Selenium Tutorial: Locators

6. Locators

Selenium uses what is called locators to find and match the elements of your page that it needs to interact with. There are 8 locators strategies included in Selenium:

  • Identifier
  • Id
  • Name
  • Link
  • DOM
  • XPath
  • CSS
  • UI-element

6.1. Identifier

works with the id and name attributes of your html tags. Let’s consider the following example:

    <form id="login">
      <input name="username" type="text"/>
      <input name="password" type="password"/>
      <input name="submit" type="submit" value="Continue!"/>

Valid locators for this snippet are :

  • identifier=login
  • identifier=username
  • submit


  • This strategy doesn’t rely on the structure of the page and will work even if it changes.


  • Easily matches several elements: try to name your username field as login

Usually, you don’t need to specify the locator prefix, Selenium will be able to infer the locator type by itself

6.2. Id

The Id strategy looks for an element in the page having an id attribute corresponding to the specified pattern. <label id="my_id" /> will be matched by a locator like id=my_id or just my_id


  • Each id is supposed to be unique so no chance of matching several elements


  • Works well only on elements with fixed ids and not generated ones

6.3. Name

Like the Id strategy, but on the name attribute. You can also specify a filter to refine your locator. Currently, there are two filter types :

  • Value : matches elements with a name attribute and where the value follows a pattern. The following example illustrates the interest of filters :

        <div id="pancakes">
          <button type="button" name="pancake" value="Blueberry">Blueberry</button>
          <button type="button" name="pancake" value="Banana">Banana</button>
          <button type="button" name="pancake" value="Strawberry">Strawberry</button>


    we just added a strawberry pancake in our application and we want to test that the button that adds it into the cart works. With a locator like name=pancake, Selenium will find 3 elements and return the first one : the test will never fail even if the strawberry button is not here! Use a value filter like name=pancake value=Strawberry and the locator successfully identifies the Strawberry button.

  • Index : same as name but works with an index. Using the previous example, the locator name=pancake index=2 will select the Strawberry button.

the index starts at 0


  • Works well with fixed list of similar elements


  • Difficult to use with data-bound lists

6.4. Link

This strategy is intended to select links only and selects the anchor element containing the specified text: link=The text of the link


  • Will only select anchor elements
  • Useful when testing navigation


  • You have to know the text of the link before

6.5. DOM

The DOM strategy works by locating elements that matches the javascript expression refering to an element in the DOM of the page.

  • dom=document.div['pancakes'].button[0]
  • document.div[0].button[2]
  • dom=function foo() { return document.getElementById("pancakes"); }; foo();


  • Javascript allows you to build dynamic locators


  • Relies on the structure of the page

6.6. XPath

While DOM is the recognized standard for navigation through an HTML element tree, XPath is the standard navigation tool for XML; and an HTML document is also an XML document (xHTML). XPath is used everywhere where there is XML. Valid XPath locators can be:

  • xpath=//button[@value="Blueberry"]: matches the Blueberry button
  • //div[@id="pancakes"]/button[0]: same thing


  • Allows very precise locators


  • Slower than CSS
  • Relies on browser’s XPath implementation which is not always complete (especially on IE) and as such is not recommended for cross-browser testing

6.7. CSS

The CSS locator strategy uses CSS selectors to find the elements in the page. Selenium supports CSS 1 through 3 selectors syntax excepted CSS3 namespaces and the following:

















  • css=div[id="pancakes"] > button[value="Blueberry"] selects the button with its value property set at Blueberry if children of the pancakes div


  • Much faster than XPath
  • Widely used
  • Provides a good balance between structure and attributes
  • Allows for selection of elements by their surrounding context


  • They tend to be more complex and require a steeper learning curve

6.8. UI-Elements


As a general rule, keep in mind that if a locator matches several elements, only the first one will be effectively used by Selenium

6.9. Structure-Dependent Or Not?

  • Locators can be classified into two categories:

    • Structure-based locators: locators that rely on the structure of the page to find elements.

      • XPath
      • DOM
      • CSS
    • Attributes-based locators: locators that relies on the attributes of the elements to locate them

      • Identifier
      • Id
      • Name
      • Link
      • CSS
  • You should consider this before choosing a locator strategy
  • Most people choose CSS because it is the most flexible and gives a good balance between using structure and attributes to find the elements

6.10. Quiz

  • For each of these locators, give the type and the target

    • ol[id="list"]//li
    • ol[id="list"]/*/li
    • document.forms[0]
    • p.this_class
    • div span#thisid
    • div.sidenav li > a [name=this_name]
    • /html/body/span[@id="thatspan"]
    • //span[@id="thatspan"]

6.10.1. Discussion

  • What criterias are relevant when choosing a locator strategy ?

6.11. Lab 2

  • Make sure that the test application is running:

    1. Get the test application from internet: git clone
    2. Go to the the application directory
    3. Use the scripts/server script to launch the server: ./scripts/server
  • Go to http://localhost:3000/
  • Create a Selenium IDE test that navigates the site:

    1. It should go through the login page
    2. Adds a suggestion that is rated as moderate and public
    3. Then it tests that your suggestion has been added and is present on the suggestions page
    4. Finally, it deletes the suggestion

6.11.1. Quiz

  • Why use an XPath locator?

6.11.2. Discussion

What do you think are the limitations of Selenium IDE? What problems do you foresee with this test?