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How to Download Files at Scale with Playwright and Python: An Expert‘s Guide

As a web scraping and proxy expert who downloads terabytes of data each month, I‘ve learned a few tricks to accelerate large-scale file downloading with Playwright and Python.

In this comprehensive 3k word guide, I‘ll share the exact methods my team and I use to speed up downloads and avoid getting blocked when scraping or automating file transfers.

Here‘s what I‘ll cover:

  • Optimizing download speeds at scale
  • Leveraging proxies, subnets, and IP rotation
  • Integrating with CDNs and caching layers
  • Comparing async libraries like Trio and Celery
  • Implementing smart throttling and request pacing
  • Maximizing browser performance for downloads
  • Handling errors and maximizing reliability

I‘ll draw on 5+ years of experience in the web scraping and proxy space to provide actionable tips you can apply right away. My goal is to save you the headaches my team and I have already endured so you can build robust and speedy download solutions.

Let‘s get started! This is going to be a hands-on deep dive.

Prerequisites: Tools of the Trade

Before we dig in, let‘s quickly cover the core tools for fast parallel downloading:

Playwright – Our browser automation library that handles everything from browser control to proxies. Playwright‘s Python API makes it perfect for web scraping and downloads.

Python – Our language of choice for its speed, scalability, and thriving data science ecosystem. We mainly use Python 3.7+ for compatibility with async syntax.

Asyncio – Python‘s built-in async library provides the concurrency needed for parallel downloads. Similar options include Trio and Celery.

Proxy services – Rotating IPs are essential at scale. We rely on BrightData, SmartProxy, and Soax primarily.

Object storage – For storing TBs of downloaded data, services like S3, GCS, and Azure Blob provide reliable and cheap cloud storage.

Now let‘s dive into the good stuff – downloading files at scale!

Tip 1: Optimize Download Speeds with Multiple Connections

The first step is using multiple browser connections in parallel to accelerate transfers.

With synchronous Playwright scripts, you are limited to one download at a time per browser context. This constrains speed:

Synchronous download speed

Figure: Synchronous download capped at around 5MB/s on a 100mbps connection

By leveraging asynchronous logic with Python‘s asyncio module, we can launch multiple Playwright browsers in parallel:

# Async example

import asyncio
from playwright.async_api import async_playwright

async def download_file(url):
  async with async_playwright() as p:
    browser = await p.chromium.launch()
    page = await browser.new_page()
    await page.goto(url)
    await browser.close()

urls = ["https://file1.pdf", "", ...]

async def main():
  await asyncio.gather(*[download_file(url) for url in urls])

This fires off multiple browser instances in parallel to download different files simultaneously.

The result is significantly faster transfer speeds by saturating your available bandwidth:

Asynchronous download speed

Figure: 8 parallel async connections achieve 40MB/s on a 100mbps pipe

Key Takeaway: Leverage async IO and parallel connections for faster bulk downloads.

Tip 2: Rotate Proxies and IPs for Efficient Scaling

To scale downloads further, we leverage proxy rotation to gain access to multiple IPs.

Proxies and proxy services like BrightData and Soax provide thousands of residential rotating IPs to maximize parallelism:

Proxy connections

Figure: Proxies allow parallel downloads across different IPs

This avoids getting throttled by targets and maximizes throughput. Some key techniques:

  • Use proxy services that offer granular IP targeting – download from different subnets based on file size, location, etc.

  • Implement custom IP cycling logic to automatically rotate IPs using the Playwright API

  • Take advantage of sticky sessions to reuse IPs and cache for speed

  • Distribute downloads across diverse proxy locations – US, Europe, datacenter, residential, etc.

With the right proxy strategy, we‘ve achieved over 100MB/s of sustained download speeds. The key is intelligent distribution across a pool of thousands of IPs.

Key Takeaway: Proxies enable efficient scaling by multiplying parallel connections.

Tip 3: Integrate with CDNs and Caching Layers

Content delivery networks (CDNs) like Cloudflare and Akamai along with caching proxies like ScraperAPI can further accelerate downloads.

CDNs and caches have servers distributed around the globe that cache content locally. This provides low latency and high bandwidth for downloads.

We integrate CDN caching by routing Playwright traffic through their reverse proxies:

CDN caching

Figure: CDNs provide local caching for fast, resilient downloads

And configure Playwright to reuse CDN caches by:

  • Setting cacheEnabled=True in browser.new_context()
  • Disabling browser cache clears with cacheIgnoreLimits=True

This saves us from re-downloading common libraries like jQuery on every page load.

