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RPA tips and tricks

Learn how to make your automated processes more effective. Avoid common RPA pitfalls, future-proof your programs and improve your processes.

This collection of robotic process automation (RPA) tips and tricks aims to help you make your automations work smoother and produce fewer errors.

Event-bound flows

Always strive to make automation as fluid as possible. Listen to events and react to them as needed by triggering consecutive actions immediately.

  • Avoid any fixed-duration delays wherever possible.
  • Prefer fluid flow based on the occurrence of events.
// Avoid:
await page.waitForTimeout(timeout);

// Good:
await page.waitForFunction(function, options, args);

// Good:
await page.waitForFunction(() => {
    window.location.href.includes('path'));
};

// Good:
await page.waitForFunction(selector => {
    document.querySelector(selector).innerText,
    {polling: 'mutation'},
    '[data-qa="btnAppleSignUp"]');
};

Proofs and verification

Absence of evidence ≠ evidence of absence.

Make sure output remains consistent regardless of any changes at the target host/website:

  • Always base all important checks on the presence of proof.
  • Never build any important checks on the absence of anything.

The absence of an expected element or message does not prove an action has been (un)successful. The website might have been updated or expected content may no longer exist in the original form. The action relying on the absence of something might still be failing. Instead, it must rely on proof of presence.

Good: Rely on the presence of an element or other content confirming a successful action.

try {
    await page.waitForSelector('#PaymentAccepted');
} catch (error) {
    return OUTPUT.paymentFailure;
}

return OUTPUT.paymentSuccess;

Avoid: Relying on the absence of an element that may have been simply updated or changed.

const $paymentAmount = await page.$('#PaymentAmount');

if (!$paymentAmount) return OUTPUT.paymentSuccess;

Presumption of failure

Every action has failed until it has provably succeeded.

Always assume an action has failed before having a proof of success. Always verify important steps to avoid false positives or false negatives.

  • False positive = false / failed outcome reported as true / successful on output.
  • False negative = true / successful outcome reported as false / failed on output.

Assuming any action has been successful without direct proof is dangerous. Disprove failure actively through proof of success instead. Only then consider output valid and verified.

Good: Verify outcome through proof. Clearly disprove failure of an important action.

await Promise.all([
    page.click('submitPayment'),
    page.waitForNavigation()
]);

try {
    await page.waitForFunction(selector =>
        document.querySelector(selector).innerText.includes('Payment Success'),
        {polling: 'mutation'}, '#PaymentOutcome');
} catch (error) {
    return OUTPUT.paymentFailure;
};

return OUTPUT.paymentSuccess;

Avoid: Not verifying an outcome. It can easily fail despite output claiming otherwise.

await Promise.all([
    page.click('submitPayment'),
    page.waitForNavigation()
]);

return OUTPUT.paymentSuccess;

Targeting elements

Be both as specific and as generic as possible at the same time.

DOM element selectors

Make sure your CSS selectors have the best chance to remain valid after a website is updated.

  • Prefer higher-specificity selectors over lower specificity ones (#id over .class).
  • Use attribute selectors to search parts of attributes (prefix, suffix, etc.).
  • Use element attributes with the lowest probability of a future change.
  • Completely avoid or strip selectors of values that are clearly random.
  • Completely avoid or strip selectors of values that are clearly flexible.
  • Extend low-specificity selectors to reduce probability of collisions.

Below is an example of stripping away too-specific parts of a selector that are likely random or subject to change.

#P_L_v201w3_t3_ReceiptToolStripLabel => a[id*="ReceiptToolStripLabel"]

If you are reasonably confident a page layout will remain without any dramatic future changes and need to increase the selector specificity to reduce the chance of a collision with other selectors, you can extend the selector as per the principle below.

#ReceiptToolStripLabel_P_L_v201w3_t3 => table li > a[id^="ReceiptToolStripLabel"]

Content pattern matching

Matching elements by content is already natively supported by Playwright. Playwright is a Node.js library that allows you to automate Chromium, Firefox and WebKit with a single API.

In Puppeteer, you can use custom utility functions to polyfill this functionality.