Splash Scripts Tutorial


Splash can execute custom rendering scripts written in the Lua programming language. This allows us to use Splash as a browser automation tool similar to PhantomJS.

To execute a script and get the result back send it to the execute (or run) endpoint in a lua_source argument. We’ll be using execute endpoint in this tutorial.


Most likely you’ll be able to follow Splash scripting examples even without knowing Lua; nevertheless, the language is worth learning. With Lua you can, for example, write Redis, Nginx, Apache, World of Warcraft scripts, create mobile apps using Corona or use the state of the art Deep Learning framework Torch7. It is easy to get started and there are good online resources available like the tutorial Learn Lua in 15 minutes and the book Programming in Lua.

Let’s start with a basic example:

function main(splash, args)
  local title = splash:evaljs("document.title")
  return {title=title}

If we submit this script to the execute endpoint in a lua_source argument, Splash will go to the example.com website, wait until it loads, wait another half-second, then get the page title (by evaluating a JavaScript snippet in page context), and then return the result as a JSON encoded object.


Splash UI provides an easy way to try scripts: there is a code editor for Lua and a button to submit a script to execute. Visit (or whatever host/port Splash is listening to).

To run scripts from your programming environment you need to figure out how to send HTTP requests. Check How to send requests to Splash HTTP API? FAQ section - it contains recipes for some of the common setupts (e.g. Python + requests library).

Entry Point: the “main” Function

The script must provide a “main” function which is called by Splash. The result is returned as an HTTP response. The script could contain other helper functions and statements, but ‘main’ is required.

In the first example ‘main’ function returned a Lua table (an associative array similar to JavaScript Object or Python dict). Such results are returned as JSON.

The following will return the string {"hello":"world!"} as an HTTP response:

function main(splash)
    return {hello="world!"}

The script can also return a string:

function main(splash)
    return 'hello'

Strings are returned as-is (unlike tables they are not encoded to JSON). Let’s check it with curl:

$ curl ''

The “main” function receives an object that allows us to control the “browser tab”. All Splash features are exposed using this object. By convention, this argument is called “splash”, but you are not required to follow this convention:

function main(please)
    return "ok"

Where Are My Callbacks?

Here is a snippet from our first example:

local title = splash:evaljs("document.title")

The code looks like standard procedural code; there are no callbacks or fancy control-flow structures. It doesn’t mean Splash works in a synchronous way; under the hood it is still async. When you call splash:wait(0.5), Splash switches from the script to other tasks, and comes back after 0.5s.

It is possible to use loops, conditional statements, functions as usual in Splash scripts which enables more straightforward coding.

Let’s check an example PhantomJS script:

// Render Multiple URLs to file

"use strict";
var RenderUrlsToFile, arrayOfUrls, system;

system = require("system");

Render given urls
@param array of URLs to render
@param callbackPerUrl Function called after finishing each URL, including the last URL
@param callbackFinal Function called after finishing everything
RenderUrlsToFile = function(urls, callbackPerUrl, callbackFinal) {
    var getFilename, next, page, retrieve, urlIndex, webpage;
    urlIndex = 0;
    webpage = require("webpage");
    page = null;
    getFilename = function() {
        return "rendermulti-" + urlIndex + ".png";
    next = function(status, url, file) {
        callbackPerUrl(status, url, file);
        return retrieve();
    retrieve = function() {
        var url;
        if (urls.length > 0) {
            url = urls.shift();
            page = webpage.create();
            page.viewportSize = {
                width: 800,
                height: 600
            page.settings.userAgent = "Phantom.js bot";
            return page.open("http://" + url, function(status) {
                var file;
                file = getFilename();
                if (status === "success") {
                    return window.setTimeout((function() {
                        return next(status, url, file);
                    }), 200);
                } else {
                    return next(status, url, file);
        } else {
            return callbackFinal();
    return retrieve();

arrayOfUrls = null;

if (system.args.length > 1) {
    arrayOfUrls = Array.prototype.slice.call(system.args, 1);
} else {
    console.log("Usage: phantomjs render_multi_url.js [domain.name1, domain.name2, ...]");
    arrayOfUrls = ["www.google.com", "www.bbc.co.uk", "phantomjs.org"];

RenderUrlsToFile(arrayOfUrls, (function(status, url, file) {
    if (status !== "success") {
        return console.log("Unable to render '" + url + "'");
    } else {
        return console.log("Rendered '" + url + "' at '" + file + "'");
}), function() {
    return phantom.exit();

The code is (arguably) tricky: RenderUrlsToFile function implements a loop by creating a chain of callbacks; page.open callback doesn’t return a value (it would be more complex to implement) - the result is saved on disk.

A similar Splash script:

function main(splash, args)
  splash:set_viewport_size(800, 600)
  splash:set_user_agent('Splash bot')
  local example_urls = {"www.google.com", "www.bbc.co.uk", "scrapinghub.com"}
  local urls = args.urls or example_urls
  local results = {}
  for _, url in ipairs(urls) do
    local ok, reason = splash:go("http://" .. url)
    if ok then
      results[url] = splash:png()
  return results

It is not doing exactly the same work - instead of saving screenshots to files we’re returning PNG data to the client via HTTP API.


