Using Google Chrome instead of Chromium in Google Cloud Functions

May 5, 2024

When using Puppeteer, Playwright and similar, you need to have Chrome installed. When you’re running on AWS Lambda or Google Cloud Functions, it can get tricky.

Google Cloud Functions used to bundle Chromium in their base images, but it’s been a few years it’s no longer the case. That’s where packages like chrome-aws-lambda come in handy, by bundling Chromium directly inside a npm package, and exposing a function that extracts the Chromium binary and returns the path:

const chromium = require('chrome-aws-lambda')

const path = await chromium.executablePath

Note: unnecessary pedantic detail: the above code doesn’t look like a function, but it is, in fact, a getter function that returns a promise. 😄

However that’s Chromium, and you may have reasons to want Google Chrome instead (mainly, proprietary codecs).

A totally unrelated note about AWS Lambda

This article is about Google Cloud Functions, but if you’re on AWS Lambda, the above option is your best bet. Because of the Lambda total size limit of 250 MB (all layers combined), it’s really hard to get a binary of Chrome that fits in there.

That’s why chrome-aws-lambda uses LambdaFS under the hood, to aggressively compress the Chrome installation with Brotli and make it fit in that limited space.

But again with that build, you won’t have proprietary codecs. I tried to trim down a Chrome Linux build and compress it with the same technique but never managed to make it fit on AWS Lambda. Recent Chrome versions are just too big.

There’s another option, which is to compile Chromium yourself with proprietary codecs. I never found any prebuilt binaries of Chromium that include proprietary codecs (maybe because of license issues redistributing them 🙃) so you’re on your own here.

Remotion successfully does that for Remotion Lambda. Here’s their instructions to compile Chromium with proprietary codecs for Lambda.

Fair warning: it gets hairy, fast.

Back to Google Cloud Functions

Google Cloud Functions is more generous as for bundle size, so we don’t need to resort to those tricks, and we can include a complete, uncompressed, Google Chrome installation.

Google publishes Chrome for Testing, builds specifically made for headless usage.

We can just download the latest build from there as part of the gcp-build script in our package.json.

  "scripts": {
    "gcp-build": "curl -s -O '' && unzip && rm"

Note: the gcp-build script allows you to run a custom build step in Google Cloud Build, which is what Cloud Functions (both 1st and 2nd gen, as well as Cloud Run and App Engine) use to build your function image.

It would work just fine with a postinstall script as well, but gcp-build makes sure you run it only on Google Cloud Build, which is probably desirable in this particular case.

You will then have the Chrome binary in chrome-linux64/chrome, that you can pass to the tool of your choice.

With Puppeteer

Courtesy of this post, with Puppeteer, you don’t need to download Chrome manually, since it provides a nifty script to do just that.

Actually, Puppeteer’s postinstall script automatically downloads the latest version of Chrome for Testing for your platform.

The caveat is that this script by default installs it to ~/.cache/puppeteer, which in the case of Google Cloud Build, is not gonna be preserved in the final image. So we need to instruct Puppeteer to install Chrome in a directory that Cloud Build will keep.

This can be done with the following .puppeteerrc.js:

module.exports = {
  cacheDirectory: `${__dirname}/.cache/puppeteer`

But even then, there’s another caveat. Puppeteer’s postinstall script will only run after it gets installed. However, because of build caching, you will get in a state where node_modules is restored, with Puppeteer already installed (so postinstall will not run), but the .cache/puppeteer directory will also not be restored.

To mitigate that, we need to make sure to install Chrome systematically. Again we can leverage the gcp-build for that:

  "scripts": {
    "gcp-build": "npx puppeteer browsers install chrome"

Note: you could call Puppeteer’s postinstall script directly by doing node node_modules/puppeteer/install.mjs instead, but I found the above command cleaner.

The good thing is that this script knows to not re-download Chrome if it’s already found in the cache directory, so when the postinstall script does run, the extra gcp-build command will be a no-op.

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