Simon Willison’s Weblog


Instantly create a GitHub repository to take screenshots of a web page

14th March 2022

I just released shot-scraper-template, a GitHub repository template that helps you start taking automated screenshots of a web page by filling out a form.

shot-scraper is my command line tool for taking screenshots of web pages and scraping data from them using JavaScript.

One of its uses is to help create and maintain screenshots for documentation, making it easy to update them to include changes to the design of the underlying pages.

To make this as easy as possible, I’ve created a GitHub repository template that automates the process of setting up shot-scraper to run against a URL.

To try it out, start here:

Screenshot of the 'create new repository from shot-scraper-template' page, which asks for a repository name and a description. The URL for the page you want to take screenshots of goes in the description.

Pick a name for your new repository and paste the URL of the page you want to screenshot into the description field.

Then click “Create repository from template”.

That’s it! Your new repository will be created, a GitHub Actions automation script will run for a few seconds and your new screenshot will be added to the repository as a file called shot.png.

Here’s an example repository I created using the template: simonw/simonwillison-net-shot—and here’s the shot.png file from that repo:

A screenshot of

You can re-take the screenshot any time you want by clicking the “Run workflow” button in the Actions tab:

Click Actions, Take screenshots, Run workflow and then Run workflow

Your repository will have a file in it called shots.yml that initially looks like this:

- url:
  output: shot.png
  height: 800

You can edit that file to change the settings that apply to your screenshot, or to add further URLs to take shots of like this:

- url:
  output: shot.png
  height: 800
- url:
  output: example.png
  height: 800

Further options are available here, as described in the shot-scraper README.

How this works

This entire system is based around a single GitHub Actions workflow, in .github/workflows/shots.yml.

Here’s an annotated copy of that workflow showing how it all works.

name: Take screnshots


The workflow triggers when a change is made to the repository (including edits to the shots.yml file) or when the user manually clicks “Run workflow”.

    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    if: ${{ github.repository != 'simonw/shot-scraper-template' }}

This is the trick that makes everything else work, which I picked up from Bruno Rocha last year. It ensures that this workflow job only runs on copies of the template, not on the initial template repository itself.

This is necessary because a later step creates a file in the repository if it doesn’t yet exist based on the description URL provided by the user.

    - uses: actions/checkout@v2
    - name: Set up Python 3.10
      uses: actions/setup-python@v2
        python-version: "3.10"
    - uses: actions/cache@v2
      name: Configure pip caching
        path: ~/.cache/pip
        key: ${{ runner.os }}-pip-${{ hashFiles('requirements.txt') }}
        restore-keys: |
          ${{ runner.os }}-pip-

This is boilerplate that I use in most of my GitHub Actions workflows: it sets up Python 3.10, and also configures a cache such that Python requirements in a requirements.txt file persist from one invocation to another without having to be re-downloaded from PyPI.

    - name: Cache Playwright browsers
      uses: actions/cache@v2
        path: ~/.cache/ms-playwright/
        key: ${{ runner.os }}-browsers

shot-scraper uses Microsoft’s open source Playwright browser automation tool. Playwright works by installing its own full Chromium browser. This line configures a cache for that browser, such that future invocations of the Action don’t need to download another copy.

    - name: Install dependencies
      run: |
        pip install -r requirements.txt
    - name: Install Playwright dependencies
      run: |
        shot-scraper install

The pip install line here installs the shot-scraper CLI tool, which is written in Python.

That shot-scraper install line then triggers the Playwright mechanism to download and install the browser. This will do nothing if the browser has already been cached.

    - uses: actions/github-script@v6
      name: Create shots.yml if missing on first run
        script: |
          const fs = require('fs');
          if (!fs.existsSync('shots.yml')) {
              const desc = context.payload.repository.description;
              let line = '';
              if (desc && (desc.startsWith('http://') || desc.startsWith('https://'))) {
                  line = `- url: ${desc}` + '\n  output: shot.png\n  height: 800';
              } else {
                  line = '# - url:\n#   output: shot.png\n#   height: 800';
              fs.writeFileSync('shots.yml', line + '\n');

This is the other key piece of magic. This uses GitHub’s github-script action, which provides a Node.js environment with a context object containing details about the actions run.

It starts by reading the repository description from context.payload.repository.description.

Then it creates a shots.yml file based on that description—but only if the file does not exist already.

If there’s no repository description it creates one with a commented-out configuration instead, that looks like this:

# - url:
#   output: shot.png
#   height: 800

The next step is to take the screenshots:

    - name: Take shots
      run: |
        shot-scraper multi shots.yml

shot-scraper multi is documented here—it runs through the YAML file and takes each of the screenshots configured there in turn.

Final step is to commit and push the new shots.yml and shot.png files to the repository:

    - name: Commit and push
      run: |-
        git config "Automated"
        git config ""
        git add -A
        timestamp=$(date -u)
        git commit -m "${timestamp}" || exit 0
        git pull --rebase
        git push

This uses a pattern I describe in this TIL.

GitHub Actions as a platform

I tweeted this the other day, shortly before I came up with the idea for the shot-scraper-template repository.

This project demonstrates why. The amount of complex moving parts involved in shot-scraper-template is pretty bewildering, but the end result is a free tool that anyone can use to start taking automated screenshots.

And it doesn’t cost me anything to provide the tool either!