Handling Lists in Python That Seem Empty but Aren’t

Understanding the Quirk: Lists That Appear Empty in Python

In this guide, we’ll dive into a peculiar scenario where lists in Python may seem empty but actually harbor hidden elements. This situation is frequently encountered when utilizing web scraping tools like Selenium.

What You Will Learn

By the end of this tutorial, you will grasp how to identify and manage apparently empty lists in Python, especially when employing Selenium for web scraping tasks.

Introduction to the Problem and Solution

When working with web scraping tools such as Selenium, it’s common to come across lists that initially appear devoid of content. However, these lists might contain invisible or dynamically loaded elements that are not immediately visible. This can lead to confusion and errors if not handled correctly.

The solution involves two essential steps:

  1. Ensuring that our code effectively waits for all dynamic content to load.
  2. Employing techniques to determine whether a list is genuinely empty or contains non-visible elements. By addressing both aspects, we can adeptly manage seemingly empty lists within our projects.


from selenium import webdriver
from selenium.webdriver.common.by import By
from selenium.webdriver.support.ui import WebDriverWait
from selenium.webdriver.support import expected_conditions as EC

# Initialize your WebDriver (Ensure you have the correct driver for your browser version)
driver = webdriver.Chrome()

# Replace 'your_website_url' with the actual URL you're working on

    # Wait up to 10 seconds until elements are found
    element_present = EC.presence_of_all_elements_located((By.CSS_SELECTOR, "your_element_selector"))
    WebDriverWait(driver, 10).until(element_present)

    # Assuming 'element_list' is your target list of elements after they've been loaded
    element_list = driver.find_elements(By.CSS_SELECTOR, "your_element_selector")

    if not element_list:
        print("The list is truly empty.")
        print(f"The list contains {len(element_list)} item(s).")

# Copyright PHD


In our approach above:

  • WebDriverWait combined with EC.presence_of_all_elements_located ensures that we wait long enough for all dynamic content (including initially invisible ones) to be loaded into the DOM before proceeding.
  • We then attempt to locate our desired elements using the find_elements method which returns a list.
  • The crucial step involves checking whether element_list is genuinely empty or not. If it’s not empty (else block), we proceed by processing the items found; otherwise (if block), we conclude that the list has no items.

This technique aids in navigating issues related primarily to timing and visibility of dynamic content when scraping web pages.

    How do I install Selenium WebDriver?

    You can install Selenium WebDriver by running pip install selenium.

    What are implicit and explicit waits?

    Implicit waits instruct WebDriver to poll the DOM for a specified duration when attempting to find an element. Explicit waits direct WebDriver to wait for specific conditions before proceeding.

    Why use explicit over implicit waits?

    Explicit waits are preferred as they allow more precise conditions for waiting operations compared to directly polling the DOM, which could result in unnecessary delays or premature execution of actions.

    Can I scrape any website with Selenium?

    While technically feasible in many instances, it’s advisable to always review a website’s Terms of Service or robots.txt file before scraping it to ensure compliance with ethical guidelines and legal standards regarding data collection.

    How do I choose between CSS Selectors and XPATHs?

    CSS selectors generally offer better performance and readability, whereas XPATHs provide more robust queries especially for complex hierarchies where no unique identifiers are available; each has its place depending on context requirements and the task at hand.

    Is it possible detect invisibly loaded elements without waiting them become visible ?

    Yes, techniques such as checking size location off-screen detection methods may be employed; however, these approaches often require additional logic complexity; therefore, it is recommended to proceed with caution only when necessary.


    Navigating seemingly empty lists during web scraping necessitates understanding the dynamics behind how websites load and display their content. Utilizing appropriate waiting strategies alongside effective validation checks ensures robust handling of potential pitfalls associated with dynamically generated invisible webpage contents. Armed with knowledge presented here, you are poised to tackle challenges head-on and enhance your capability in building efficient and reliable scrapers.

    Leave a Comment