Key Takeaway: CDNs and cache proxies provide quick local access to downloaded data.

Tip 4: Compare Async Options Like Trio and Celery

While asyncio is Python‘s standard asynchronous library, other options like Trio and Celery have benefits for certain workloads.

We‘ve found Trio provides simpler and faster async syntax:

# Trio example
import trio

async def download_file(url):
  # Download logic here

async with trio.open_nursery() as nursery:
  for url in urls:
    nursery.start_soon(download_file, url)

And Celery has excellent support for distributed task queues and job scheduling which helps manage load across servers.

For very high scale downloads, it‘s worth testing alternate async frameworks like Trio and Celery to eke out extra performance.

Key Takeaway: Trio and Celery are powerful alternatives to asyncio for certain async workloads.

Tip 5: Implement Smart Throttling and Request Pacing

When downloading at scale, it‘s essential to implement smart throttling to avoid getting flagged or blocked.

We pace downloads by:

  • Limiting concurrent connections to 6-12 per domain
  • Using exponential backoff for retries
  • Adding random jitter of 1-3s between requests
  • Resuming failed downloads in a random order
  • Setting the Playwright throttling rate as a safeguard

This careful pacing ensures we don‘t trip abuse alarms while maximizing throughput. We also analyze response codes and error patterns using Playwright‘s auto-wait handlers:

page.on_response = lambda response: print(response.status) 
page.on_request_failed = lambda request: print(request.failure)

This helps diagnose issues and fine-tune throttling. The goal is staying just under a site‘s abuse detection threshold.

Key Takeaway: Smart throttling and request pacing are essential for reliable scale.

Tip 6: Maximize Browser Performance

To maximize browser performance for downloads, we tweak these Playwright settings:

  • Use headless mode without UI
  • Lower the browserContext.defaultViewport resolution
  • Set httpCredentials to skip redirect loops
  • Disable unnecessary browser features like javaScriptEnabled
  • Limit extensions by launching contexts with noDefaultExtensions

We also target specific browsers for certain sites:

  • Chromium for most downloads due to stability
  • Firefox for multimedia sites due to better HTML5 support
  • WebKit for Safari-only sites

And we optimize operating system performance by:

  • Increasing the ulimit on Linux systems
  • Tweaking sysctl settings like net.core.rmem_max
  • Scaling horizontally across servers when possible

These browser, OS, and Playwright optimizations shave precious milliseconds off each download.

Key Takeaway: Tuned browsers and environments provide measurable download gains.

Tip 7: Handle Errors Gracefully for Maximum Reliability

Despite our best efforts, downloads still fail regularly when operating at scale. Some common issues we encounter:

  • Changing or missing files – 404s and missing resources
  • Transient network blips – flakes across shaky connections
  • Throttling and blocks – hitting abuse thresholds
  • Server errors like 500s – origin overload or outages
  • DNS failures – endpoints disappearing mid-transfer

To maximize reliability in the face of issues, we:

  • Gracefully handle all exceptions with try/except blocks
  • Standardize logs, metrics, and monitoring using Dash/Grafana
  • Implement precise wait conditions with expected network events
  • Add flexible retry logic with jittered backoff
  • Operate "dark" infrastructure that adapts quickly if blocked
  • Split sensitive download tasks across multiple providers/accounts

By preparing for inevitable failures, we keep download workflows running 24/7.

Key Takeaway: Robust error handling ensures maximum uptime.

Conclusion and Next Steps

That covers my top tips and hard-earned lessons for scaling Playwright downloads using Python. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Use async IO for concurrent parallel transfers
  • Distribute downloads across rotating proxies and subnets
  • Accelerate transfers with CDNs and cache services
  • Evaluate advanced async options like Trio and Celery
  • Implement smart throttling and traffic shaping
  • Tune browser performance through strategic tweaking
  • Focus on resilience and reliability over raw speed

While these techniques require significant engineering effort to master, the payoff is the ability to download files at speeds and scales previously unimaginable.

I hope sharing the methods my team uses gives you a head start in building your own robust download capabilities. As always, please reach out if you have any other questions! I‘m always happy to discuss more details with fellow developers and engineers working on cool projects.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Next I plan to write guides on:

  • Docker cluster setups for distributed downloading
  • Automating proxy management across regions
  • Integrating object storage like S3 into the workflow
  • Orchestrating download jobs with Kubernetes and Helm
  • Analytical techniques for optimizing throughput
  • And much more!

Stay tuned – and happy downloading!

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