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Understanding Stale Element Reference Exception in Selenium

By Sonal Dwivedi, Community Contributor -

What is Stale Element Reference Exception?

Exception is the fault or disruption that occurs during the execution of the program at runtime. While testing web applications with Selenium different types of exceptions are faced commonly. These exceptions should be handled carefully to maintain the normal application flow.

StaleElementReferenceException is one of the most common Selenium exceptions which is often surfaced when the web element you are trying to interact with is no longer associated with an HTML element in the DOM. As Selenium tries to reference a stale element, it throws a StaleElementReferenceException. It is one of the many subclasses of the WebDriverException class in Selenium.

The possible reasons for the web element getting stale can be: 

  • a page refresh, 
  • DOM update, or 
  • location of the web element being changed. 

However, web elements do not get relocated automatically, the driver creates a reference ID for the element and has a particular place in DOM that it expects to find. 

If the Selenium web driver cannot find the element in the current DOM, any action performed on that web element will throw a StaleElementReferenceException.

When does Stale Element Reference Exception occur?

If you know how Selenium works you must be aware that it tries to find a web element on the web page using findElement() method of WebDriver. It stores the reference id of that element in memory after the element is found. So, the next time when Selenium wants to interact with the same element, it uses the reference id instead of finding the element again.

The two most usual reasons for the StaleElementReferenceException to occur are that:

  • The selected web element to be interacted with is no longer present on the HTML web page
  • The selected web element was destroyed completely and recreated.

1. The HTML web element is No Longer present on the webpage

There can be scenarios when the web page gets refreshed or updated due to a JavaScript operation and hence the reference of the elements to be interacted with gets stale leading to StaleElementReferenceException. 

Let us understand with a real time example.

Imagine you are automating a web application which involves filling out a registration form in which clicking on a language dropdown list dynamically changes the content of the country dropdown list. 

Now, lets say your Selenium script locates the country dropdown element successfully and selects the country. However, just before the selection is chosen, the user changes the option from the language dropdown and therefore the country dropdown list gets updated dynamically. 

At this moment when the Selenium script tries to interact with the country dropdown, it encounters a StaleElementReferenceException because the previously located dropdown element is no longer present in the DOM.

2. Permanent deletion of the Referenced Element:

There can be scenarios where the referenced element might have been permanently deleted. For instance, if the web page where the element resides has been refreshed before the interaction with the element actually took place. 

Let us understand with a real time example.

Imagine you are automating an e-commerce website which involves navigating to the product, adding it to the cart and later verifying the availability of the product in the cart page. 

You create a Selenium script for this scenario, however, let us say that between the time the script clicks the “Add To Cart” button and navigates to the cart page, the item gets out of stock. At this moment when the Selenium script tries to verify the presence of the added item on the cart page, it encounters a StaleElementReferenceException. 

The reference to the element in the cart becomes stale because the item has been permanently removed from the cart due to out of stock.

How to handle Stale Element Reference Exception in Selenium 

The best way to avoid a StaleElementReferenceException is to refresh the reference of a stale element. This means you need to create the element again by applying the locator strategy.

1. Use WebDriverWait

You can use Selenium WebDriver’s explicit wait method to handle StaleElementReferenceException by waiting for the element to be visible, clickable, or any other certain condition. 

Instead of using implicit wait, use explicit wait as it allows you to wait for a certain condition to occur before performing any event on the element.

There can be following two ways to achieve it:

Method 1: Wait until the element is present

You can use the Explicit wait method to wait for the element to be available before performing any action on it.

wait.until(ExpectedConditions.presenceOfElementLocated(Web element locator")))

The above line tells the WebDriver to wait until a condition is met for the element such as element to be visible or interactable. 

public class ExplicitWait {

public static void main(String[] args) {

 

     // Initialize WebDriver

     WebDriver driver = new ChromeDriver();

 

     // Open the webpage

        driver.get("https://google.com");

 

     // Create an explicit wait

     WebDriverWait wait = new WebDriverWait(driver, Duration.ofSeconds(10));

 

     // Use the explicit wait to handle StaleElementException

     try {

         // Wait until the element is present on the page

         WebElement ele = wait

                    .until(ExpectedConditions.presenceOfElementLocated(By.cssSelector("textarea[name='q']")));   

