5 Smart Ways to Download Files to a Specified Location with Selenium and Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: Web automation tasks often require downloading files to a specific directory. Consider a case where you need to automate the download of a monthly report from a web application. The input is a URL pointing to the file, and the desired output is saving the file to a predetermined local directory. This guide will show you how to automate this process using Selenium with Python.

Method 1: Configuring Browser Preferences

This method involves setting up browser-specific preferences to automatically download files to a chosen directory without prompting for a location each time. In Firefox or Chrome, this can be achieved by configuring the Selenium WebDriver with the desired capabilities.

Here’s an example:

from selenium import webdriver

profile = webdriver.FirefoxProfile()
profile.set_preference('browser.download.folderList', 2)  # Use custom download path
profile.set_preference('browser.download.manager.showWhenStarting', False)
profile.set_preference('browser.download.dir', '/path/to/download/directory')
profile.set_preference('browser.helperApps.neverAsk.saveToDisk', 'application/pdf')  # MIME type

driver = webdriver.Firefox(firefox_profile=profile)

Output: The file report.pdf is downloaded to /path/to/download/directory without any prompt.

By setting up the Firefox profile with appropriate preferences, this code enables automatic downloading of PDF files to the specified directory. The MIME type needs to be adjusted according to the file you intend to download.

Method 2: Using ChromeOptions

Very similar to Firefox’s preferences, Chrome allows you to specify download behavior using ChromeOptions. This method is beneficial for Chrome automation scripts that need to dictate download locations and suppress dialogue boxes.

Here’s an example:

from selenium import webdriver

options = webdriver.ChromeOptions()
prefs = {
    "download.default_directory": "/path/to/download/directory",
    "download.prompt_for_download": False,
    "download.directory_upgrade": True,
options.add_experimental_option("prefs", prefs)

driver = webdriver.Chrome(chrome_options=options)

Output: The file somefile.zip is downloaded to /path/to/download/directory without user interaction.

This code snippet configures Chrome to download files automatically to a predefined directory, suppressing any download prompts. As with Firefox, this method provides a seamless user experience, especially in headless modes.

Method 3: Handling Download Pop-ups with AutoIT

For browsers that do not support direct configuration for downloads, such as Internet Explorer, an alternative method using an external tool like AutoIT can be implemented to interact with dialogue boxes and steer the download process to a designated location.

Here’s an example:

# This Python code assumes that you have already created an AutoIT script that handles the download dialogue.
# The AutoIT script file is saved as 'download_script.exe'

from selenium import webdriver

driver = webdriver.Ie()

# Run the AutoIT script after navigating to the download URL
import os

Output: The AutoIT script interacts with the browser’s download dialogue to save the file in the specified location.

This snippet starts the download process, then runs an AutoIT script to manipulate GUI elements. This is less ideal due to the dependency on an external program and the need to maintain the AutoIT script for different dialogue boxes, which might change over time.

Method 4: Downloading Files Via HTTP Requests

If direct download links are available, another efficient method is to bypass Selenium for the file download part by using Python’s requests library. This approach enables you to download files from URLs directly within your automation script.

Here’s an example:

import requests

file_url = 'http://example.com/myfile'

response = requests.get(file_url, allow_redirects=True)
with open('/path/to/download/directory/myfile', 'wb') as file:

Output: The file is downloaded to the specified directory as myfile.

This method does not rely on automating the browser for downloads, thus avoiding potential issues with browser configurations or pop-up dialogues. However, it assumes that the file’s URL is directly accessible and does not require authentication within the web app’s context.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using wget in Python Subprocess

If you have the tool wget installed on your system, a quick one-liner can handle downloads in a Python script using the subprocess module.

Here’s an example:

import subprocess

subprocess.run(['wget', '-P', '/path/to/download/directory', 'http://example.com/somefile.tar.gz'])

Output: The somefile.tar.gz is downloaded to /path/to/download/directory.

This snippet runs the command-line utility wget to download the file to a specified directory. While dependency on a non-Python utility limits portability, it’s a neat solution in Unix-like environments where wget is often available.


  • Method 1: Configuring Browser Preferences. Strengths: Customizable and browser-specific. Weaknesses: Configuration could vary with browser updates.
  • Method 2: Using ChromeOptions. Strengths: Effective for Chrome and straightforward. Weaknesses: Chrome-specific solution.
  • Method 3: Handling Download Pop-ups with AutoIT. Strengths: Versatile for non-configurable dialogues. Weaknesses: Requires additional tool; platform-dependent.
  • Method 4: Downloading Files Via HTTP Requests. Strengths: Does not rely on browser automation; fast and direct. Weaknesses: Requires direct file access; not integrated with browser session.
  • Bonus Method 5: Using wget in Python Subprocess. Strengths: Quick one-liner command; utilizes a well-trusted tool. Weaknesses: Depends on external utility and Unix-like system presence.