  • instead of a page.open callback which receives “status” argument there is a “blocking” splash:go call which returns “ok” flag;
  • we’re using a standard Lua for loop without a need to create a recursive callback chain;
  • some Lua knowledge is helpful to be productive in Splash Scripts: ipairs or string concatenation via .. could be unfamiliar;
  • error handling is different: in case of an HTTP 4xx or 5xx error PhantomJS doesn’t return an error code to page.open callback - example script will get a screenshot nevertheless because “status” won’t be “fail”; in Splash this error will be detected;
  • instead of console messages and local files we’ve created a JSON HTTP API;
  • apparently, PhantomJS allows to create multiple page objects and run several page.open requests in parallel (?); Splash only provides a single “browser tab” to a script via its splash parameter of main function (but you’re free to send multiple concurrent requests with Lua scripts to Splash).

There are great PhantomJS wrappers like CasperJS and NightmareJS which (among other things) bring a sync-looking syntax to PhantomJS scripts by providing custom control flow mini-languages. However, they all have their own gotchas and edge cases (loops? moving code to helper functions? error handling?). Splash scripts are standard Lua code.


PhantomJS itself and its wrappers are great, they deserve lots of respect; please don’t take this writeup as an attack on them. These tools are much more mature and feature complete than Splash. Splash tries to look at the problem from a different angle, but for each unique Splash feature there is an unique PhantomJS feature.

To read more about Splash Lua API features check Splash Lua API Overview.

Living Without Callbacks


For the curious, Splash uses Lua coroutines under the hood.

Internally, “main” function is executed as a coroutine by Splash, and some of the splash:foo() methods use coroutine.yield. See http://www.lua.org/pil/9.html for Lua coroutines tutorial.

In Splash scripts it is not explicit which calls are async and which calls are blocking; this is a common criticism of coroutines/greenlets. Check this article for a good description of the problem.

However, these negatives have no real impact in Splash scripts which: are meant to be small, where shared state is minimized, and the API is designed to execute a single command at a time, so in most cases the control flow is linear.

If you want to be safe then think of all splash methods as async; consider that after you call splash:foo() a webpage being rendered can change. Often that’s the point of calling a method, e.g. splash:wait(time) or splash:go(url) only make sense because webpage changes after calling them, but still - keep it in mind.

There are async methods like splash:go, splash:wait, splash:wait_for_resume, etc.; most splash methods are currently not async, but thinking of them as of async will allow your scripts to work if we ever change that.

Calling Splash Methods

Unlike in many languages, methods in Lua are usually separated from an object using a colon :; to call “foo” method of “splash” object use splash:foo() syntax. See http://www.lua.org/pil/16.html for more details.

There are two main ways to call Lua methods in Splash scripts: using positional and named arguments. To call a method using positional arguments use parentheses splash:foo(val1, val2), to call it with named arguments use curly braces: splash:foo{name1=val1, name2=val2}:

-- Examples of positional arguments:
splash:wait(0.5, false)
local title = splash:evaljs("document.title")

-- The same using keyword arguments:
splash:wait{time=0.5, cancel_on_redirect=false}
local title = splash:evaljs{source="document.title"}

-- Mixed arguments example:
splash:wait{0.5, cancel_on_redirect=false}

For convenience all splash methods are designed to support both styles of calling: positional and named. But since there are no “real” named arguments in Lua most Lua functions (including the ones from the standard library) choose to support just positional arguments.

Error Handling

There are two ways to report errors in Lua: raise an exception and return an error flag. See http://www.lua.org/pil/8.3.html.

Splash uses the following convention:

  1. for developer errors (e.g. incorrect function arguments) exception is raised;
  2. for errors outside developer control (e.g. a non-responding remote website) status flag is returned: functions that can fail return ok, reason pairs which developer can either handle or ignore.

If main results in an unhandled exception then Splash returns HTTP 400 response with an error message.

It is possible to raise an exception manually using Lua error function:

error("A message to be returned in a HTTP 400 response")

To handle Lua exceptions (and prevent Splash from returning HTTP 400 response) use Lua pcall; see http://www.lua.org/pil/8.4.html.

To convert “status flag” errors to exceptions Lua assert function can be used. For example, if you expect a website to work and don’t want to handle errors manually, then assert allows to stop processing and return HTTP 400 if the assumption is wrong:

local ok, msg = splash:go("http://example.com")
if not ok then
    -- handle error somehow, e.g.

-- a shortcut for the code above: use assert


By default Splash scripts are executed in a restricted environment: not all standard Lua modules and functions are available, Lua require is restricted, and there are resource limits (quite loose though).

To disable the sandbox start Splash with --disable-lua-sandbox option:

$ docker run -it -p 8050:8050 scrapinghub/splash --disable-lua-sandbox


By default Splash aborts script execution after a timeout (30s by default); it is a common problem for long scripts.

For more information see I’m getting lots of 504 Timeout errors, please help! and 2. Splash Lua script does too many things.