The waiting for PhantomJS 2.5 seems to have come to an end – unfortunately, it will most likely never be released.
According to a statement of Vitaly Slobodin, the current maintainer of PhantomJS, the further development has been stopped. This is particular sad as version 2.5 beta has been released already and a lot of effort has been put into this release.
But why? As reason, Vitaly states the release of Headless Chrome with Google Chrome 59. Fair enough, a few developers can’t compete with Google at all.
As a matter of fact, PhantomJS was pretty unique for quite some time. An amazing project which established headless browser testing on wide areas, so it has been a fundamental contribution to the testing world.
I think the actual, long anticipated release of Headless Chrome was just the final the straw that broke the camels back. Since the infamous ticket 546953 it was totally clear that it was worked on it, also conference talks of the developers talking about the technical background came up, so it was just a matter of time since it would show up. It was not really a surprise. So why not stop development of PhantomJS even earlier?
It pretty much feels to me that one of the main potential drawbacks of the Open Source Software movement was the main reason: only a few developers have to deal with the many bug reports and feature request of thousands of users which are all happy to use the tool day by day, but are not willing to contribute or even pay for it. If you can’t make a living from your Open Source project, there will be that one day when it is simply enough. Even the biggest enthusiasts have to pay their bills.
To be honest, over the past years I have been in some sort of Love / Hate relationship with PhantomJS. The many bugs (which are totally normal to happen) combined with the very slow release cycles (which were absolutely annoying, but again understandable) ended up in many, many hours or even days of looking for reasons why that particular test failed only in PhantomJS (e.g. my previous blog post File uploads not working with PhantomJS). On the other hand, I can only express my deepest respect and thankfulness to the developers involved. And yes, I am also one of the thousands of users who used PhantomJS without any contribution.
What will Chrome Headless bring us? I think chances are pretty good that it will be the new standard for Headless testing soon, and this is by no means an offense to the PhantomJS project. There will be a new ecosystem around it, which will make integration of Chrome Headless as easy as for PhantomJS.
On the other hand, we will loose an independent player on the field, and once again Google will gain more power.
However, being responsible for the future wellbeing of the projects I maintain as it is my profession, I will have to adapt to this change. I will have to change the project stacks in order to replace PhantomJS with Headless Chrome very soon. At least not taking it into consideration would be a huge mistake. Still the ecosystem around Chrome Headless as to evolve, but I actually have no doubt it will.
Luckily PhantomJS implemented the Remote WebDriver Wire protocol since version 1.8 (speaking of GhostDriver here, another project from the PhantomJS ecosystem which I didn’t even mention yet), so those projects which were not relying on the PhantomJS API will be lucky.
Just recently, ChromeDriver 2.30 which officially supports Chrome 59 has been released – one concern less!
So far no new maintainer of PhantomJS has been found. The burden might be too heavy.