 

         // Perform the action on the element

            ele.sendKeys("Selenium");

            System.out.println("Search text entered successfully.");

     } catch (org.openqa.selenium.StaleElementReferenceException e) {

         // Element became stale, handle accordingly

            System.out.println("StaleElementException occurred. Refreshing the page.");

 

         // Refresh the page

         // driver.navigate().refresh();

 

         // Re-locate the element after page refresh

         WebElement refreshedEle = driver.findElement(By.cssSelector("textarea[name='q']"));

            refreshedEle.sendKeys("Selenium");

            System.out.println("Search text entered successfully after page refresh.");

     }

 

     // Close the browser

     driver.quit();

}

}

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Method 2: Wait until the element is refreshed 

You can use ExpectedConditions.refreshed() method to overcome the StaleElementReferenceException as this method will make the WebDriver wait for the element to be refreshed and take its reference.

WebElement ele = wait.until(ExpectedConditions.refreshed(ExpectedConditions.presenceOfElementLocated(By.cssSelector("textarea[name='q']"))));

2. Use the try-catch block

The other way to handle this exception is to use a try-catch block. The element which is suspected to throw the StaleElementReferenceException should be kept under try block and in catch block the web page should be refreshed and the element should be recreated again.

WebElement element = driver.findElement(By.id("web element locator"));

try {  

  element.click();

} catch (StaleElementReferenceException e) {

  // Refresh the page

  driver.navigate().refresh();

 

  // Try to locate the element again

  element = driver.findElement(By.id("web element locator "));

  element.click();

}

And in some instances, the element is temporarily not interactable through the DOM. In such cases, you can try to access the element for a certain number of times using a loop until it becomes interactable.

WebElement ele = driver.findElement(By.cssSelector("textarea[name='q']"));

for (int i = 0; i < 3; i++) {

                          try {

                                     ele.click();

                                     break;

                          } catch (StaleElementReferenceException e) {

                                     e.printStackTrace();

                          }

               }

Here, the loop is expected to run 3 times. If the element is found in the first few attempts it will break the loop and come out. Otherwise, it will keep finding it till the loop ends.

3. Use Page Object Model

In POM Design Pattern, Page Factory is an inbuilt POM concept used for initializing page objects. In this pattern, using @FindBy annotation to locate an element. It helps to update the reference of the web element each time before any action is performed on it.

Page Factory initializes the page elements lazily which means they are initialized only when they are accessed within page methods.

If the elements become stale, it will automatically reinitialize it whenever it is accessed the next time.

Below is a sample program to understand the Page factory structure.

public class LoginPage {

 

private WebDriver driver;

 

@FindBy(id = "username")

private WebElement usernameInput;

 

@FindBy(id = "password")

private WebElement passwordInput;

 

@FindBy(id = "loginButton")

private WebElement loginButton;

 

// Constructor to initialize WebDriver and elements

public LoginPage(WebDriver driver) {

     this.driver = driver;

     PageFactory.initElements(driver, this);

}

 

// Method to perform login action

public void login(String username, String password) {

     usernameInput.sendKeys(username);

     passwordInput.sendKeys(password);

     loginButton.click();

}

} 

4. Refresh the web page

Refreshing a web page can sometimes aid in avoiding

StaleElementReferenceException, because when Selenium refreshes the web page, the browser reloads the entire DOM which helps in reinitializing the elements. So, if for any reason the element gets stale, refreshing the web page can make the element accessible again.

However, it is not a reliable solution and should be used very wisely. Refreshing the web page will rebuild the DOM completely which may lead to performance issues and other complexities.

Note: This should be opted as the last solution if none of the above solutions work as it will only temporarily help you to solve the problem.

Why is Testing on Real Devices and Browsers important?

Different devices and browsers render web pages differently. To ensure that a given application behaves uniformly across different pools of devices and browsers, it is advisable to test it in the real devices and browsers with a real environment set up.

Testing in real devices and browsers ensures high-quality user experience, compatibility across different platforms, and validates performance and security of the application in real user conditions. BrowserStack is one such platform which leverages testing any mobile or web application by providing 3500+ real devices.

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