays a critical role in improving the efficiency of the automation test cases in complex web apps. While working with complex apps, the app developers have to handle thousands of different test cases simultaneously.

So, with the help of the Grid, it is possible to execute these simultaneously in a parallel configuration on multiple machines at the same time.

Difference Between CSS Selectors and XPath Locators in Selenium

To properly differentiate between CSS selectors and XPath locators, we’re going to analyze them based on certain parameters. They are as follows:

1. Syntax

  • CSS selectors will use the proprietary CSS syntax to locate all the elements that might be present in the web application. They’re generally shorter compared to XPath locators.
  • XPath has the syntax that helps it to navigate through multiple elements whether it is an XML document or an HTML structure. The expressions of XPath can be more complex and powerful than the CSS selectors.

2. Support for Browser

  • In the current generation, the CSS selectors are widely supported by modern web browsers and are highly useful for locating elements while using Selenium testing.
  • Although XPath is supported by all modern browsers, it might lack support in certain browser versions that are outdated or no longer available in the market.

3. Performance

  • In terms of performance, the CSS selectors are generally more efficient and faster compared to XPath. This difference is noticeable when the developers are working with functions like tag names, class names, or identifications.
  • The expressions developed with XPath can be slower compared to CSS selectors especially when the app developers are using complex XPath expressions or moving through the entire DOM structure.

4. Readability of the Locators

  • One of the most general ideas is that CSS selectors are more readable and easier to understand, especially for developers who are familiar with CSS. The simple code structure of CSS selectors is also very welcoming for the new application developers and testers who might have recently made the shift to automation testing practices.
  • On the other hand, the XPath expressions can be more complex and harder to read. Moreover, most of the developers are not familiar with the contemporary syntax used with XPath. Therefore, the use of XPath locators might consist of an evolutionary learning curve.

General Verdict

The general verdict is that CSS Selectors would be the ideal choice for most scenarios as they are very simple, provide better browser support, and have improved performance.

However, XPath can be highly useful when the developers want to select elements based on complex conditions or when the CSS Selectors cannot fulfill the requirements of the application undergoing the development process. So, it is very important for the application developers and testers to properly analyze their needs and make the correct choice.

Influence of Platforms and Tools in Modern Selenium Testing

With the integration of various tools and platforms, it is possible to improve the simplicity of the Selenium test cases massively. This is because these platforms not only help to improve the testing experience but also integrate additional features for improving the quality of the app undergoing the testing process.

A great example would be the context of cloud platforms that remove the need to have an onset device lab. Organizations usually access these labs to verify the physical performance of apps based on various device parameters like broken display, user interaction error, or any other bandwidth change. However, the cloud platform serves these similar goals while executing test cases on real devices present on cloud servers.

Developers can access these servers via the Internet. One such cloud testing tool is LambdaTest. LambdaTest is a digital experience testing tool that allows running manual and automation testing over 3000+ environments including real device clouds.

Also, it is one of the fastest testing tools that enhances test execution speed and makes deployment faster. For automation testing, It supports other alternatives of Selenium, such as Cypress, Playwright, Appium, and many more. 

The integration of multiple real devices and thousands of emulators makes it one of the most accurate testing frameworks.

In conclusion, the primary motive of this article was to differentiate between the methods of locating elements on a web application while using Selenium testing. In this context, the app developers must choose the correct method that can complement not only their preferences but also the app undergoing the development process.

We are slowly moving towards a market that automation testing practices will completely dominate. So, developers should try improving their knowledge with the help of various trends and innovations that are constantly evolving in this segment.

The app companies can also aid in this transition with the help of awareness campaigns and seminars. Finally, it is critical to choose the correct tool and have enough data regarding the market requirements of the target audience.

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Bret Mulvey

Bret is a seasoned computer programmer with a profound passion for mathematics and physics. His professional journey is marked by extensive experience in developing complex software solutions, where he skillfully integrates his love for analytical sciences to solve challenging problems.